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FutureNow Article
Monday, Aug. 20, 2007

Going for Broca: “Show Don’t Tell” in Action

By Jeff Sexton
August 20th, 2007

Broca's areaHow long can you keep your audience’s attention before delivering a punchline?

In a moment, I’ll explain why “Surprising Broca” is so important to both advertisers and comedians. But first, watch this video.

Regardless of whether it cracks you up or annoys you, show it to some friends and see what they think. I guarantee you’ll be puzzled by the reactions you get. I was.

I loved the video, as did my mother and the colleague who sent it to me in the first place. But my wife, sister, and father found it baffling, annoying — hardly worth the attention spent watching, trying to understand it.

So what’s this have to do with Web copy? Well, the creators of this ad did two things brilliantly:

1) They chose a unique angle and frame.
2) They kept viewers watching through intrigue. Most viewers, even those annoyed by the ad, are compelled to watch all of it in order to resolve the mystery.

And yet the ad raises some interesting questions: How disorienting and unique an angle can you take before they turn off? How long can you keep readers guessing? And is this technique ever appropriate for Web copy, where skimmable and scannable text offering near immediate comprehension are the rule*?

The short answer: It differs by personality type, current intentions, motivations, and scent. People who are task-oriented by nature or by current circumstance will dislike ambiguity. Ambiguity gets in the way of task-completion. People who are browsing, looking for insight, or looking to be entertained will more readily tolerate or embrace ambiguity and intrigue because it’s, well, intriguing. And this is important it has a lot to do with when and where you’ll want to take advantage of these techniques.

Similarly, people who fall into the Judging end of the Judging-Perceiving of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator continuum will generally have far less tolerance for prolonged ambiguity. (For instance, if you didn’t like the Sopranos finale, you might be Type-J.)

Unfortunately for Perceiving types, the world of commerce is predominantly Type-J. The world of fashion, art, design, etc, tends to be more of a Type-P world. As such, the very nature of your business will affect the degree to which you can profitably engage customers with P-style intrigue.

Finally, scent has a lot to do with it. The seven-second rule is generally directed to home and landing pages where establishing and maintaining scent is most crucial because you are just starting to build trust with the visitor. The more your links promise something and deliver on it, the more trust you build with the visitor. Once you’ve built up some good faith, then dabble in a bit of offbeat-yet-cool copy until it reaches a payoff.

A friend or colleague can get away with asking you to close your eyes for a surprise. A stranger generally can’t.

Where does that leave us? Well, based on what we’ve covered, I can come up with some relatively specific rules of thumb. But before I make them, I’d like to poll you, our fine Grok readers, about your experiences with off-beat web copy. What have you seen that worked? What annoyed the living daylights out of you? Did you like the commercial?

[*Author's Note: Maybe now's a good time to tell you that "Surprising Broca" is all about having fun with your audience's expectations. This technique stems from Broca's Area of the brain, where patterns are recognized. When these patterns don't come full-circle for whatever reason, we can't help but get angry, frustrated, laugh, smile, or nod.]

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Comments (21)

  1. Thanks Jeff…my head is 2/3′s empty…I appreciate you helping me fill it up with bright ideas and insite or is it insight?

  2. It was somewhat annoying, but kept you guessing about what the end would be.

  3. Incredible video. As a writer, advertiser, marketer, AND part-time comedian, AND wannabe neurophysiology buff, I love when people talk about Broca’s area. There’s some great stuff on this from the Wizard of Ads…

    Honestly, though, I haven’t had a chance to surprise Broca a whole lot in advertising. Clients aren’t always open to this kind of thing- but I’m keeping my eye out for opportunities to use it. Thanks!

  4. I used to be in advertising. So I kinda know what ‘creativity’ is. Well, this is ‘creativity’. :) So the video uses every single technique it can, to create great drama, great angles, great mystery.

    And then…nothing.

    No next step.
    No result.
    You don’t get the connection.

    For all practical reasons, this ad is a waste of money.

  5. Sometimes I feel out of step with the world. The task orientation, that linear majority, that surface approach to things, particularly business. We seem to be still caught in our Puritan roots, or maybe its the conveyor belt education system.

    Makes us think that everything has a right answer, and why not just give me the answer – where is the back of the book. Premature closure.

    I really liked this video, there were a bunch of layers, and questions. Some real depth too. Like how many other situations do we go into thinking there is something to overcome. Some dragon to slay. And you can’t fight the wind.

    Which is a systems approach. And your brain has to be capable of dealing with systems just like children have to move past concrete operations.

    I think it is more than judger/perceiver. One of the tasks is relationship. More options are available when you define the space.

    Its about ambiguity and also paradox. There are contexts where surface is appropriate and some where depth can change the world. Poetry has a different purpose than a technical description.

    From an ad perspective – what is the cost/benefit or ROI? Over what time frame? How are you measuring effectiveness? What was the purpose?

  6. Well I watched the video and feel it is brilliant! and that it has won an award say it all. It is also European and geared to that consumer…they are more advanced in their acceptance of the product being sold, the Wind. The American consumers’ view of wind energy as a viable product to be purchased is small, which would make this video a waste, quote, unquote. Again I say briliant and bravo I loved it. Peter

  7. I really enjoyed the video- i though they did a great job and… like Sean, it seems like a complete waste. Why did they run this ad? What’s the intention? 30 seconds after it’s over, I can’t remember the name of the company- although I am American, so the company name wasn’t familiar- presumably it’s more familiar to the audience it was intended for.

    But what’s the intention here? I totally don’t get it. What do they want me to do, or understand, or get? If they just want me to have sympathy for their company for investing in wind energy- well, they kinda have it.

    Except when I even reach that point of thinking about it, a clever and interesting ad hasn’t done anything to persuade me that it’s not just a hack PR job for some company that’s pumping millions into fossil fuels, and has thrown up a half-dozen windmills to soothe the public.

    I agree with Sean, this ad is 95% there… and a complete waste, because they don’t finish it off with some next step.

  8. After looking at and enjoying all of the ads that accompanied the wind ad, I have to admit that I an’t remember the names of any of the companies represented. Brilliant, but are they productive?

  9. It is ok that a companies name is remembered, The Ministry of Environment is not selling Windmills/Turbines…they are selling a new idea…how to create energy in a better way.

  10. [...] Decide whether to show it or tell it in a presentation based on the audience’s [...]

  11. I loved it. Didn’t figure it out till I saw windmill generator behind WIND. Genius.

    Question: Can Broca’s area be stimulated when using language unique to a group? They are familiar with it, but normal ads don’t use “their” language. Or is this different?

  12. [...] I can't speak for everyone, but I thought it was funny. It got my attention. I love the unexpected twist of the woman karate kicking the guy's head off. The use of humor definitely gives it a [...]

  13. [...] It's a great example of how to spice up your PR without making it seem like you're only after the cash booty.  Pirates base their careers on the element of surprise.  Likewise, marketers — the lily-livered bilge rats they be — need to make Broca walk the plank. [...]

  14. I’m American and I have to admit that I didn’t understand the ad until about 30 seconds after watching it. The ad is similar to a cult classic movie that gets better the more times you watch it. Where I think Europeans differ Americans from is in appreciation of human creativity. Business in America is almost entirely profit and product driven, which can suffocate the human aspect of commerce. I agree with Kim that our system driven approach to education conditions us to constantly look for the “right” answer amongst predefined choices. In this case, I’m not surprised by the “D, none of the above” comments above.

  15. [...] to work properly. This can be done, but it’s a tall order. For instance, I loved this ad, but it fell flat with different personality types. Technorati Tags: advertising, branding, customer motivation, new media, online video, persuasive [...]

  16. I’m a big believer in the principles that both Roy Williams and Sean d’Souza proclaim. Sean is right there is no payoff.

    There isn’t supposed to be a payoff.

    It was pretty clear to me, even though I’m not native to this country that it was a simple educational ad about wind technology. Sort of like a PSA. It’s cute, and it gets you thinking that wind technology is a good thing.

    On that level the ad succeeds. There’s no need to purchase one of those wind turbines for your rooftop. It’s just an ad to tell you that wind turbines are a good thing.

    The goal here is to get people to think positively about wind power. So that when someone wants to build a few wind turbines in a community, the local citizens might not be so quick to reject them. I think that if they’d done an ad stating the facts and showing the benefits about wind power it would not have been as memorable and as interesting as this one.

    Never forget that PR campaigns for issues like this may start running a few years before the actual building of the turbines gets underway. So a commercial like this can be an effective way to introduce the idea without coming across like it’s introducing the idea.

    I think it’s genius.

  17. Broca?
    Whats broca?

  18. [...] be leveraged to optimize the conversion rate of your marketing efforts. We’ve written about the science of surprise before, but today we are going to talk about the best areas of your website to focus on testing [...]

  19. [...] be leveraged to optimize the conversion rate of your marketing efforts. We’ve written about the science of surprise before, but today we are going to [...]

  20. Am interesting thought ‘scent has a lot to do with it’! But you are right, Trust is crucial and it does need to be earned!

  21. I’m a little slow but got it after a while.. Brilliant – they are selling a new idea, how to create energy in a better way. We need more thinkers ….

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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