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The invisible gorilla in your marketing strategy

I am at the office. I know that I drove here this morning, but the truth is, I cannot remember the drive at all. An entire forty-minute journey on auto drive.




Auto drive. We shop in it and we buy with it. In fact, we are so auto driven that up to 75% of the time people are so focused on their current outcome, versus the current reality, they totally miss changes or news that is happening around them. Even when there are massive, gorilla-like changes in the environment, consumers often carry on without interruption. Take a look at this video:




Did you see the massive gorilla that walked across the screen, or were you so focused on the task at hand that you missed it entirely? This is famously known as the “Invisible Gorilla Test” and at the time, it proved that our minds don’t work the way we think they do. When asked about the experiment, almost everyone has the answer “yes, of course I would see a massive gorilla walking across my screen” but the results are vastly different. How could something so obvious go completely unnoticed? When this experiment was carried out at Harvard University several years ago, over 50% of people who watched the video missed the gorilla. It was as though the gorilla was invisible.


The relevance? We think we see the world that surrounds us, as it really is, but we’re actually missing a whole lot as we auto drive and auto perceive our surroundings based on our focus at hand. We think consumers are seeing our messaging, and indeed often they do physically see it, but are they actually deciphering it and seeing it as a valid input into their current shopping or brand mission?

We spend many hours creating marketing that ticks all the rational boxes, but is it having the impact we hope it is? As marketers we are constantly facing a phenomenon called ‘inattentional blindness’ and it means that most people actually only take in about 1% of all the stimulus they see daily. Attention is a limited and valuable resource and the brain prioritises – as marketers we are generally are not aware just how limited it is.

So is all lost? Absolutely not. Whilst we may over-estimate consumers capacity to pay attention, there is still opportunity to manipulate these audiences to some extent! If we know it is difficult to capture the attention of someone who is already focused on a fixed task at hand, what might be the best solution to interrupt this behaviour?


The established idea of disruption and ‘stand out’ may not always be in our favour. When people are focused on a particular goal, being completely different may actually make it less likely that you are noticed - given people are functionally blind to anything not directly related to their task. That’s why they might be ignoring your advertising or brand new packaging – it’s just not seen as ‘relevant right now’, making it just too much of an effort to focus on. There are reasons Coca-Cola, Heinz and Nivea haven’t messed with their packaging over their decades of brand life! These brands know that by keeping things consistent, recognized and relevant, the auto drive behaviour takes shoppers straight to them – habitually and with ease.


So, if I am correct that our consumers are missing many of the million dollar changes to our brands, have we as marketers all been as ‘asleep as the wheel’ as I was on my morning drive? Have we missed the obvious and over complicated our job as marketers? And if so, am I arguing less creativity and innovation versus more?

Absolutely not but I do think the answer lies in “fresh consistency” versus continually “totally reinventing” or “disrupting” what has been done before. Freshly representing consistent cues that our ‘intentionally blind’ consumers want and need is arguably the most powerful way we can work with, and not against, the human brain. Perhaps it’s time to reassess our approach and definition of “fresh” work and start proving that we marketers are much wider awake than our consumers are.

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