We’ve just experienced another season of roundups in the sports, music and movie industries and throughout it all, I noted interesting things about marketing and human behavior.
It began with the TV commercials during the Super Bowl. Usually my favorite part of this final game of champions is watching the new commercials that are made especially for launch during the Super Bowl, but this year, they were so uninspired and boring that I couldn’t wait to get back to the football game.
The only brand that stuck in my head later was Volkswagen and that’s because of “Bolt”, the dog who got himself into shape so he catch the new VW Beetle as it sped by his house. (Watch here: The Dog Strikes Back: 2012 Volkswagen Game Day Commercial.)
Why would a dog who works out be such a great commercial for a car? It was an idea based on something we already know, but don’t think about that much, and that’s that dogs love exercise (and many love to chase cars.)
Interestingly there is a short and long version of that commercial, where in the longer one, we’re taken a Star Wars bar filled with aliens and Darth Vader, who are watching the commercial and commenting on it. That section doesn’t get much air play and my feeling is that it’s because we understand and relate with the dog behavior far more than we identify with alien behavior.
Ratings for the Oscars and Grammy’s were up this year. What seemed to strike a chord with their audiences was the most simple of moments. We may have tuned into the Grammy’s to hear Adele sing publically for the first time after her throat surgery.
Meanwhile, Katy Perry created a wild and colorful stage presentation, and Lady Gaga seemed out of place in her typical off-beat garb even while sitting in the audience.
In the end, what blew everyone away was Adele simply standing alone on stage and starting out with an acoustical first line, “We could’ve had it all.”
By the end of her song, I was all misty eyed and happy for her. Her triumph, poise, grace and awesome blue eyes was all it took to make her performance unforgettable. She was the performer who looked the most like us.
During the Super Bowl, Madonna envisioned and created an elaborate show filled with drama and lots of sounds and movement. Her being there was criticized before the game, but after her show, she proved her 53 year woman body and soul could still sing, dance and perform like a star.
She reminded people who she was during the cocky 80’s and who she had become, as well as simply looking like she was having real fun up there.
Both Adele and Madonna did something that Angelina Jolie would also do during the Oscars when she presented her right leg and struck her now (in)famous pose on stage.
She left an impression on us and gave certain people, mostly women, something they could relate to or perhaps have the nerve to do too. It’s a subtle thing to convey confidence and make those who watch you connect with that confidence.
This is what marketers strive for. This connection with customers is driven by research and focus groups and demographics data.
The same is true for usability heuristic driven web design, in that studies that include mental models, user personas, marketing data and user generated feedback help designers understand first and then design to make those connections between what they see on their monitor and how it makes them feel.
Old Is New Again
When “The Artist” won for Best Picture, I thought this was also fascinating because it is a silent black and white film that took us back to the days of tap dancing, face powder and lipstick and of course, the required funny scruffy dog.
This movie had no descriptive title that offered any clue that it was different from today’s graphics driven colorful action packed movies. With no information scent to go by, “The Artist” drove in audiences by word of mouth. Why did audiences love this movie?
I think its success lies in its simplicity, the same as the genuine presence of Adele with her simple hairdo and pretty dress or the peek of Angelina’s slender leg poking out from the side of a dramatic black gown.
While watching a black and white, soundless film, the focus of our attention changes so that our brains can see more details. Our brains actually work harder while watching, but we’re relaxed because we know there will be no loud booms from bombs or machine guns or screams from people dying in battle or plane crashes.
Since our daily lives are filled with sounds and images of despair and pain, what offers us relief from the chaos wins the prize.
This is a lesson web designers are still learning, or perhaps re-learning. We used to go to websites to find information on pages that loaded fast and were easy to figure out how to use.
Today, servers put together hundreds of bits and pieces of images, content and scripts from various sources to compile the page you see on your monitor. The more technical the programming, the larger the page size and longer it takes to load.
Watch how people react to news stories or blog posts that come in video only and you’ll quickly learn that not everyone wants to wait for the thing to load, nor do they care to be entertained while getting the information they’re searching for.
Humans need choices. It’s just how we are and rightly so, since we’re each unique.
We fuss with our new computer and mobile devices but the truth is, we’re tired of the constant upgrades, enhancements and the latest new gadget that will somehow make our lives easier.
All we really have is more bills coming each month so we get a TV signal, our computers will work and our phones can accept text messages. If you step outside the marketing and technology worlds, you may discover that people yearn for some peace and quiet or at best, a chance to slow down.
Eye Tracking Vs. Task Analysis
I’ve been asked for my thoughts on eye tracking and to be honest, I’m not a devotee. Part of the reason is based on the study in 1999 called “The Invisible Gorilla”, where test subjects were asked to count how many times the players wearing white shirts passed a ball to each other.
Only 50% of them ever saw the person in the gorilla costume walk through the group of ball players. You’ll see lots of examples of what is referred to as “Intentional Blindness” or “Selective Attention” on Facebook when your friends show images that illustrate this same phenomenon.
I’ve witnessed myself the difference between watching a person look at and respond to a webpage versus giving them a task to do on that page.
In a majority of cases, unless they are given a specific task to do, they have no idea where to start when they arrive to the webpage.
This is troubling because so much money is spent on advertising to drive people to webpages and yet the user interface itself confuses them when they arrive.
Eye tracking can show where the eyes are gazing and for how long, but unless the test subject is speaking out loud, you can’t learn why they look in certain places or the point where they decide to leave the page.
Marketers, web designers and web application developers like to copy ideas and technologies that are known to work already. They may put their own spin on it but the idea isn’t original and sometimes their attempt doesn’t achieve the same results as the original.
Google Plus has copied Facebook and no matter how hard Google tries to bribe and cajole users into switching over to their social networking site, a large number of people are fine with what they have.
In fact, I feel that Google is trying so hard to mimic what’s already being done elsewhere that their original product, which was a search engine, is losing fans that are fed up and switching over to Bing.
An incident during the Oscars illustrates this. Not long after Angelina Jolie presented an Oscar on stage by throwing her head back, bearing a huge “I’m the Queen of the Universe” smile and thrusting her bare right leg out in front from the thigh high slit in her gown, a man who had won an award a few minutes later copied what she did when he got up on stage.
It was only funny if first, you understood why he was standing and fussing with his leg and head, and the fact that his leg was covered up. Unfortunately, while the audience and TV camera was watching him mock Angelina Jolie, it took our attention away from the person making the acceptance speech.
Some ideas are just plain distracting and because we’re curious by nature, we may stray off.
This is similar to banner ads placed near important content. Site visitors are searching for your products and information, not that other thing that just slid over the page asking them to take a survey or sign up for your newsletter.
We don’t come to websites to be distracted by something totally unrelated or which we didn’t expect to find.
Again, we respond better to simplicity and are happiest when we find what we came to see.
No Pain, No Pain
If the people in the Gorilla Study who were playing with the ball had reacted to the person in the gorilla costume who joined them, the test subjects who were watching would have likely noticed he was there. Their reaction would startle the test subject, distract them from counting ball passes and they would try to discover what interrupted them.
Humans must be better understood for technology to be accepted. This is one reason why search engines want to know everything about us. They want to develop products and services that people want to use and to do that, they must understand what makes us feel safe, what sites we favor, where we live and what we purchase. Sadly, they’ve lost credibility and user trust because of how they approach us for this information.
Advertising campaigns, PPC and social marketing strategies and search engine optimization also want the same information for better ad targeting. Website visitors may tolerate some banner ads, but the moment they come across creatives that prevent a page from loading or the ad or form slides on top of the content the user came to get, the human response is to be frustrated, angry and disappointed.
What did the VW dog, The Artist, Adele, and Angelina Jolie provide us that made what they did so successful? What was the tidbit of surprise and what unexpected gain did we get from each of them?
They sold their product without inflicting any pain on us. This is the ultimate secret to successful marketing, innovation and user interface design. It’s the one thing we all share.
People like surprises that don’t hurt.
Photo Credits: “Distressed Man”, stock image from Kozzi, used under license. Photos from The Ultimate Secret For Successful Marketing & Web Design at Search Engine Land, used with permission; from Beacon Radio, used under Creative Commons license.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.