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  • Writer's pictureSiria Contreras

The Business of Intrigue

Many things bore me.

However, I am also polite. So sometimes, I’ll give things a chance or an extra minute or two to see if perhaps I judged too quickly, most of the time finding that no, my initial assessment was accurate. Yet, out of courtesy and respect for the work put into something I may still engage/consume whatever it is through its entirety.

Thankfully, many more things spark my curiosity than bore me. And at times, it is something that I have a disinterest in that may lead me to something that stirs great curiosity within me.

As a marketer, and especially as an entertainment marketer, I’ve had to rely on my ability to spark the interest of and capture the attention of millions of people at any given moment globally. Ultimately, getting a fair percentage to take an action, whether it was to watch/tune in/stream, purchase, click, or simply trigger them to exercise their “recall by association” muscle (brand-building), etc.

In short, I had to trigger the brains and eyes of strangers to confer and ultimately agree in unison that “I’m intrigued…I must know more.”

Visual elements and composition play a huge role in capturing our attention as it grows shorter and shorter by the hour. We tend to look at a graphic or photo before we ever read any words (or most of us do anyhow).

Guilty as charged. For me, this isn’t reserved to advertising but also photography and art. The photo or piece of art has to stop me in my tracks and cause me to have a reaction. The reaction can be positive or negative, yet never passive or I wouldn’t have stopped to view it to begin with. It has to trigger me to want to assign it an origin story or intrigue me enough to wonder what occurred not only during, but also after the photo was taken or art was completed to help me explain to myself why it’s good or bad.

For example, last night I came across Laurent Baheux’s Crossing the Plain photographs. Elephants are some of my favorite animals, so enormously majestic–lumbering yet regal and graceful at once. So that caused me to stop for a second to view the first photograph, “Crossing the Plain I,” (pictured above) that had popped up as I scrolled through a collection of similar photos.

My reaction aside from an “Aww, elephants!” brief exclamation from my part, was passive and while it is a good photograph, it didn’t hold my attention.

Yet, later after swiping past a few more photographs, “Crossing the Plain II” featuring the same elephants, but from a different view (rear) appeared and I had to stop and take it in.

I had so many questions.

“Where are they going?”

“Do they make this trek daily?”

“Are they migrating? If so, is it by choice?”

“No large clouds of dust in the image, so probably not running away from anything…”

“Are these elephants free or has someone or an organization made them their property?”

Why did I care so much more about the elephants after seeing them in the second photograph, but was not as invested in them in the first? For starters in the first one, I could see their faces, their expressions were not that of distress or anger. They looked like they were just going about their daily routine business. Yes, the clouds look a bit ominous, but they don't look too concerned about the looming potential of bad weather.

In the second photograph, it all changes. I cannot see their faces, I notice so many more details, I see some of their heads drooping as if sad. Is anything driving them forward, a vehicle perhaps? The little baby elephants, will they be able to keep pace with the larger elephants? Perhaps they are all leaving a place of much turmoil or maybe they are leaving in search of a location with more readily available food and water. Has the season changed? I don't dare to think of trophy hunters.

You get the point. I was clearly much more “intrigued” by the second image and experienced a handful of reactions in a matter of nano-seconds–from concern, to curiosity, and ultimately to resignation. Resigning myself to not knowing the story of these elephants and where they were headed and why. Yes, I could google it, but the beauty of photography and art is that you can basically make up your own story to go with them and at times the magic vanishes once you know the real story–not always as interesting, dramatic, or whimsical as one that you may have made up.

Back to audience marketing, currently there is actually only one brand that makes me turn my head and take in their OOH (out-of-home) advertising, whether it’s as I’m driving on L.A.’s freeways and get sucked into the beautiful simplicity yet effectively intriguing billboards and bus shelters, etc that they have running as part of their current campaign. Below are a couple of examples, but if you've taken the 405 recently, you've seen even better ones that are currently circulating.

Airbnb. From castles to space-ship like dome-shaped abodes and everything in-between. You’ve likely seen their billboards. I will say that if their ads aren’t triggering your wanderlust, ready-for-travel impulses and/or your imagination or at the very least curiosity, then you are a tougher audience than I, and as a long-time highly-creative marketer I myself am immune to most marketing campaigns. But not Airbnb. Even their social media posts with the random factoids, I find to be perfectly hooky and engaging.

With so much competition for our attention on a daily basis, every single minute-of-the-day their ads allow us a momentary escape to “travel wishlist land.” I’m terrible at meditation, but I could probably stare at their billboards for a minute or two. Unheard of in our 3-to-5 second attention span worlds.

There was a time, for those of us who experienced the full power of “linear” broadcast television, where the creative needed to stand out, yes. However, oftentime sound was employed to at-times draw your attention in an even more effective and powerful way. Even I got to experience this form of advertising for what now seems like a brief period of early childhood into pre-teen years, but the stuff I saw and most importantly heard still remains in the archives of my brain–everything from the Folgers Coffee jingle to the Mervyn’s “Open, Open, Open” commercials, and of course who can forget the delighted squeal of the Pillsbury Dough Boy or the thundering roar of the MGM lion.

All auditory, all powerfully unforgettable.

But now, it’s a visual first world. Visual recognition tops all.

As we continue to live in a digital, social, and streaming world, every company and production studio’s creative must get that much stronger and be optimized to not only intrigue, but also drive curiosity and ideally, ultimately inspire action. Or at the very least, inspire the audience to, like me, assign their own story to the visual–either way mission accomplished…attention captured and intrigue-level, a success.


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