Getting the Message, Part 2

We live in a very complex world, and we are equally complex. The base of information most of us store in our brains is impressive in its sheer scope and variety. A quick game of Trivial Pursuit brings to light a range of arcane information most of us are powerless to explain. We know things because… well, we know them.

Last time, we looked at how we constantly process information, usually without conscious effort. Messages, marketing or otherwise, must have personal relevance to be remembered.

Let’s take a close look at why the information we retain sticks while other seemingly relevant information (like algebra!) falls by the wayside. To explain this process, I developed what I call the Comfort Filters of Human Cognition as applied to online advertising.

Advertising’s goal is to get a marketing message from the ad space into the consumer’s head. Then the benefit to the advertiser starts. To get the message passed successfully, it first needs to bypass the consumer’s comfort filters.

Comfort filters can best be thought of as layers that surround the human brain. Their job is to block stimuli that can cause discomfort. For a message to get from an ad into the consumer’s brain, it must successfully pass through those filters. They are:

  • Ease of use
  • Assimilation
  • Empowerment
  • Engagement
  • Fear avoidance

Let’s zoom in for a closer look.

Ease-of-Use Filter

Human beings are on a constant lookout for the simplest solutions to problems. This desire is based more on efficiency than laziness. The path of least resistance appeals to us. In cognitive matters, it’s easer to understand those things we already have a partial understanding of as opposed to what’s brand new.

Ease of use is significant in online ad structure because if an ad isn’t easily understood or used by the consumer, the consumer may simply block it. This includes the ad function — if interactive, benefits offered, and what must be done to take advantage of the offer.

Assimilation Filter

The assimilation filter is primarily based on personal ability to quickly absorb information. We all have an information comfort level. For a homework assignment, the difference is significant between having to read a chapter versus the entire textbook in one night. We believe we can easily read a chapter in the designated time. Reading an entire textbook overnight is so difficult as to be almost impossible.

Consumers faced with an ad that offers too much information may often avoid it. The perception is they can’t absorb the information offered.

Empowerment Filter

This filter is significant in interactive rich media ads. It deals with offering the consumer control of the experience. All online advertising offers more personal empowerment than traditional advertising, but the value of control is a significant part of the consumer’s marketing experience. Buttons to press, tabs to click, or links to follow appeal to self-worth and control. Studies show greater content understanding is a result of interactive involvement with that content.

Bottom line: If you can create an ad that allows the consumer to get involved, you have a greater chance of getting your marketing message to that consumer.

Engagement Filter

Remember those old commercials in which the mother proudly proclaims her son, who’s playing with an educational toy, is “having so much fun he doesn’t even realize he’s learning”? This is how engagement in a product or message can lead to understanding without conscious effort. Those old ads may have oversimplified the approach, but getting consumers involved in the brand can do wonders for message recall.

Consumer engagement with the brand or message is one of the greatest benefits interactive ads can offer. Games, quizzes, small manipulations, and animations can serve greatly to engage the consumer and allow the marketing message to pass successfully.

Fear-Avoidance Filter

It’s hardly surprising we avoid things we fear. In the case of online ads, especially interactive ones, fears that may be conjured up include the ad is too complex to readily understand; the interactivity is complicated; and the messaging is obtuse. In a nutshell, people hate to feel stupid and will avoid any condition that might trigger that fear.

Ads need to be straightforward, easy to understand, focused, and nonthreatening to avoid scaring people away. Different demographics will, of course, have a bearing on how an ad is perceived.

Different consumers have different needs, apprehensions, and fears. But a well-designed ad that doesn’t create situations that drive consumers away can make a huge difference in campaign effectiveness.

Though this column provides a very basic overview of comfort filters, my book on advertising interactively provides a more in-depth look at the cognitive process as applied to online advertising.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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