Trash the Expected: Use Novelty to Incite Rabid Curiosity

by Stefan Mumaw

Novelty has become the harbinger of creativity over the last century. The basic human assumption is that novelty stimulates memory; we remember that which is new to us.

If part of our every day is picking up a newspaper from the machine on the corner, it stands to reason we’ll easily disregard the act of the daily experience as there’s nothing new within it. But if we exercise this common routine one morning, open the door to the paper machine and the soundtrack to Mission Impossible begins to play, we’re far more likely to remember that particular trip to fetch the paper—and in turn, relay our experiences to those around us.

We want our ideas to be remembered because we know that very little of what we create leads to immediate direct action. Our goal is often to stay “top of mind”, to be there in the consumer’s subconscious when they do make a buying decision. That’s why memory is deemed such a sought-after action in advertising and marketing.

But there’s a stronger action we could be targeting with our ideas, a behavior that leads to a more intimate connection with the consumer: curiosity. Curiosity leads us to explore that which we don’t know, answer the questions we form and fill in the gaps in our understanding. It’s an emotion that drives us to action, and anything that drives us to action is worthy of being considered a powerful ally in our desire to effectively communicate a message.

So what should we consider in our attempt to generate curiosity within our audience? Here are three things to consider:

Make Curiosity Motivational
Instead of using novelty as an attention vehicle, what if we used novelty as a means to make people curious—providing just enough information to encourage our audience to seek us out instead of us seeking them? It’s fragile, but potent. The biggest difference between memory and curiosity is will. We don’t always control memory (ever get a song stuck in your head that you can’t get rid of?) but we do control curiosity. When we’re curious, we need answers and, as humans, we can’t rest until we find those answers. If your idea can incite your audience to be curious about your brand or message, they will seek you out.

Make Curiosity Social
When we come across something novel, it’s human nature to share that novelty. It’s a protective measure we have ingrained within us since our early humanhood (“Hey, Aphmar, I ran into a dinosaur I’ve never seen before, it looks like this and it bites. You may want to walk on the other side of the swamp if you run across it.”) Knowing we openly share new experiences, our ideas have a natural social response built in to them. However, the payoff to that curiosity has to be commiserate with the effort required to discover the answers. If the audience isn’t rewarded as a result of their effort, they’ll resist sharing what they found and our ideas fizzle.

Make Curiosity Permissive
The by-product of inciting our audiences to be curious is that the actions they take are now their choice, not forced upon them. We all hate intrusive advertising methods because we don’t get to control whether or not we are willing to accept messaging in the moment. By making people curious, the actions they take are their own, they are willingly engaging in our brand message, spreading it for us. The easiest way to make evangelists for our ideas is to first incite curiosity about our message.

Curiosity is the most powerful marketing force on the planet. If we learn to harness the natural curiosity within everyone, we can use that power to communicate in more intimate and meaningful ways.


Grey Worldwide Germany’s Outdoor Ad for Toys ‘R’ Us

Grey Worldwide in Germany was charged with bringing the Toys ‘R’ Us brand to potential consumers in a playful, novel way. One campaign execution brought their inflatable beach toy collection to the public by converting an ordinary bulletin board advertising column into the blow up spout of an inflatable globe beachball, as if it’s the blow up spout to the Earth itself. A sign placed on the spout simply read “Inflatable Globe, €9,99.”

Image by Grey Worldwide, Germany for Toys ‘R’ Us


Quick Tips
1. When generating ideas, consider how curious the idea will make the audience. The more curious they are, the more likely they are to actively seek answers.

2. Pay off the audience’s curiosity with answers that are commiserate with their effort. It’s not just about answering a question, it’s about answering with an experience.

3. Don’t assume asking the question alone is enough, curiosity is a personal response. It requires us to genuinely know what our audience will respond to.


Dig Deeper!
1. Check out an experiment in curiosity when VW asked the question “Would more people choose to take the stairs if doing so meant they’d have more fun?”

2. See how novelty can be a small twist in something we use everyday when a copywriter used $6 worth of Google Adwords to land a posh new job.

3. Read all about the 7 characteristics of monster ideas in Stefan Mumaw’s book Chasing the Monster Idea: The Marketer’s Almanac for Predicting Idea Epicness.


2 thoughts on “Trash the Expected: Use Novelty to Incite Rabid Curiosity

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