The teasing effect
Create curiosity, then answer it. People will feel happier. The positive effect trickles down to you and your message, making people more likely to buy from you.
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Say you’re watching your favorite show on TV. Tension is building and you’re about to reach a big reveal. And then…commercials start and interrupt you.
You wait, frustrated. Finally, the show starts again and you get to watch the big reveal.
Would you have enjoyed the reveal more if you hadn’t been interrupted?
You probably think you would.
But no, you didn’t.
Evidence found that the interruption from ads improves your TV-watching experience.
But there’s more. This is just one example of a broader effect: the teasing effect.
And it can make almost anything more enjoyable and gamelike.
Here’s how you can use it.
P.S.: While we focus on the marketing benefits here, part of this paper is a philosophical argument of how we can - and probably should - increase human happiness using communication techniques such as this one.
If you have $29 and a few hours to spare, read the full research paper here. Now, let's dig into Ariyh’s 3min practical summary of it.
Use the teasing effect to improve people’s feelings
Channels: Copywriting | Ads | Website | Marketing communications
For: Both B2C and B2B
Research date: August 2018
Reframe your messages into two parts: a teaser that causes curiosity, then the answer to it.
For example, the message “Ryanair flies you to a warm beach for only €19” can be broken into two parts:
“How do you get to a warm beach for only €19?”
After a few seconds the answer “Fly Ryanair”
People will feel happier, more positive towards you, and be more likely to choose you.
You can use it in any message (e.g. ads, loyalty rewards, website copy, presentations, information leaflets, product gamification).
Information makes people happier when it is first teased and then resolved (teasing question + answer), compared to when it is given directly with no uncertainty (answer or statement only).
The effect also improves how people feel towards and respond to the contents of the message (e.g. more likely to buy the product you are talking about).
When asked, people say they prefer to receive all the information right away. In reality, teasing increases their happiness.
For example, as part of a series of seven experiments, people were:
Told they could win a $50 Target gift card. Some were immediately told the gift card was from Target. Others watched an animation that teased “Below is the gift card you may actually receive. It can be used at...” for 100 seconds until it revealed “Target”. Those that were teased felt happier and liked Target more
Shown descriptions of brands or products (e.g. Toyota Corolla, IBM). Some were immediately told the brand name (“Introducing Burberry…”), others were teased and told only at the end of the description (“Guess what the brand to be described is…”) Those that were teased reported liking the brand more and were more likely to try it
🧠 Why it works
We hate uncertainty that could impact us negatively. Sometimes, even more than the outcome. For example, people felt worse waiting for HIV results than discovering their result was positive.
Because of this fear of negative uncertainty, we learn to avoid uncertainty. People in a curious state of mind have less positive brain activity than those not curious. It’s not by chance that ‘risk takers’ are a minority.
But uncertainty is often harmless and positive (e.g. reading a mystery, solving a puzzle). Especially if we know we have control over when we can get the answer (e.g. easily look up the solution).
So although we don’t often look for them, small moments of positive uncertainty - soon followed by the answer - make us feel happier.
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The study did not test how long the uncertainty phase should be. How long should people be kept waiting for the answer? Most likely it should not be immediate, to build up some excitement, but not too long either, or it could cause anxiety or make people lose interest.
The uncertainty must cause some curiosity. If it is something that people don’t know much about or find uninteresting, the effect may not work. For example, if your brand is unknown, questions like “Guess which brand this is?” are unlikely to be effective.
🏢 Companies using this
Companies often use the effect in 3 main ways
Tease a new product (e.g. Nike teaser ads for the Air Max 360 launch)
Give mystery rewards or discounts (e.g. Macy’s free gift when spending $75 online)
Selling low-cost surprise products (e.g. Groupon mystery deals)
Copywriters and presenters occasionally use the effect to make their message more compelling.
⚡ Steps to implement
Look into how you can use this effect in your:
Ads (e.g. animated online banner, videos, digital billboards)
Promotions and loyalty rewards (e.g. randomly get $0.25 or $0.50 off if you bring your own coffee cup)
Website design (e.g. a question to encourage people to scroll down for an answer)
Product onboarding (e.g. tease your features with questions, as you teach people how to use them)
Company story (e.g. to make it more engaging, especially if you give tours)
Presentations (e.g. instead of statements, ask a question then give the answer)
🔍 Study type
The teasing effect: An underappreciated benefit of creating and resolving an uncertainty. Journal of Marketing Research (August 2018).
Bowen Ruan. Wisconsin School of Business, University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Christopher K. Hsee. Booth School of Business, University of Chicago.
Zoe Y. Lu. Wisconsin School of Business, University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Remember: This is a scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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