The key to magic, and good advertising, is surprise

You have to love the Internet. You never can tell what you're going to find. Today, I stumbled on this letter from a wannabe magician to Teller of Penn & Teller. (Small warning, you may encounter a slightly off-color joke in this post.)

penn__teller, surprise is the key to magic. And advertisingTeller's response is full of insight including a bit that could absolutely apply to effective advertising. Here's an excerpt, emphasis is mine.

"Here's a compositional secret.  It's so obvious and simple, you'll say to yourself, "This man is bulls******* me."  I am not.  This is one of the most fundamental things in all theatrical movie composition and yet magicians know nothing of it.  Ready?

Surprise me.

That's it.  Place 2 and 2 right in front of my nose, but make me think I'm seeing 5.  Then reveal the truth, 4!, and surprise me. 

Now, don't underestimate me, like the rest of the magicians of the world.  Don't fool yourself into thinking that I've never seen a set of linking rings before and I'll be oh-so-stunned because you can "link" them.  Bull****.

Here's how surprise works.  While holding my attention, you withold basic plot information.  Feed it to me little by little.  Make me try and figure out what's going on.  Tease me in one direction.  Throw in a false ending.  Then turn it around and flip me over.

I do the old Needle trick.  I get a guy up on stage, who examines the needles.  I swallow them.  He searches my mouth.  They're gone.  I dismiss him and he leaves the stage.  The audience thinks the trick is over.  Then I take out the thread.  "Haha!  Floss!" they exclaim.  I eat the floss.  Then the wise ones start saying, "Not floss, thread.  Thread.  Needles.  Needles and thread.  Ohmygod he's going to thread the need..."  And by that time they're out and sparkling in the sunshine.

Read Rouald Dahl.  Watch the old Alfred Hitchcock episodes.  Surprise.  Withold information.  Make them say, "What the hell's he up to?  Where's this going to go?" and don't give them a clue where it's going.  And when it finally gets there, let it land.  An ending."

Great ads work that way too, they surprise you. If, when you encouter an ad, your brain hears what it expects to hear, it immediately tunes out. That's just the way we process language. It only pays attention when it encounters a surprise.

Here's a link to one of my all time favorite ads. You think you're watching one thing, until...surprise! Every aspect of this spot is brillaint. 

So what are you doing to surprise your prospects?


P.S. Interested in going to Land Aid 2015, a fabulous event supporting our friends at the Freshwater Land Trust? The event is happening next Friday, July 31, 2015. If you'd like to win two tickets, follow the link and follow the directions!


photo credit: Angela George

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