Selective attention for Volkswagen

Many marketeers are baffled by the things their target audiences remember from their advertising. I once worked on a food ad where everyone remembered that the woman in the kitchen licked her finger (an attempt by us to add appetite appeal). Probably because some people think too much about hygiene. Sadly they remembered nothing about the yummy ingredients, let alone the brand.

People see and hear what they want to – or can do. There are some famous academic articles about this psychological issue and some wonderful experiments. In part they explain the problem, a problem suffered by one of VW’s competitors: Audi. Many Germans remember the “Wackel-Elvis” in their famous ad, but fail to pick up on the smooth gear transition, or even that the car advertised was an Audi! The ad’s below if you’re not from Germany or would like to see this classic campaign again:

The best example I’ve seen of what advertising psychologists call “selective attention” is the basketball test. If you’ve not done this, try it now.

Your task: count the number of times 5 people pass 2 basketballs around the group. Focus on the balls! You will be expected at the end of the short sequence to name the precise number of times the balls exchanged hands.

The movie is here (please don’t download or copy it – note the copyright!): University of Illinois Visual Cognition Lab.

When you’ve been there, return to this page. Don’t read beyond here unless you know about the basketball video already…


[STOP – don’t read beyond here until you’ve seen the basketball sequence here].

Now, I’ve seen this video in a number of formats, most latterly on a BBC documentary. Personally I thought the BBC video was much more powerful. But I would do – I was seeing it for the first time. The experiment will no longer work with me (though I have to say I saw through it!).

In case you’re wondering whether I’m going to finally reveal what this post is about – well allow me to introduce a German carmaker who has decided to play around with this very concept in its latest TV ads. I thank Michael from the latest MBA course for pointing this one out to me, though I have to say I did notice it one evening too… it’s VW. The advertising agency has obviously decided to use selective attention to boost the VW image.

Try out your attention:

And just in case you’re still wondering what that funny basketball video was all about… read the following article, but as I said, only after viewing the video where you have to count the balls.

What 10% should notice: Daily Telegraph.

Alex Woodruff

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