How 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.]