Sensory Adaptation and Marketing

Overcoming Sensory Adaptation

Display ads are everywhere you look online. Then why is it that your brain tunes them out so effectively? “Banner blindness” enables you to ignore the thousands upon thousands of ads you come across online.

This mental response is due to sensory adaptation (also called neural adaptation), which according to the American Psychological Association is “a phenomenon in which receptor cells lose their power to respond after a period of unchanged stimulation.” In other words, the more you are exposed to a certain stimulus, the more you tune it out. And rest assured, you are very, very, very good at tuning stuff out.

This is why when you walk into your office every day, you stop noticing the color of the carpet or the shape of the lights or the texture of the wall. Your subconscious takes over and clears the deck so that you can focus more clearly.

And this is precisely why you are able to tune out thousands upon thousands of display ads so effortlessly.

Website Design & Sensory Adaptation

Sensory Adaptation

Given your brain’s inclination towards tuning out stimuli that goes unchanged, consider how to improve your website design to grab your site visitors’ attention and shake them out of their current state. Your design should make them stop and take notice.

Your website should be easy to navigate, the experience should feel intuitive, and their time on site should feel good on a subconscious level. However, it shouldn’t feel like a template. It shouldn’t appear stale or boring or the same as many other sites they’ve visited.

Deviation is highly effective in breaking the brain’s predictive inclinations, and in causing a person to experience a website much differently than a me-too design. Understand the competitive landscape. Document their journey. Realize what they are seeing when experiencing your competitors’ websites.

Then, be sure you are delivering a site experience that breaks through all the noise and prevents any type of sensory adaptation.

Messaging & Sensory Adaptation

Sensory Adaptation and Messaging

It’s the same with the messaging in your website, ads, and other marketing. Yes, make it clear. Make it easy-to-understand. But no need to be boring and to use the same tired language the rest of the industry uses.

How many times have you visited a website, and the main messaging feels like an encyclopedia description of what the company does? In looking at the home page of a variety of coworking spaces, for example, you’ll see the following language at the top of the page:

  • Community Driven Office Space
  • Take a Tour of ABC Company
  • Welcome to ABC Company
  • Office Coworking and Suites in [City Name]
  • Join Us
  • ABC Company is Expanding
  • Join the Coworking Movement
  • Coworking spaces designed for people who would rather work in a community than at a company.

Are you still awake???

All of this may be factually accurate. From a marketing perspective, though, this type of messaging is precisely what causes “banner blindness” to a company’s marketing efforts. (It also causes intense boredom.) Your audience is so attuned to hearing this type of bland messaging that they will automatically tune it out.

Be more creative and wake them up!

Deviation & Sensory Adaptation

The Value of Surprise in Your Marketing

Your audience members are bombarded with 3,000 – 5,000 marketing messages daily. This doesn’t even include social media. With the amount of distractions your audience is faced with today, they are chronically battling information overload and their minds are increasingly defaulting to sensory adaptation. The threshold for grabbing someone’s attention has never been higher.

To cut through the noise, be different. Deviate from industry norms. Surprise your audience. According to studies by the neuroscientist Gregory Berns, the human brain is actually programmed to enjoy surprise.

For a good example of deviation and surprise, check out Apple Music’s “Taylor vs. Treadmill” video. It starts off with Taylor Swift preparing her playlist for a treadmill workout, then shows her singing along with Drake & Future’s Jumpman while becoming completely absorbed by her workout, before… Well, just watch the video and you’ll see.

Be like Apple Music. Deviate. Surprise. Delight.


rethink your marketing