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Stupid Marketing and How to Stop It

Posted On - 13/01/2017 08:11:08

Marketing comms don't have to be pretty, don't have to be cool or nice, they just have to workMagic and Marketing may both start with ‘M' but they've little else in common. One's about deceit and the other trust. But if you're expecting us to turn this on its head you're in for a long wait. No, instead we're going to use one to help explain something hugely important about the other.

Everyone knows magicians can't pull rabbits from hats or cut their assistants in half. Turns out magic isn't about tricks at all - it's about why we can't see them happening. Magic's about directing attention. And stupid marketing doesn't get that...

Quirkology and "The Amazing Colour Changing Card Trick"

For the 2016 Target Components Open Day we'd wanted to stage something about marketing communications. Something original about best practices. Something that got to the crux of why they are the way they are. Because while many of you market your businesses like you should, we see many going about it the wrong way. Making daft mistakes you wouldn't if you knew more about why good designers do things the way they do. About the techniques they use to get right inside people's minds.

When we saw Professor Richard Wiseman's brilliant video "The Amazing Colour Changing Card Trick" everything fell into place. It's a superb study into deception. Because right in front of your very eyes Professor Wiseman tricks you not just once but four, yes 4, times. Now you see every one of them happen. But you don't notice any. Marvellous! So much so, it proved the inspiration for our session "Inside Customers' Minds".

Your attention has a mind of its own

Magicians are masters of managing attention. Their skill is how they manipulate it so we can't see what they're doing. Now we're not cognitive psychologists but Innattentional Blindness helps explain what's going on.

Innatentional Blindness is a scientific term that refers to lapses in perception. Lapses that have nothing to do with vision defects or illness. Lapses that mean healthy people fail to recognise things in plain sight. Why? Well, Innattentional Blindness is "the inability of the human mind to process anything not the direct focus of attention at that moment". 

Richard Wiseman's video fools us superbly. It's shocking just how much he gets away with. How much we don't see that's in plain sight. And that's really important when it comes to marketing comms. Because Innattentional Blindness means if you're not what's on someone's mind - if you're not the goal of their attentionthey simply won't see you.


How do you get someone's attention when they're not listening? How can you get them to see you when they're not looking? How do you get them to notice what you're saying?

Interesting questions when you think about marketing comms. Because you can't raise your voice and say "EXCUSE ME!" Can't tap them on the shoulder so they look and listen. Can't wave your hand in front of their face and point. Can't do anything physical to distract and wrench them from their ‘blindness'.

The only distraction, the only way you've got of interrupting them, is through your comms – the actual material itself. So it becomes all about design and the means used to convey it. The question is how?

A Stone-Age mind in modern skull

Evolution's a slow process. It's measured in 100,000's of years. So while we live in the 21st Century we're doing it with a brain wired for 98,000 B.C. Now if you take the birth of civilisation as when farming first started some 10,000 years ago, 100,000 years is a long time back. A time when we were hunter-gatherers lucky to live past 30 and scraping by on our wits. A tough time when a good day was just the fact you were having another.

Evolutionary psychologists would point out we Stone-Age humans had to be good at all sorts of things. Like hunting animals, foraging for food, choosing good habitat, living in tribes - defending ourselves against others, and having and raising children – you get the picture. The issue is it's the best at these that survived and bred – and we are descended from them.

But while it would be easy to dismiss these skills as primitive they're anything but. You could hardly claim the human race hasn't thrived. We seem to cope pretty well even in the world of today. So they've done us well and continue to do so. But all that said they have consequences. Consequences for the way we're wired to think. Consequences for our natural sensitivities and instincts. Implications for what grabs our attention - what connects with our reflexes and what we quite literally can't ignore.


When survival's the only thing that matters it's no surprise we're quite literally wired in certain ways. Research shows we're really good at spotting animals and faces against natural backgrounds. Far better than just differences in natural backgrounds themselves. It's also believed we're more sensitive to noticing dangerous animals like predators, snakes, spiders than safer creatures like rabbits, goats and birds.

We're good at noticing changes in our surroundings. We're really sensitive to social dynamics, body language and expressions. We notice bright colours – research shows red has the highest visibility. We're fascinated by new and novel things – are they useful or dangerous? And we're especially wired for danger. So sudden noises, flashes, movements, bad smells – these are all things that make us jump and recoil. Make our instincts kick-in to protect us.

Interesting stuff, but what does it all mean for marketing communications?

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