Not surprisingly, I agreed with almost all of your responses to my earlier post on creating intrigue by “Surprising Broca” with your web copy. It took an act of will not to respond to each comment as they came in, so I could save my thoughts and organize them into a new post.
First of all, intrigue, mystery, and suspense are all incredibly useful for gaining and holding your audience’s attention. But you still have to make use of the audiences attention once you have it.
Readers who commented that the windmill commercial was brilliant are absolutely right; the commercial brilliantly held our attention and entertained us. And those who claimed the commercial was a waste are probably correct as well. Without specific data or social context, it’s difficult to determine the ad’s true effect. But from my perspective, the commercial failed to capitalize on our attention. As Sean D’Souza pointed out, there was absolutely no call to action at the end of the commercial.
I’m hedging my bet by saying those who said the ad was a waste were “probably correct” because it may have been effective if…
a) …it were run with sufficient frequency as part of a campaign designed to build popular support for wind power
b) …the local market had a better context than I do within which to tie this brand to the issue of wind power. In other words, so that even the brief mention of Epuron and the German Ministry for the Environment is more impactful to a local audience than it is to an American or New Zealand-based one. (Still, it’s not as effective as, say, this link to Epuron’s website.)
c) …the campaign were run directly before an important vote or referendum, and the impact of the ad could be measured through the polls/swing votes.
That’s a lot of “ifs” but I’d hate to call the commercial ineffective without knowing the context and back story. The commercial had a strong emotional appeal to it and could have swayed popular sentiment.
That said, let’s take a closer look at how leveraging the “intrigue continuum” can help you get and keep their attention online.
With web copy, intrigue exists on a continuum that runs from minor unresolved questions to those directly related to value — the brand’s Unique Value Proposition — all the way up to outright disorientation, as in the windmill commercial.
The most useful point on that continuum is the unresolved question that’s directly related to the UVP. Here’s an example from this week’s Monday Morning Memo:
“Antwerp, Belgium, is no longer the diamond capitol of the world. Thirty-four hours on an airplane. One way. Thirty. Four. Hours. That’s how long it took me to get to where eighty percent of the world’s diamonds are now being cut. After 34 hours I looked bad. I smelled bad. I wanted to go to sleep. But then I saw the diamonds. Unbelievable. They told me I was the first retailer from North America ever to be in that office. Only the biggest wholesalers are allowed through those doors. Fortunately, I had one of ’em with me, a lifelong friend who was doing me a favor. Now pay attention, because what I’m about to say is really important: As of this moment, Justice Jewelers has the lowest diamond prices in America, and I’m including all the online diamond sellers in that statement. Now you and I both know that talk is cheap. So put it to the test. Go online. Find your best deal. Not only will Justice Jewelers give you a better diamond, we’ll give you a better price, as well. I’m Woody Justice, and I’m working really, really hard to be your jeweler. Thirty-four hours of hard travel, one way. I think you’ll be glad I did it.”
To which Roy adds:
You might also have noticed where he went was left out of the ad. This omission was intentional. It’s what I call ‘a word flag.’ How many people do you suppose have asked, ‘Where did you go that it took 34 hours to get there?’
This example highlights an important distinction between suspense and mystery; something I took from Sean D’Souza over at Psychotactics.com.* Here’s his explanation:
Alfred Hitchcock was a master of suspense. He told you who the murderer was right at the start. So you and every one in the audience knew who was going to kill whom. Everyone in the theatre knew, except the hero (or heroine), who was going to get killed…That’s what kept you riveted to the screen the whole 90 minutes.”
Unless you’re intentionally disorienting the audience, there should never be a prolonged mystery concerning whether or not the story/message will relate to them — but there should be suspense over how the message will connect with them. Your audience should know how the brand’s benefits will manifest in their lives.
Notice how the ad quoted above begins with the fact that Antwerp is no longer the world’s diamond capital? The knows the ad concerns diamonds and trust it will lead to an offer or benefit, but they don’t know how. That’s suspense in action.
Like gratuitous humor, gratuitous mystery grabs the attention while failing to persuade.
Again, I think the windmill ad is a good example of this. And the Woody Justice ad contrasts perfectly; the suspense is directly related to the offer, so we effortlessly remember its unique value. If you were in the market for a diamond, wouldn’t you likely take action based on that ad?
At the far end of the continuum, as you move past intrigue to disorienting people, realize the risks involved. This technique is generally best confined to:
Anyone like to share examples of disorienting-yet-well-written web copy? Just paste a link in the comments. Otherwise, please do share your thoughts.
[*Author's Note -- Sean has an effective formula for incorporating intrigue into headlines; a formula he'll generously share with you when you sign up for his free newsletter. Highly recommended.]
[Editor's Note -- Don't forget, you can have Jeff Sexton clarify himself in person at our Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar 0n September 17th in Brooklyn, NY.]