If you’re already familiar with the Chabris and Simons Selective Attention Test, then keep reading. If not, then click here and watch the video carefully. The goal of the experiment is to count the number of times people in white pass the ball. Come back here once you’ve finished the video (you will get the answer at the end of the video).
Be honest, did you see the gorilla? If you’ve taken the test before (or even heard of the test), then the answer is probably yes, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t notice the gorilla. Roughly half of those who take the test fail to notice a person dressed as a gorilla who strolls into the middle of the players and beats its chest at the camera. The reason is because people are concentrating so hard on counting the passes that they’re blind to the unexpected, even though it may be staring them in the face.
The creators of the experiment, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, have written a book, The Invisible Gorilla: And other ways our intuitions deceive us (HarperCollins). Their aim is to show how easy it is to miss things that are right in front of us when we’re not looking out for them, and how illusions and distorted beliefs lead us astray every day. The cover what they consider to be six of the most common intuitive errors: inattentional blindness (failing to see things that are in plain sight); the belief that our memories are more reliable than they are; the tendency to think someone is competent if they are confident; the illusion of knowledge (we know much less than we think); the assumption that things that occur together must be causally related; and the increasingly popular notion that cognitive exercises make us smarter.
What can intuitive errors tell us about developing advertising and marketing campaigns? The authors note that failures of attention are increasingly relevant because of our reliance on fast-response technologies such as cars and cellphones. A delay of a tenth of a second in noticing an unexpected event is of little consequence when walking, but when driving, it could kill you or someone else. Fortunately, advertising doesn’t rate quite that high on the danger meter, but the point is that the attempt to be clever – product placement in unexpected places; quick cuts; overly clever use of disparate concepts – may not have any real impact at all.
It’s not just the advertising – it can also be the way people in our industry approach developing campaigns. The authors demonstrate, for example, how over-confidence in one’s abilities can be hilarious on American Idol, but worrying when it dissuades other members of a group from sharing their own – less confidently held, but nonetheless, important opinions. I’ll admit that I just happened to finish this book before watching Mad Men (see – there’s the assumption that things that occur together must be causally related issue), but the point is still valid – we have to make sure our eyes are wide open when we create a campaign, and we need to be sure we understand what our audience expects to see from our campaigns.
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