Are you advertising on social media?

Do you want more attention for your social media ads?

The way you design your ad impacts how much attention it gets with social media.

How Attraction Works

Each second, your senses are bombarded by over two billion bits of data. The only thing that keeps your brain from being overwhelmed is the reticular activating system [RAS]. This system works like a filter, deciding what data should be passed on to your brain for processing and what should be ignored.

In other words, it decides what you pay attention to. Let us look at how to improve your social media ads using brain science.

We have been looking at the latest findings in neurology and psychology in regards to marketing and have carried out some desk based research and have discovered the following.

Create Motion

Attraction to motion was hard wired into humans over thousands of years. This could explain the success of the TV and Youtube. With social media there are several ways you can take advantage of that in your advertisement to try to stand out from the mass of information.

Use GIFs or Video

When you scroll down a website or a Facebook feed what grabs your attention? Motion! Why? Gifs and videos tap directly into your RAS and pull your attention to them.

social media in motion

Google+, Tumblr and Twitter all allow you to use GIFs in ads. I suggest taking the time to create animated GIFs for your most important ads in order to pull the user’s attention to you. Search the internet for free gif creators. Simple videos can be created with Microsoft movie maker or powerpoint.

Think about the last time you scrolled through your Facebook feed. how this principle works with video. There’s a good chance you immediately look at the autoplay videos. Why do you think Facebook changed videos to autoplay?

Take advantage of that natural reflex and record an Instagram video or Vine to complement your Facebook ads.

Include Images That Imply Motion

If you use a social platform that doesn’t support videos or GIFs, there’s another, trickier way to add motion to your campaigns: Use images that show something moving (like the car below).

Social media advertising

Pictures that show motion (without actually moving) activate mirror neurons that trigger parts of the brain to react as if the event is actually happening.

Implement Motion on Blogs

As you scroll down a page, certain elements animate. These animated elements could be anything—a spinning graph, a jumping button, a sliding ad, etc.

Although it is worth mentioning that it’s easy to overuse motion, so remember that less is more. If there’s too much motion, the brain is overwhelmed and blocks it out.

#2: Intrigue With Ambiguity

Our brains love a good mystery or puzzle. Integrating elements of ambiguity, mystery or uncertainty into your marketing greatly increases the chances of hooking your audience’s attention.

Introduce a Mystery

When your brain is presented with something you can’t quite figure out, it locks down your attention so it can focus on how to solve the puzzle.

One practical application for marketers is creating a mystery that draws the audience in and the only way they can solve the mystery is to click on your ad. This should not be confused with click bating which is a short term gain and your audience will soon learn not to click.

Another option is to create anticipation. Audi does a phenomenal job of implementing the mystery principle in this teaser video for a car they’re unveiling at the 2015 auto show.

By creating hype and anticipation, Audi enthusiasts are on the edge of their seats and looking forward to the full unveiling of this concept car.

Ask the Mind to Question

Our brains expect to see certain objects in a particular context. When those objects are out of context, the brain has to work to decipher the image.

For example, how the mind perceives blank space is a powerful weapon for winning attention. Objects or pictures that are incomplete in the traditional sense make the viewer’s brain work to understand them.

Or you can take two common items the brain is familiar with and mix them in an unusual way. This cognitive dissonance intrigues the brain and attracts the user.

Below, Heinz 57 takes two things your brain is used to seeing individually—tomatoes and a ketchup bottle—and integrates them in a way that makes your brain question what you’re seeing.

Making the most of your social media marketing

As long as you make the image easy for the brain to solve, the puzzle actually increases the chance of your capturing and holding the viewer’s attention.

Share Neutral Faces

Our brains are naturally attracted to faces. You can take advantage of that by building ambiguity into what emotions your audience is experiencing. The makeup and fashion industries do this particularly well.

A neutral expression has a certain level of ambiguity and causes the viewer to interpret what the model is thinking or feeling.

Social media advertising

However, if you provide too much ambiguity and make your image too difficult to decipher, the brain becomes frustrated and the viewer loses interest. As you develop your ads, I suggest keeping them at a level that a 6-year-old can figure out.

Plus, when the audience figures it out, they’ll get a little shot of dopamine (a chemical in the brain that’s released to reward an achievement), which in turn makes them feel good about completing the task.

Find Common Ground

When developing your social advertisements, think about the people you’re targeting. Dig deep to find something that’s dear to their hearts and that they’re familiar with—perhaps a family member or friend, home city or favorite sports team.

The high-end hipster brand, Betabrand, uses familiarity in their social media advertising via campaigns on their website.

On their website, Betabrand offers customers a 10% to 20% discount if they submit pictures of themselves wearing Betabrand clothing. The catch is that customers must log in with their Facebook profile before they load a picture.


The company takes the customer’s uploaded picture and uses it in a Facebook social media ad that targets the customer’s friends and followers.

As the user’s friends scroll down their news feed, they’ll see a picture of their good friend and their attention immediately focuses on that image. Using a photo of someone’s friend to advertise? Talk about brilliant product placement!


There’s no doubt the ability to capture and hold attention is a prized skill for marketers. Marketers who understand how the brain works can effectively use that hardwiring to capture attention. It will take a little time and effort to perfect for your business but learn from your advertising and adapt.

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