Thursday, July 26, 2012

Filling in the .

A couple million years ago (or a few thousand if you're a creationist Republican presidential candidate) humans began getting rewards for filling in the blanks, for adding two plus two, for drawing deductions. People who could do so survived, the others were eaten. Over time, the ability to "see" things before they were apparent became hardwired into our heads.

Here's what I mean.

Say it's two-million BC and you're out for a walk alone. Thirty feet ahead of you is a boulder. You notice that the bush around the boulder is tamped down and torn up. Something must be lurking behind that boulder. You turn on your calloused heels and avoid the lion lurking behind the rock.

You are rewarded (with life) for your ability to perceive.

Now, look at Kanizsa's Triangle, above. You see, of course, two triangles where there are none. This is another example of your brain doing work--of seeing things that aren't there. Of filling in the blanks.

Over the course of human history, humans have been "rewarded" for their ability to add up things that are barely perceptible. My lion example above is just one example.

We know ads work better when they give your brain the pleasure and reward of filling in the blanks. Yet, as Bob Hoffman pointed out in a comment on this blog the other day, so many clients want their advertising to "read" like a court case.

Next, take this drawing by Klimt. It looks like nothing we have ever seen in real life. There are not creatures made of squiggles and outlines. Thankfully, our brains make it work for us.

It's both sad and frustrating that the MBAs who approve our work and so often talk down to us because we wear blue jeans, know nothing of elementary neuroscience.

Our ads become prisoners of completionists. When they should, to be effective, allow the viewer's brain to do what it is wired to do.
By the way, if I ever get the nerve, funding or business to re-start my agency, GeorgeCo., I will begin every creative presentation with a brief discussion of Kanizsa's Triangle. It might even become my logo. After all, it looks also like a Jewish star.


Sell! Sell! said...

Superb post, thanks George. GeorgeCo already sounds like a great agency.

Sam said...


The way I see it, writing-related technology (MS Word, blogging software, Google Docs, online thesauruses, etc) has primarily served to make us hyper-aware of the word choice alternatives we have.

Look up synonyms, and you get stuck in an endless web of possibilities. "Happy" could be "jubilant" or it could be "jolly" or it be "blissful." Oh god, what should I say?

It undermines the instinct to make a choice and go with it.

It also allows people to obsess over minutia instead of looking at the overall CONTEXT of the message.

If I feel good today, should I really be arguing with myself about whether to label it "happy" or "jolly?" That would make me an asshole.

Sam said...

*or it could be

bob hoffman said...


There is science behind this.

Education research is very clear that people learn more successfully when they are made to close the loop rather than have someone close the loop for them.

Allowing the viewer to make the final connection not only makes for better creative work, it makes for more effective advertising.

Tore Claesson said...

@bob hoffman

Although I personally never read any research that proves it I have always believed that to be true.
It just makes sense.
I wish more clients would believe in it as well.
just like a good joke is set up so that the punch line is not the joke, but makes the connection possible.
Tell the punch line first and there is no aha moment, no laugh. A great push line lets us connect the dots ourselves.
I strongly believe it to be true even if the purpose is not to necessarily generate a laugh. It's about the conclusion.
The "I get it" reaction.