May 08, 2014
Advertising And Algebra
When my daughter was five years old -- before she could add or subtract -- I taught her algebra.
One day we were in the car. She must have heard some kids talking about it in kindergarten or heard some reference to it on Sesame Street because she suddenly asked me, "Dad, what's algebra?"
"I'll tell you in a minute," I said. "First I want to ask you a question. That cookie you're eating cost a dollar. How much would two cookies cost?"
She thought for a second, "I don't know...two dollars?"
"Right," I said. "How much would three cookies cost?"
"Three dollars?" she answered.
"Right," I said. "How much would ten cookies cost?" I asked.
"Bingo," I said.
"How much would a thousand cookies cost?"
"A thousand dollars!"
"You just learned algebra," I told her.
There's a concept in learning theory about "closing the circle." Closing the circle means taking the student almost fully around the idea, but leaving a gap for the student to fill in an insight or an answer.
The hypothesis is that if the student has to fill in the final gap, there will be a much greater chance that something will be learned rather than just heard.
This principle ought to be applied more liberally in advertising. We are always trying to force-feed a conclusion on consumers, when having the consumer draw her own conclusion would be a lot more effective.
I am convinced that advertising that is constructed in such a way as to make a case but leave the final logical leap to the viewer is more powerful.
This is not just true in advertising strategy, it is also true in execution. As Vinny Warren points out in this wonderful post, viewer attention can be enhanced by entering scenes late and leaving early. Not only is it better filmcraft, it requires the viewer to close the loop.
By the way, 13 years later that girl scored in the 96th percentile on her math SATs. Not that I'm the kind of parent who would brag about such things...