The Cure for ADD

August 26, 2008 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

“So much is interesting that nothing is,” says author Edward Hallowell, M.D. in his book“Crazy Busy.”

Such is the dilemma for those of us who get paid to compete for attention. Those of us charged with not only capturing attention but turning it into buying action. We do so in a world gone ADD. People just don’t pay attention anymore. We talk on our cells while driving our cars and drinking a coffee. We fidget with electronic gadgets while eating lunch with friends. And we get annoyed when our computers don’t spring to life fast enough. I’m guilty, too. I once called a buddy on his cell phone while we were both driving our cars down the Dallas Tollway. I got impatient when he didn’t answer after three rings, so I hung up and tried him on his pager. No response. A few minutes later I cruised up on a wreck only to find him sitting beside his brand new smashed upPorsche 911. Turns out he was trying to respond to both devices and rear-ended aVolvo in the process. My impatience and his inability to focus on one thing at a time cost his insurance company $25,000.

Breaking through all this insanity has never been more difficult. And it’s not about the Web versus traditional media or alternative approaches. It’s about personal relevance no matter where and when the message is delivered. Even highly relevant messages get missed, so there’s still no guarantee of success. Another friend’s wife told him every day for three months to have a mole on his face checked because she thought it was cancer. When he finally did get it looked at, the doc told him it was. The story had a happy ending, but the point is she had to deliver a highly relevant one-to-one message for roughly 90 consecutive days before he took the desired action. Now consider the advertiser’s dilemma.

Perhaps the very best way to ensure relevance and gain attention is to tap into what sociologists refer to as a person’s world view. It’s a mental model that contains images, assumptions and stories that we carry in our minds of ourselves, other people, institutions, and every aspect of the world. These mental models provide a unique perspective that strongly influences what we pay attention to, and how we interpret it. Differences between mental models explain why two people can observe exactly the same event and come away with wildly different descriptions of it. And those world views are driven by life circumstances. A kid living at the poverty level growing up inDetroit will have a world view vastly different from an executive living in a luxury waterfront condo in Miami. You get the idea.

An advertiser can’t spend too much time diving deep into the world views of its target. The exercise yields a trove of information that can lead to useful insights. And clever creative people can turn those insights into ideas that break through consumer ADD and grab attention. Consider the way the King character for Burger King has connected with hungry burger-eating young males whose world views include values like irreverence, absurdity, and showboating. Or what about the way Cadillac’s famous campaign featuring theLed Zeppelin track clicked with the world views of hip upwardly mobile professionals whose mindset includes achiever values like power, prestige, and status along with values like youth, fast living, and fun. More recently, John McCain leveraged the endorsement of Latin recording artistDaddy Yankee to connect his campaign to the world views and associated values of young Hispanics. What better way to make an old white guy who talks about boring stuff meaningful to these new voters? Smart.

It sounds obvious, but far more advertising messages don’t connect than do.


Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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