4 Way Create Excitement to make your Marketing more engaging


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When marketers try and create excitement many reach for rational ways to create it, when in fact excitement is created via different routes of thought. Understanding these other routes and how to apply them can be of real benefit.

Over the last five years in New Zealand I’ve researched excitement generated by businesses for a research-based media series running in our top business newspaper, The National Business Review. Before getting into how excitement works, a little on why it’s important for marketers.

When a person’s excited they have four main types of reaction. These reactions are psychological universals – we all have them – just as we all have the same sort of reactions with fear or laughter. The reactions with excitement are:

  1. Increased attention
  2. A burst of good feeling (toward what excites)
  3. A feeling of being energized (more likely to act)
  4. Longer-term, a more strongly stamped imprint on memory

Most marketers I know, coincidentally, want more attention, more good feeling created for their brands, more action in response to each marketing effort and to create impressions that last longer in peoples’ minds.

Yet most don’t know to create it. At worst marketers try and rationally conjure up excitement claiming better price, quality, or with nice customer experiences; but those things in themselves simply aren’t exciting.

Why the misunderstanding on what causes excitement? It’s because excitement is unconscious and most of the causes aren’t obvious. Excitement’s driven from a different part of the brain than rational thought – it’s driven by an area called the reticular activating system, which is at the back of the brain near where the spine connects it.

Psychologists call reactions occurring from this part of the brain autonomic responses (i.e. they are not rational responses which you can easily rationalize consciously; or emotional responses which are subconscious not unconscious and more accessible to working out in your mind).

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Here are a few of the ways to create excitement. They are from a mix of the psychological research on how excitement works, well-known examples and the realities of exciting companies researched.

1. Cognitive synergy:

Cognitive synergy is where you have elements working together to produce something which is clearly not the way it normally should be. For example, an animal talking [in the old Taco Bell ads in the American market with the talking dog] or fish raining from sky [Visa ads that ran worldwide].

One from our exciting companies research is a company that turned a worthless waste product [pine bark from the Forestry Industry] into a highly valuable product sold around the world [a supplement rich in antioxidants, that can extend your life].

How do you come up with cognitive synergies? Here’s an easy way. Start with what would be the normal situation, for example, someone walking over the street from the office to get a coffee – then re-shape it. Have the person sprinting over the road, racing to get ahead of others to get into the coffee shop door [Slogan – “Our coffee’s so good….”].

2. Suspense. 

Suspense is created with signs something is going to happen, but you’re not quite sure when that something will arrive and exactly what will happen when it does. Good examples worldwide are the reality TV series which slowly draw out who the winner is going to be; or the hit TV shows Lost, Prison Break and Invasion. They’re all loaded with suspense.

Serialized advertising can do this. Drop in signs something’s happening but don’t give the answers. Reveal them in later ads which continue the story.

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Some years ago here, the Lord the Rings movies here were front page news and the lead story on TV news. Before the public saw the first movie people surrounded the movie theatre at the New Zealand premier of the film.

People were in suspense. They knew the films were a Hollywood production in New Zealand but what they didn’t know was whether the films would be a hit or a flop.

A word of caution with suspense: don’t use empty hype. If you do you’ll create the excitement, but it’ll flip straight to annoyance if there’s nothing worthwhile. People will feel led up the garden path. Part of how autonomic reactions work is they can switch. Excitement can switch to anger and annoyance. Think about the plummet you feel, going from high to low, when in suspense on a big sports game, and your team loses.

3. Challenges.

Challenges excite people, whether you’re in one or watching one. A famous example was Apple’s 1984 ad. It showed a line of people marching into a picture theatre wearing coloured uniforms. Viewers sitting in the theatre were being droned into submission by colourless people on the screen being ordered around a boot camp. The marchers came in and threw a sledge hammer through the screen. Apple’s challenge was to IBM (“why 1984 won’t be like 1984”).

One company with a challenge, from the exciting companies research, was a dairy food business called Westland Milk. Westland Milk was a medium sized firm, based in a town in a remote area which was stuck in an economic decline.

Offered a merger by a much company Westland Milk turned it down. The shareholders refused it to prevent closure of the local factory and office (Westland Milk was the largest employer left in the town). A year or so later, when industry results came out Westland Milk were outperforming the bigger firm. That was exciting.

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4. Sensory exciters

 Sensory exciters are in the way things look, sound, taste, smell, or feel. If you use a stunning landscape or a beautiful person in an ad, it can create mild excitement. Plenty of marketers know and use this avenue.

An example from the exciting companies research was a business called MILK. MILK produced a series of photographic books showing “moments of intimacy love and kinship”. They staged a worldwide photographic competition to source the photos. 40,000 photographers entered photos and the judges picked the top 300 photos to go in the MILK books.

The photos were so beautiful, when used to market the books at book fairs – put to music in a DVD format – some of the booksellers were moved to tears. Events also ran for the public showing photos. Within 18 months of launch, over a million copies of the books and associated materials sold worldwide. Here the books were $90 odd dollars each.

In summary, I’ve given you a few of the ways in which excitement works and can work for you in marketing. It’s an area which can easily leave you red-faced if you guess at it. It isn’t rational thinking like better price, quality or more friendly service and the like. It’s not emotions like love or affection. Rather it works in very different ways. These can be rationalised if you learn the psychology and how it works in business settings. If you do create excitement it psychologically results in gaining more of people’s attention, more good feeling, more energy to action, and laster longing memories.

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