As Featured on Forbes

The Key to Making Any Message Memorable

Your audiences — clients, co-workers, prospects — have a shorter attention span than ever. That means, whether in a marketing campaign, a client presentation or in a recruitment ad, you need to use an unexpected approach to create a message that people want to remember. So how can you communicate in a way that capture’s their attention?

Notice how E-Trade and Taco Bell — two totally different industries, sharing two totally different messages — used the same phenomenon to get their message noticed on a massive scale:

E-Trade Baby:

Wise-cracking babies spout financial advice mixed with a heavy dose of hipness. By breaking the rules of how babies are supposed to act, E-Trade manipulated your expectations. It also broke the bank in exposure: the brand garnered over 64 million total YouTube views in 2013 alone. Unexpected surprises like these delight your brain and force you to pay attention.

The Best Most Funny 11 E-Trade Cute Baby Commercials Compilation

Taco Bell: Live Young.

Old folk sneak out of the nursing home for a night of living large.
During 2013′s Super Bowl, TiVo tracked that this commercial was by far the most watched.

Official Super Bowl Commercial 2013 (Taco Bell)

Why do these campaigns work?

Yes, they’re hilarious, but the real magic comes from the element of surprise. You don’t expect babies to be so street-wise and money-smart. And, you definitely don’t expect grandma to have seemingly regained her youth.

What About The Rest Of Us?

We know from the latest research on Behavioral Science — the study of how people really make decisions — that surprise is a powerful communication tool. It jolts people into paying attention. And that’s when your message seeps in.

The good news is that even if you don’t have a multi-million marketing budget (or an insane imagination), you can still get good results from applying the element of surprise in your own business communication.

Here’s how to leverage the unexpected, whether at your next recruitment ad, internal meeting or client pitch:

Deliver A Healthy Dose of Shock:

A friend from UC Berkeley created TubiTV, which is like a free version of Netflix, streaming TV shows and movies. As with any growing technical company in Silicon Valley, it needs to attract (and keep) top talent. For his recruitment ad, my friend took out a billboard along Highway 280: “Hooli Sucks!” (For anyone outside of Silicon Valley, Hooli is a fake company that people love to hate in HBO’s show, “Silicon Valley”). Reddit lit up as people tried to figure out what was going on. Plenty of commuters were mulling over the surreal mixture of fiction and reality. The joke worked, and job applications spiked.

'Hooli Sucks:' Real Silicon Valley Company Creates Offbeat Billboards to Lure Engineers

For your next recruitment ad, don’t be afraid to be unique. Reveal some truths about your culture. Make applicants see you with fresh eyes.

Reinforce Your Core Message

Does this mean you can just be random and weird to get attention? Actually, no. Once the initial shock fades away, your message needs to stand strong. The E-Trade campaign works not just by shock factor alone. Once the baby gets your attention, it constantly reinforces the company’s core idea: hip investment so simple, even a baby could do it.

Knock ‘Em Down A Few Notches

When people think they already know everything, it’s hard for new information to get in. That’s a tough mindset to deal with. But the reverse is also true: Exposing personal gaps in knowledge can jolt minds awake. At my agency, we regularly review the latest Behavioral Science research. I’ll pull up a campaign and randomly ask my team to explain what concepts are in play. Everyone on the team may have to instantly become a teacher, so everyone gets busy composing their own answer. Get the adrenalin flowing at your next meeting by exposing (and filling in) knowledge gaps.

Make Them Crave Answers

You already know that when you’re giving a pitch or a presentation, you need to let the audience participate. But also let them simmer for a little while before you supply the answer. When we pitched to the East Side San Jose School District, I asked them how they could prevent “summer melt,” which is when students already accepted into college don’t matriculate because they didn’t fill out the paperwork. Their responses ranged from interesting to impossible, but all missed the mark. When I finally shared the answer, they smiled in relief. Making them “earn” the answer made it memorable. At your next pitch, don’t give away your insight —make them crave it.

When it comes to communication, a little dose of the unexpected goes a long way. Surprise works because it disrupts people’s typical patterns of thinking. It forces the mind to pay attention. Try these techniques anytime you need people to notice your message, whether in a meeting, a recruitment ad or a client pitch.

  • Shirin Oreizy

    Shirin Oreizy

  • JoAnne Tobias
    JoAnne Tobias

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