Why does surprise sell so well?

surprised woman marketing findaway

Surprise! Marketing. 

Wait, stop - don’t read this article! Seriously, don’t go anywhere near it! There’s a TIGER!

Okay, did you actually stop? Good, I wasn’t serious, but here’s what’s going on: Surprise is the key to being remembered and it’s the one critical element that your marketing has been missing.

Your marketing has become, well, boring.

I hate to say it, but statistically, it’s true. Marketers have so many duties, platforms, and channels that they’re more focused on total output than they are on creativity. According to research by Accenture, 81% of marketers are creating “moderate or enormous” amounts of digital content but only 1 in 5 believe that they are doing it well. 

In their lack of creativity, they’re leaving out the most valuable element: Surprise. There's a science behind this. Within your brain, the hippocampus serves as a “novelty detector,” reports Scientific American. Through fMRI scans researchers discovered that it’s constantly comparing what you’re seeing with what you know and when there’s a mis-match, it releases dopamine. That dopamine activates your attention. But that’s not all.


surprise sells brain infographic findaway media

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“If we experience a novel situation in a familiar context, we will more easily store this event in memory,” Scientific American writes. Surprise solidifies memories. And this isn’t just short-term recall either; it’s long term. If you’re shocked by something, it sticks with you. Perhaps this is why everyone can remember where they were on the day of traumatic events, such as 9/11, even if they weren’t there. 

 The application for this in your marketing should be obvious: Do the unexpected! Do audiences expect an email to start with “Hi there”? Switch it up. Do they expect an ad that touts your features? Make it humorous and off-topic instead. MOO, a provider of premium business cards, manages to insert a little humor into what’s normally a staid and boring “sign up here” form. Off that quirky, barely visible line alone, I did. 

Image: Go on - give us your email.

Image: Go on - give us your email.

Great examples from 2016 abound - let's explore some of them. 

Based off of a joke that started on Twitter, Hamburger Helper, by General Mills, released a rap album called “Watch the Stove." No joke. The reviews? Not bad. They partnered with DEQUEXATRON X000 and built a bond with tens of thousands of millennials in their relentless quest to not take themselves seriously. 

And out of left field, Sonic, the fast food chain, catered Coachella with beautiful, mouthwatering shakes that were … square. The pictures speak for themselves. Why square though? That's the aspect ratio of an Instagram picture, from which platform they could be ordered directly and (hopefully) shared.

sonic square shakes surprise marketing


Ready to shock your own audience? Do something that rattles their hippocampus. Shake them back to life and rescue them from the mounds of rubbish that’s being published - surprise them and be remembered for it!

But seriously, I wasn't kidding about the tiger. 


look a tiger!



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