In part 1 of this two-part article on how to create messages that break through advertising clutter, I covered the basic principles of attention, and then discussed what you must do to get attention from consumers you are trying to reach.

One way to attract attention to your Web site, ad, or product is by making the message venue personally relevant, pleasant and surprising. These three things enhance consumers' motivation to look at and think about things. You can also attract attention by making the content of your ad or Web site easy for the consumer to process.

In Part 2, I discuss three things you need to consider to make something easy to process: prominence, contrast and competition with other information.

At the end of the article, I refer you to four articles in the MarketingProfs archives that you may find useful.


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 boldface text also enhances consumers' attention to the words. (See, didn't that 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-inch tall 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 demonstrate 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. Winemakers 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.

* * *

OK. So now you have the tools. Look at your ad or Web site. Can you make consumers attend to you and not to the thousands of other things in their environment competing for their attention? Is your ad or Web site relevant to your target market? Is it new? Unexpected? Contrasting from the environment? Prominent? Nice to look at?

If the answer to at least one of these questions is yes, now think about the micro-aspects of your ad or site. Are consumers looking at some irrelevant aspects of your ad? Or, is the attention-getting element your brand name and your message?

Does your package or name contrast with everything else in the ad? Is it prominent enough to stand out from everything else? Do you have a lot of moving things that are distracting consumers' attention away from the important things they should be looking at? Is you message so complex that consumers can't process it unless they are doing nothing else? Or, is it so easy to process that they can attend to it and understand it even if their attention is divided?

Remember also that attention is just one of several things that go into an effective ad or Web site. To be truly effective, your ad must also be comprehensible, persuasive and memorable. Check out the following articles in the archive of to learn more about how to make these things happen:

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image of Debbie MacInnis

Dr. Deborah J. MacInnis is the Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Business Administration at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, and a co-author of Brand Admiration: Build a Business People Love. She has consulted with companies and the government in the areas of consumer behavior and branding. She is theory development editor at the Journal of Marketing, and former co-editor of the Journal of Consumer Research. Professor MacInnis has served as president of the Association for Consumer Research and vice-president of conferences and research for the American Marketing Association's Academic Council. She has received the Journal of Marketing's Alpha Kappa Psi and Maynard awards for the papers that make the greatest contribution to marketing thought. She is the co-author of a leading textbook on consumer behavior and is co-editor of several edited volumes on branding.