Creative copy can attract or distract
“Prose is architecture. It’s not interior design.”
— Ernest Hemingway, Nobel Prize-winning novelist
But the power to attract may also distract readers from your main idea. If your “seductive details” don’t illustrate your key points, they can:
- Draw attention away from more important ideas (Luftig & Greeson, 1983)
- Disrupt text processing (Garner, Gillingham & White, 1989)
- Cause readers to forget the important information while remembering the interesting stuff (Baird & Hidi, 1984)
“Interesting but unimportant information frequently disrupts the learning of more important ideas,” writes Suzanne Hidi, associate member, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Centre for Applied Cognitive Science.
Avoid ‘Visual Vampires.’
Call these interesting but unimportant elements “Visual Vampires.” That’s PreTesting’s term for images that attract audience members in television ads but that don’t draw them to the product.
PreTesting is a Tenafly, N.J., company that gauges consumers’ reactions to ads by measuring their “saccadic” eye movements, or how fast their eyes vibrate.
Ads featuring men with wacky, red, pigtail wigs (Wendy’s), dogs wearing dentures (Citi) and an exotic woman stretching (Hormel) all grabbed attention. But they failed to keep it long enough to for viewers to read the copy or hear about the products.
Build an argument.
So take a tip from Hemingway. Ask, are your creative elements architecture, helping you build your argument? Or are they interior design, just putting wallpaper over your message?
If they’re interior design, they could be distracting readers from your key ideas. Instead, support your abstract, important ideas with concrete, interesting material.
Remember: It’s not enough to make your copy interesting. Our job is to, in the words of James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, “make the important interesting.”
Sources: Suzanne Hidi, “Interest and Its Contribution as a Mental Resource for Learning,” Review of Educational Research, Winter 1990, Vol. 60, No. 4, pp. 549-571
Kenneth Hein, “Beware of Visual Vampires, Warns Measurement Firm,” Brandweek, Nov. 26, 2007