The Scientific Reasons Yolo Marketing Doesn’t Work

by | Mar 24, 2016

by | Mar 24, 2016 | Marketing

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” – Blaise Pascal in Letter XVI, 4 December 1656

Pascal was a 17th Century French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and philosopher – how is that for a job description? He did so much writing that he learned the value of concision. You know, he was short-winded, abridged, succinct, pithy, brief.

Heh.

I’ve always liked Pascal’s quote because it applies so well to great marketing and great messaging. And it’s a principle, as an industry, we’ve unconsciously drifted away from.

Brevity is a challenge in marketing because it forces us to make choices about the information that is most important. But, that challenge is the reason brevity is so valuable. Choices make our creative and messaging better.

This notion of focused messaging isn’t just opinion, either.

Here’s the science.

Researchers in the 1940s conducted experiments that organized all of the information our brains have to react to into “bits.”1 Think of a bit as a unit of measurement for brain stimulus – a message that the brain must acknowledge. These scientists discovered that average folks can read about five words per second. Breaking words down into bits – brain stimulus – five words are worth 50 bits.

Here’s why that’s important.

Our brains gather 11 million bits per second from our surroundings using all five of our senses. Yet, our conscious minds can only process 50 bits per second.

That means our brains ignore a LOT of information.

Which means we have to be brief in our marketing and messages. Otherwise we risk failing to have our message absorbed by our target audience.

All of this background brings us to the main point – stop with the “yolo ads.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the origins of the term “yolo” it means “you only live once.” A yolo ad is an ad where there are so many messages packed into it that people can’t possibly absorb them all, let alone remember them long enough to take action. Essentially, it’s an ad where it seems like the business may never advertise again, so it must put every conceivable message and offer into a single ad.

All of those visual elements and extra messages are tirelessly competing for the attention of the reader or viewer. If the goal is to make the message of your ad memorable to entice action, then we can’t ask the viewer of the ad to remember too much.

The more focused our marketing is, the easier it is to understand. The easier it is to understand, the more effective it becomes.

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1Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “information theory”, accessed March 16, 2016, http://www.britannica.com/topic/information-theory/Physiology.

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