The Mystery Box

Revisiting AIDA

Ah yes, AIDA; the marketers who read this blog should be having College flashbacks right now. For those who skipped Marketing 101, it refers to a simple formula for converting a potential customer into a sale:

Attention: Grabbing the customer’s attention through packaging, signage, advertisements etc.

Interest: Once the customer has noticed the product, you need something to pique their interest.

Desire: Okay, you got their attention and they’re reading the package/ad etc.; now make them want it.

Action: They want it, and this step is the little push over the edge they need to make the purchase.

Here’s an example of AIDA at work. Let’s say you’re marketing a new brand of laundry detergent, and you want packaging that will drive sales. For attention, you might use loud colours, a call-out with “NEW” printed on it, or a unique mascot. To get their interest a big headline might read “From the makers of Brand X fabric softener” or “Never separate your loads again!”. Desire could come from other bullet points like “Whiter whites in less time!” of “The time-saving laundry detergent”. Finally, you could spring the customer into action with an instant $2 off coupon affixed to the box.

The formula has been around for over 100 years; Don Draper probably pithily quoted it to a client in a deleted scene. The thing is, I get the feeling some modern consumers are getting inured to its standards; smart young consumers have learned to look beyond star bursts and headlines, to look for pure value in their purchases.

Might it be time to suggest a subtle improvement to the formula? Could it be possible to inject mystery into the forumla? Does mystery in and of itself foster both interest and desire?

The Mystery Box

Avid readers of my blog (so, you know, my mom) might remember a post from ages ago where I outlined my all-time favourite TED videos. Closing the list was a talk by renowned Hollywood writer, director, and producer JJ Abrams (creator of Alias and Lost, director of Star Trek and the last two Mission Impossible films).

The theme of his talk was inspiration, specifically where his came from. But, the centerpiece of the presentation was an unopened “Mystery Box”, purchased by a young JJ at a magic shop decades before. He used the box as a metaphor for his love of the unknown, and how he infused that love into all of his film projects. He ended the video by refusing to open the mystery box, since that would remove the real appeal of it; the payoff would never feel better than the anticipation.

“I” is for Intrigue

A good mystery can usually create interest. Asking intriguing questions makes people think, and if you can get them thinking about your product, you’re doing something right. But while the customer ponders the question, they also strive for the answer; they “desire” to learn the answer to the mystery.

A great example of this principle in action is Cadbury and their “Caramilk mystery” campaign. You’ve probably never seen a Caramilk ad that talks about how much better it tastes than competitor’s offerings, or how much extra caramel it has compared to other bars. No, instead Cadbury focuses on the mystery of how the caramel gets inside the Caramilk bar. It’s playful, and memorable, and for one brief moment, it probably does get you to think “hmmm, I wonder how they do get the caramel in there”. By getting customers to pause and think, Cadbury has successfully pushed their product toward top-of-mind awareness.

Let’s revisit the laundry detergent example. Can we replace the Interest (callout, start bursts) and Desire (Whiter whites!) steps with Mystery? What about if we introduce “Formula X”, a secret stain fighter of incredible power? Our packaging might feature a tagline that read “Featuring Formula X, our secret stain fighting molecule!”. Now all of a sudden you have a secret, something no other competitor has. That’s interest and desire, all at once.

Getting Above the Clutter

What I’m really saying here is not necessarily that every product needs to be infused with mystery, just that sometimes you need to explore beyond the basics. Being different is a good thing, and if utilizing a little mystery is enough to stand out against the clutter, then adopt it. It takes guts to be different, but you wouldn’t be in business if you weren’t brave in the first place.

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