By Brazos Elkins, Jr. Copywriter
(My take on “Igniting Curiosity” by Benjamin Solomon, Director of Creative Development at Vox Media.)
Anything people do online always, always starts with curiosity. When people click anywhere, it means they want something. They are opting into an experience. They are experiencing a “curiosity gap.” The curiosity gap is an expression used to refer to a reader’s craving to satisfy their feeling of curiosity—they know that they don’t know something, and they want to change that. For some, “creating a curiosity gap” translates to misdirection and clickbait headlines, but that’s not the only way to inspire curiosity. Yes, your headline has to leave the reader wanting to follow along with you to learn more, but where you lead them is just as critical.
Benjamin cites a real example of two posts on Facebook. The first is titled “Grilled Cheese Martinis”, and the second, “Native American Chef Cooks with Pine Needles”. Both are about food, and both create a curiosity gap—they make you ask, “What’s going on here?” He goes on to describe “Grilled Cheese Martinis”: it’s a recipe video and it’s just as gross as it sounds. Then he goes on to “Native American Chef” and details how it opens up with a quick-hitting, unexpected quirk (cooking with pine needles), but goes on to open up a discussion around the health and food crisis facing Native Americans.
Both videos create curiosity, but only one fuels it by telling an engaging narrative and hooking the reader with entertaining, informative, shareable, memorable content in less than 90 seconds. “Grilled Cheese Martinis” is about as curiosity-nutritious as a grilled cheese martini—you see it, you react, you scroll on, you forget about it. Not only did the second video perform better on multiple metrics, it was sponsored by Capital One and highlighted Capital One’s support of small businesses. In Benjamin’s world, brands can and should tap into authentic relevance by engaging with these deeper social issues. However, if brands want to stay more ‘on-brand’, they can still benefit by employing deep, meaningful curiosity instead of shallow gimmicks.
Going beyond the metrics, Benjamin said that the real proof was in the comments. People were grossed out or surprised by “Grilled Cheese Martinis,” but awestruck and genuinely thankful after watching “Native American Chef.” This was a theme that came up again and again in his presentation: your content should mean something to the audience, which isn’t the language creatives and planners typically use. Instead, we throw around buzzwords like relevance and authenticity when what we really want, behind all the BS, is for our audience to appreciate what we’re saying enough to stop, take a look, enjoy, and maybe even share what they see. Benjamin offers 3 take-home points for everyone who wants to create content that effectively uses the curiosity gap:
Respect your audience. While data can help you optimize, you need to live and breathe your audience so that you can create content that sticks with them in a much deeper way. You cannot always show your audience something that matters in 20 seconds. Stories engage people, and few stories can be told that quickly. Furthermore, not all stories have the same effect on an audience. If the only story you ever tell is “Brand X saves the day,” you are missing out on the chance to mean something to your audience by inspiring deep curiosity in more compelling stories. To put it another way: just because your ad or content tells a story, does not make it interesting or compelling. You have to tell stories that your audience cares about in a way that makes them care.
Foster Obsessive Creators. Audiences and consumers react to real people’s enthusiasm, and it can shine through in the content you create. Vox’s best example is the Explainer Studio, where Explainer-in-Chief Graham tells a story about a given brand in first-person. His research and excitement are contagious. Benjamin’s advice to brands is much broader, though, “Don’t be so afraid of humanizing the assets you want to share.” Real people, who talk, write, or act like real people make for better stories. (Sidebar: This is the thinking behind the art director/copywriter teams that have survived in advertising for so long. Now that metrics and best practices have eroded the human element of advertising [and caused the race to the bottom in which brands create low-quality, high-volume content], real human voices stand out like never before.)
Champion Overdelivery. A brand should support a story instead of beating the story down. One thing that I really appreciate from Benjamin’s talk is that he uses a real, working definition of story. A metaphor is not a story. A USP is not a story. A stunt or gimmick is not a story. Stories trigger a curiosity gap and come to a satisfying conclusion that builds deeper curiosity around an insight or issue. You can’t muscle brand love into a story, especially a non-story like those mentioned above. But a brand can support a larger, more relevant story, winning brand love along the way.
Dieste, Inc. (www.dieste.com) is a Dallas- and New York-based company with a mission to pioneer the future of how brands and cultures connect. Through our partnerships and the deployment of proprietary consumer data, algorithms and human cultural intel, combined with insightful creativity, we are able to sync brands with consumer subcultures and create successful outcomes for our clients. Dieste has won multiple Cannes Lions for their work and has been named Ad Age’s “A-list,” “Agency to Watch” and “Multicultural Agency of the Year” numerous times. Dieste is part of Omnicom’s (NYSE: OMC) DAS Global network.