Business owner - make your message stand out

Advertising - make your message stand out

We now live in the information age, so one of our brain's major daily functions is to help filter out the majority of this information. That is the role of your 'reticular activator' - it’s your mind’s filtering mechanism. Kind of like a goalie, trying to save everything from getting past and filling our mind with irrelevant, unwanted information.

It’s also the cause of failure for most advertising. That’s because most advertising assumes it starts with the customer’s attention, but it doesn’t. You need to appreciate customers are not thinking about your brand or your product - in fact, chances are your marketing message is interrupting their activity. At best you may get 10 seconds of their subconscious attention, but if you fail to get past their goalie within this time, your message will not be absorbed, retained or acted upon.

To get past the Goalie, you need a device

Within the first 10 seconds of any communication, you will either evoke interest or resistance from the reticular activator. Interest will give your message a chance to be absorbed. Resistance will happen at a subconscious level and most likely means your message is the equivalent of white noise. Forget trying to sell within the first 10 seconds of your message and focus instead on creating interest. How? Your device can take one of three forms.

In your world

If you travel the same route every day, chances are on many occasions you’ll find yourself having arrived at your destination with very little recall of the precise details of most of the trip. But here is what you would have noticed: anything that was relevant - maybe you saw a car identical to yours, maybe you saw a billboard for a new TV - and you are in the market for one at the moment. You would also have noticed anything that was unusual - odd behaviour, odd sights, new things that weren’t there the day previously. You probably didn’t notice any birds flying, but if there was one flying upside down, you would have noticed it for sure. You would also have noticed anything that was potentially problematic. Dangerous drivers, loose loads, trucks, brave pedestrians, wobbly cyclists, anything you needed to be aware of for your safety.


If you’re thinking about buying a new car and you’re drooling over a new Jaguar, you’ll very likely notice them everywhere you go. If you just bought a new leather jacket you really wanted, you’ll very likely notice everyone else seems to be wearing leather jackets too. That’s because our reticular activator lets in relevance. That’s also why advertising works so well for people who are ‘in the market’ because when information is relevant to a problem they're currently considering solving, it’ll get past their goalie.

But aiming for people who are just in market is too small a target; great marketing helps build your brand in the minds of consumers long before they need the product or service you provide. So don’t narrow your market appeal by jumping straight to the topic, e.g., “Do you need a new phone?” Because if the answer is ‘no’ today, then the message is lost. What says their phone breaks next week - wouldn't you rather your message was retained so you can sell them a new phone next week?

Relevance for example above could be: in a radio advert - two people talking over their phones with the frustration of a bad connection. In print - the image of a phone with a broken screen and a headline saying. “Oops, How did that happen”? These messages are now relevant to all phone owners, not just those in market.

But don’t just think of relevance as being product related. A message that runs on a Tuesday that starts with “Tuesday, normally it’s a nothing day…” will land with relevance because it’s a Tuesday for the recipient as well. There are multiple ways to be relevant. Day of the week, location, time of day, season, weather, payday, time of the month, etc.

Ironically a lot of small business marketing doesn’t just miss this point; it goes in totally the opposite direction. How many times have you heard radio adverts with two ‘radio voice’ people having a contrived conversation? They don’t sound like real people; they aren’t having a conversation you and I would have, so we disconnect thinking there is no relevance to us whatsoever.

We visit websites and see stock images of people who aren’t from our part of the world, acting in superficial ways with cheesy smiles and we feel no affinity (relevance) to them and therefore detach from the message.


Think of all the places you have been to yesterday and today. Now think about the flooring at each or any of the places you visited. Can you recall any of them? Probably not - not unless you are in the market for new flooring, you work in flooring yourself, or one of the floors was an unusual texture or pattern and impressed you. Otherwise, your reticular activator would have decided on your behalf not to retain this information.

But we do hold on to unusual, and this is fabulous news for smart advertisers.

You see, most advertising is so obvious and boring that if you’re prepared to stand out, be interesting, then that will make you unusual. Most advertising over-communicates - aiming to get across too many words in radio and print. If you are prepared to under-communicate - conversational pace on radio, white space in print - then that will make you unusual.

New messages grant you the grace of being unusual, new billboards, new adverts on our favourite station, new messages in our local paper, that are noticeably new and will also get past the goalie (at least once).

Most advertising looks and sounds like advertising. Don’t be in a rush to turn your business into an advert; people avoid advertising. Instead, follow the principles below to make your advertising different from the norm and therefore unusual enough to stand out:

  • Think about your tone of voice - reassure your customers, your message reinforces your brand, so don’t sound desperate. Avoid using capitals in headlines… (newspapers don’t use capitals).

  • Keep your messages single-minded - if you have more than one message, make more than one commercial.

  • Consumer benefit beats product features every time.

  • The emotional benefit of a product outweighs price point. Concentrate on why they will love it before telling them how much it will be.


As one of our core human instincts, our brain is always on alert to anything that could cause us harm. This is not an aspect of the reticular activator advertisers should attempt to appeal to. Yes, it works to gain attention, but it doesn’t put us in a positive disposition to absorb a marketing message. When our brain is alerted to problematic possibilities, an increase in heart rate and release of adrenalin are often not far behind. Not an ideal state to have prospects in.

You’ll see many scaremongering type adverts online these days where the advertising is trying to gain our attention by targetting our fears. You may also have heard radio adverts that start with a siren or noise that shocks us into fearing something bad is happening. This is bad taste marketing and not something you should aim to build your brand on.

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