One effective way to attract attention to your web site, ad or product is by making the venue personally relevant, pleasant, and surprising. These three things enhance consumers' motivation to look at and think about things. But marketers can also attract attention by making the content of their ad or web site easy for the consumer to process. Three things make something easy to process: prominence, contrast, and competition with other information.
Prominent things stand out relative to the environment because of their intensity. Prominence can be affected by the size or length of the stimulus. Larger or longer ads are more likely to be noticed than smaller or shorter ones. Yellow Pages advertisers have reported that doubling the ad's size increases sales fivefold, whereas quadrupling the size increases sales by a factor of 15.
Making words prominent by the use of bold face text also enhances consumers' attention to the words (see, didn't this stand out for you?). The principle of prominence also explains manufacturers' use of huge end caps or displays in retail stores to attract consumers' attention.
Sales of Barnum's animal crackers rose more than 15% in 1998, in part because consumers entering stores were confronted with a 76" high gorilla-shaped cardboard tower filled with Barnum's animal crackers. Similarly, retailers sometimes try to attract attention to their stores by affixing huge inflatable characters to the store's roof.
Things that are moving also tend to be prominent. Attention to commercials tends to be enhanced when the ad uses dynamic, fast-paced action, and consumers tend to pay attention to those things on web pages that are moving. The use of moving billboards and moving displays in grocery stores demonsrate the use of movement to enhance prominence.
While movement attracts attention, it doesn't always help sell your product. Campbell's soup, for instance, once ran an ad showing a famous dancer dancing on top of a huge Campbell's soup can. Though it did attract attention, consumers focused on the moving dancer, and no one remembered what the ad was for. The ad would have been better if she had been shown from the air dancing over a huge Campbell's logo printed on the floor. While the dancer moved, the reader's eye would have been drawn across the Campbell name.
Loud sounds can also enhance prominence. Television and radio stations sometimes turn up the volume for commercials so they will stand out relative to the program. Using loud rock or dramatic classical music can serve the same purpose.
CONTRAST AND SIMPLICITY
Another thing that facilitates ease of processing is contrast. Something contrasts with something else if it is different from what surrounds it. A color advertisement in a newspaper is more likely to capture attention because everything else around it is black and white. A black-and-white ad on color TV is likely to stand out for a similar reason. Wine makers have found that packaging their wine in blue bottles, compared with the traditional green or amber bottle, can make their bottles stand out and profoundly affect sales.
Finally, stimuli are easier to process when few things surround them and compete for their attention. You are more likely to notice a billboard when traveling down a deserted rural highway than you are when you are in the middle of a congested, sign-filled city. You are also more likely to notice a brand name in a visually simple ad than one that is visually cluttered.
Debbie MacInnis is the Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Business Administration and a professor of marketing at USC's Marshall School of Business. She is co-author of a recent book on brand admiration, which blends years of best-practice thinking from academia with the real-world practice of marketing.
LinkedIn: Debbie MacInnis