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Tuesday, Mar. 18, 2008 at 11:01 am

Will Marketers Keep Their Eye on the Ball?

By Robert Gorell
March 18th, 2008

Ever play the game “Don’t Think About Polar Bears”?

It’s hard to win.

In fact, studies show that just about everyone reading this sentence is either thinking about polar bears or thinking about not thinking about polar bears.

The same goes for basketball.

Take a look at this awareness test video, and see if you can follow:

As Seth points out, marketers should consider this before spending (“How much!?“) on ads.

Kudos to Jeff Sexton for noticing this bit of research years before it was ripped off and turned into an advert for cyclist awareness.

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Comments (16)

  1. That video is making my head hurt. So is the polar bear game. Thanks for the migraine bro.

  2. Ha ha! So funny.

    There’s a psychology phrase stating that the brain can’t thing in negative terms.

    That’s why telling a kid “don’t play with matches!” will give the exact opposite result, as they’re left with one clear and precise image in their head: Them playing with matches :-)

  3. Jimmy: Sorry ’bout that ;)

    Soeren: You’re referring to Reverse Psychology, which, as you point out, is a tactic used to elicit an opposite response. This example is sort of like that, but from a behavioral observation perspective. It just shows that if we’re paying attention to something else, it’s pretty stunning what we can miss in the background. We think we’re good multi-taskers, but we’re not. Our sense of what’s real and important is framed by the context we, and others, apply to it. Sort of like how driving while talking on a mobile phone has been shown to be roughly as dangerous as driving drunk. (Not sure how most NYC cabbies missed that one.)

    “Multitasking” is for computers, not humans. Or bears.

    The brain multi-tasks. The mind… not so much.

  4. That’s a really funny video. Good find, Robert! I’m definitely going to be more aware of bears on bikes now.

  5. A great find! I had to watch the video twice to see the bear!

  6. Awesome!
    One more way to tell us (marketers) that catching the attention of the consumer is so diffucult.

  7. Wow! we preach this stuff at http://www.abc123.com , your web site is Great, I will come here once a day, I don’t want to run on but this is the best marketing site I have seen, Good work!

  8. Thank you Bob!

  9. Good video, I got the correct answer on the number of passes, of course I miss the bear. I did see it the second time around. Maybe this shows when you are focused on something so intently, you can miss some obvious stuff also?

    It was worth a good laugh.

  10. what a nice video! I like such things. sure, if you are concentrating on one thing, you cannot see the moonwalking bear :-)

  11. [...] Can Marketers Keep Their Eyes on the Ball? [...]

  12. Great video. It’s actually a recreation of a 1978 video to demonstrate inattentional blindness:
    http://www.paulmaloney.com/2008/03/bounded-awareness.html

  13. Paul,

    Wow, 1978, huh? Like I said in the post, Jeff Sexton had written about a similar experiment from the Visual Cognition Lab, but that one was in 1999.

    Looks like they repeated the experiment with a bear in 1999 instead of a girl with the umbrella (’78) and got the same result.

    Thanks for writing in to share!

  14. There’s a psychology phrase stating that the brain can’t thing in negative terms.

  15. [...] may have come to GrokDotCom blog to read about daily marketing tip but once you land on this post and watch the video, you completely forget about your initial task. Before you know it, you tweet the link and share it [...]

  16. Sure shows a person there attention span. Actually it really points out how a focus in one area can easily detract from others. I’d bet that that video could have 2-5 other easily missed things added to it. Let me leave this as a challenge for someone to do.

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