Hunter-Gatherers in the Media Jungle
- Next time you are standing in line at your favorite coffee shop, pay attention to how long it takes you to make two or three assumptions about the person in front of you.
- You just sat down in the airport waiting area and in mere seconds, you have a mental list of people you hope are not assigned to the seat beside yours.
- As you drive slowly through the crowded parking lot, your eyes flick back and forth across the scene, watching for people who might be returning to their car, while also scanning for that telltale motion of a car backing out.
Human brains developed in the context of hunting and being hunted. Those of us who could assess motion, texture, distance, speed, and color faster than our colleagues were the ones who lived long enough to pass on those visual acuity traits.
Fast forward to today and we find ourselves in a jungle of messages. How is a hunter-gatherer to separate food from foe? Our brains are not that different than our savannah-dwelling ancestors.
Scanning is one thing we are good at. It has been said that a visual message has seven seconds to prove itself before the beholder moves on. I think it might be less than that.
MIT's Mary Potter studied the brain's visual processing speed using rapid fire images of familiar objects. She found that most of us are able to identify a pictured concept in less than 80 milliseconds.1
That's FAST. How fast?
- Hummingbirds move their wings at a rate of 5 to 80 milliseconds per flap.
- A housefly buzzes her wings at a rate of 3 milliseconds per beat.
And did you know there is a precise definition of "jiffy?" Exactly 10 milliseconds.2
How fast can you capture and remember these seven ideas for converting milliseconds into sales through successful content marketing?
1. Create tension. Use an accusation like "I bet you can't… or a challenge such as "90 % of people don't know this…" Insinuation pokes our defensiveness with a sharp stick and we can't help but linger to settle the score.
2. Elicit emotion. What good is a forgettable ad? Instantly understood, even on a subconscious level, emotions store memories with giant neon signs attached.
3. Curious George is us. Make people ask "Why?" intrigue them and they will stick with you for way more than seven seconds.
4. Gossip. We have a deep instinct for social standing which in part gives rise to our affection or repulsion toward celebrities. Can you help someone feel better about themselves; maybe a notch above their current perch in the pecking order? Can you deploy their peers as evangelists?
5. Triumph, accomplishment, conquering a challenge. Many ads are using games to attract eyeballs. Even that simple old "find what's different" game with two drawings or photos with slight differences from one to the other.
6. Graphic design. Take into account our default pattern of visual scanning. Put important items where your reader’s yes naturally go first and last. Use simple motion or shape to attract the eye. Sleight of hand magicians use motion in subtle ways that can literally make things appear or disappear.3
7. Use artwork judiciously. Try to strike a balance between the arresting picture and the reason it's there. Many ads use artwork that overshadow the product. Great examples of balance are the Absolut vodka ads that use the standard bottle shape with striking visuals added.
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1. To conduct the study, the team - led by Mary Potter, professor of brain and cognitive sciences - asked participants to look for a certain image - for example, "picnic" or "smiling couple" - while viewing a series of either six or 12 images for between 13 and 80 milliseconds. Prof. Potter notes that vision works to find concepts, a rapid-fire way of processing that may help direct the eyes to their next target. She explains: "The job of the eyes is not only to get the information into the brain, but to allow the brain to think about it rapidly enough to know what you should look at next. So in general we're calibrating our eyes so they move around just as often as possible consistent with understanding what we're seeing."
2. Definition of "jiffy" can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millisecond
3.. When it comes to motion, everyone notices it. We always turn to anything that is moving. Learn to move the object that you want the audience to see and keep the concealed object still. Likewise, we will find it difficult to detect two motions at the same time. A small motion is covered over a large one. With that said, the magician moving a card to the back of his/her hand moves the whole hand in an arc. Our eyes keep track of the arc but lose the motion of the card within it. It just vanishes from our view.