Search
  • Suzanne Mucci

Don’t underestimate the power of the unexpected

I would love to have been a fly on the wall when someone first suggested using an animatronic Arnold Schwarzenegger to remind people about the deadline for payment protection insurance claims.



Why Arnie? According to the Financial Conduct Authority, who commissioned the ad, he was perceived to epitomise directness and getting things done – exactly the sentiment they needed to urge people into action. So far, so logical. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Niqc_PEM9Pw


Why a disembodied Arnie head rolling around on wheels? Who knows, but it grabbed the nation’s attention: the campaign saw a 64% increase in PPI payouts compared to the previous 10 months, with 73% of consumers recognising the ads. Arnie’s head got inside people’s heads, to great effect.


Surprises stimulate


Some of the most memorable technology marketing has harnessed the power of the unexpected. Think of Sony using 250,000 coloured balls bouncing down the streets of San Francisco to promote its LCD televisions which delivered ‘colour like no other’. O2’s Be More Dog campaign, in which a fluffy ginger cat galvanises us into ‘grabbing the frisbee’ and seizing the day. Or EE deploying the wry humour of Kevin Bacon to sell us mobile phones. These ads may have bemused us at first, but they have become some of the longest lasting and most successful campaigns of the past 10-15 years.



All have a common ingredient: they hero something that shouldn’t be there. The unexpected stimulates our brains and the reasons go right back to our instinct for survival: as humans, we’re hard wired to spot danger and we take more time to process surprising objects or events in our heads as we assess whether they’re potentially harmful or not. This has the effect of searing them into our mind’s eye – and when those stimuli are pleasurable, because they’re entertaining, or beautiful, or intriguing, we’re left with lasting feelgood memories.


Nonsensical gets noticed


Research bears out the power of the unexpected. A study by Eelke Spaak of Radboud University published in Psychological Science asked 100 participants to detect changes between two consecutive photos of the same scene. People were consistently quicker to notice a change if it involved an object in an incongruous setting. For example, if the first photo included a coffee cup in a toilet roll holder and the second photo didn’t, this was more likely to be spotted than a coffee cup in a dishwasher.


Being surprising means being distinctive, which boosts memorability. And if those memories crystallise the right emotions, you’ve made a deep and positive connection with your prospective customer.


The best ideas don’t have to make complete sense, not immediately. They just have to create a little magic. Embrace the nonsense and your audience will love you for it.

*Psychological Science, Expect the Unexpected: Why We Process Surprising Objects More Deeply

17 views0 comments