Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Get their attention - What leaders can learn from advertising

Have you ever watched a TV commercial over and over again, until one day you happen to pay attention and realize that it actually had an interesting message behind it? This is what happens when commercials fail to get your attention. Like I mentioned previously in this blog, you need to get people's attention and then follow up with emotion in order to get people to change their behavior.

Volkswagen did a great job playing with this phenomenon in their "Safe Happens" campaign. Their commercials would show two people having a very normal and boring conversation that lulled you into ignoring the commercial. Just when they bored you almost to a slumber... BAM! A sudden car crash grabbed your attention, just like it often happens in real life. They would then show you the passengers standing next to the car looking at the carnage, followed by the message "Safe Happens." and then the VW logo.


If you have been in a real car crash, you know that it is a highly emotional experience. There is that surreal moment after the crash when you are wondering what happened, where are you, and are you hurt?

While your mind is going through the emotional paces, VW hits you with an ironic twist on the popular saying, "sh*t happens." They wrap the jarring emotional car crash experience with a tongue-in-cheek clever tagline that you can't help but enjoy a little. The result is a strong positive association with the VW brand and safety.

Prior to VW's Safe Happens campaign, commercials mostly showed wrecks being avoided, which didn't grab your attention. They showed crashes with test dummies, which didn't appeal to your emotion. The status quo safety message was a list of safety features and automotive industry safety awards, such as standard dual airbags and anti-lock brakes. As I have written before, this kind of appeal to reason is not memorable, it doesn't appeal to emotion, and it doesn't drive a change in behavior.

You can't get people to change if they aren't paying attention

Just because you have the floor doesn't mean that you have their attention. In the attention starved and stimulation rich environment that we live in, you have to do something big to get people's attention. People will quickly start thinking about other things, checking their smart phones, emailing, texting, and Twittering.

If you are presenting, don't start with the agenda. Start with a joke, a story, a video, or do something physical on stage. I have seen one person do cart wheels before giving a presentation. I once showed videos of snipers and machine guns as an attention getter. It got mixed reviews, but it definitely got their attention. If you need some inspiration before your next big presentation where you want to drive change, watch this video of Steve Ballmer a few times.