The Art and Science of Capturing People’s Attention through Sensory Marketing

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Attention, along with time, is one of your most precious resources. For something that you so easily give away whenever you browse mindlessly on social media, it’s hard to think it’s worth any significant value. But companies are actually willing to pay big money to get your attention.In a distracted world, it takes so much science behind marketing efforts to purposely capture people’s attention. It’s not as easy as you think, but it can also be strategized by targeting people’s senses. These are what we’ll explore in this post, if I still have your attention. Do I?

The Science of Attention in Marketing

When you come to think of it, customer acquisition, growth hacking, direct selling, getting referrals, content marketing, and marketing and advertising in general all start with and come down to grabbing people’s attention.The concept of attention these days go beyond what we’d been taught it means. Maybe you are used to the thought of attention as an obligation, like you have to pay attention to your professors. In that sense, you’re the one in control of where your attention goes to.Outside of that context, in real life, attention is more like currency. The mere phrase, “pay attention” connotes that it’s something of value that will get us something in return. Now you may think we as consumers have full control over who or what we give our attention to, but in reality, companies deliberately maneuver their strategies to capture our attention and keep it for as long as possible.Companies have made it their purpose and goal to retain customer attention because money grows wherever people’s attention is.In the business world, specifically marketing and advertising, whether online or offline, attention has come to mean an asset. There’s a conscious effort by companies to harvest it and the ability to grab people’s attention is a major factor in what makes companies successful.

3 Types of Attention

Ben Parr, who was a co-editor at Mashable, wrote thousands of articles and went deep into the research about attention, came up with 3 types of it:

Immediate Attention

Immediate attention is the automatic response people have to anything that’s out of the ordinary. It can be a sudden loud sound, a bright light in a darkened room, or any other stimuli that alerts us of something out of the norm. This is the instant attention that comes from our subconscious and is automatic.

Short Attention

Short attention now involves consciousness. It’s when you’re concentrating on something, like my example earlier of paying attention to your professors. When you give anything your attention voluntarily like reading a book, listening to a podcast, watching a show. All these fall under short attention.

Long attention

Long attention is the unmitigated interest in something. It’s above giving just a few minutes of your attention like that of immediate or short attention. At this stage, you can find the difference between reading a book and listening to interviews with the author or reading every other book they have published, or watching a show and looking up all the blooper reels and behind-the-scenes on Youtube.

How Triggers Correlate to Capturing Attention

In Ben Parr’s book, “Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention”, he also delved into 7 triggers that correlates with attention, which marketers utilize.

1. Automaticity Trigger

Automaticity trigger is anything that catches your attention out of the blue, even without intending to. It’s when something happens, and automatically, your eyes or ears are drawn to it.Colors have so much association to this trigger because colors are assigned certain underlying meanings that we subconsciously know. For example, contrasting colors are preferred for buttons on a website because it draws the eyes to it against the neutrality of the rest of the page. (See: Amazon’s yellow and orange ‘Buy Now’ button.)In the same way, red has been correlated with food, so many restaurants and food establishments use it to encourage people to buy. (See: McDonald’s red and yellow logo.)Automaticity is great if you’re capturing immediate attention because it’s something that draws attention naturally.

2. Framing Trigger

The framing trigger is about the angle of approach when you talk to people. If you’re introducing a new product, the framing trigger is about writing the copy in a way that relates to the pain points of the people and changing their expectations or perceptions about the problem. In turn, you’re shifting their focus from problem to the solution, which is your own product.

3. Disruption Trigger

Disruption trigger is one of the two (the other one being automaticity) triggers Ben Parr highlights almost all the time. This is when you shock or surprise people with strange or wild gimmicks that seems out of place.By going against people’s expectations, therefore disrupting them, it’s so much easier for them to give you their attention. This is especially great for short attention because it helps the person concentrate on you better when you say something that entertains or shocks them.

4. Reward Trigger

Rewards are not given as much importance as we so often see on marketing tips online, though they still hold a certain degree of effectivity. Rewards can be as palpable as concrete incentives from companies, or they can also be a sense of fulfillment, even if it’s just an illusion.Think about the notifications on your phone. Are you one of those people who just have to open notifications? It’s probably because it gives you a sense that you have completed something. That red pop-up notification got cleared. Reward triggers can be that simple.

5. Reputation Trigger

Reputation trigger is about authority and expertise. People give their attention to companies or other people who seem well-versed in whatever they’re selling. Credibility and reliability are important qualities that can make anyone worthy of people’s attention.

6. Mystery Trigger

As curious beings, mystery is an extremely effective trigger to capture people’s attention. This actually cultivates long attention because it builds up emotion in people. Through a sense of mystery, people can get engaged for a long period like how thriller movies and tv shows are able to maintain viewership despite having a grim tone and visuals.

7. Acknowledgment Trigger

“Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” – How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale CarnegieThis is a prime example of how acknowledgement trigger works on every person. Customers like it when a company seem to spend extra effort on acknowledging them personally. That’s why personalization is a big marketing tactic. The acknowledgement trigger is a way to validate people’s problems and empathize with them, and they return the favor by supporting your company or brand.

Pre-suasion: The Influence of Authority in Capturing Attention

Another perspective on the science of attention is Robert Cialdini’s “pre-suasion.” First off, Cialdini is renowned for his work and research in the subjects of persuasion and influence from the lens of psychology. If you’re into marketing, check out his work.According to him, one major driver of persuasion is a practice that he coined pre-suasion. It coincides with the reputation trigger.Pre-suasion conveys that building authority precedes selling and marketing because people listen to others when they have authority on what they’re talking about. In this sense, the message comes second to the person saying it.

How is Our Attention Commoditized?

Coming back to the idea that attention can be an asset or currency, it goes without saying that our attention has been commoditized by companies as well. The best example to illustrate this is Facebook.First it gathered as many people to the platform. It meant they had those people’s attention because they chose to become a member of the site. Once Facebook had our attention, it invested on design and technological upgrades to keep our attention on it and make us spend more time on the site.This is how it then became powerful so as to give other companies the opportunity to be seen and exposed to millions of people. There’s a myth that even when people are being shown subliminal messages, even if they don’t pay full attention to something, there’s still potential for recall if the message is seen often enough.Eventually, people will remember to buy something because of those subliminal messages. This is how Facebook commoditized its members’ attention. The same goes for several other companies, albeit in subtler ways.

So, How Does Sensory Marketing Relates to Attention?

In the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, he emphasized that our brains operate on two equally important yet fundamentally different ways of thinking. System 1 and System 2 are the terms he created to name the emotional and rational sides of our brain, respectively.System 1 is fast thinking. It is our intuition, which is automatic, innate feelings and behaviors that come out of us naturally. System 2 is slow thinking, which involves analytical processing and reasoning.According to the book, we run on System 1 and only call on the help of System 2 when we encounter a difficult situation that requires greater attention and rational decision-making.This works in favor of subliminal advertising messages because System 1 or fast thinking doesn’t dwell on objective reasoning to come to conclusions. Therefore, naturally, we can be easily provoked to purchase something based on emotions, and that is heavily tied to our senses.

What is Sensory Marketing?

The only important thing you have to know about how we define sensory marketing is that it targets the 5 senses to appeal to customers and influence them to have only positive recall about your company or brand.What’s more important to know is specifically how marketers try to incorporate the 5 senses in their campaigns and strategies.


Companies spend a lot of money on design because this is one of the best subtle ways to inject subliminal messages into your branding. From color to website layouts, beautiful design and easy interface makes people have fun exploring your site or application. This positive experience then reflects how they would feel about your company.


The smell of coffee has that energizing and calming aroma to it that makes you want to drink it. That’s why coffee shop giant, Starbucks, takes extra care to ensure all their shops have that same aroma. Usually, no other food would be allowed inside because it could interrupt the smell, which is part of the whole customer experience once you come in.


There’s something about the sense of touch that I feel is more powerful than any of the other senses. You feel it when the sense of sight, smell, and hearing are taken away and touch is heightened.Some companies can easily relate the sense of touch in their product if the actual texture triggers a certain positive feeling. If not, design also plays a role to incorporate this sense in other kinds of products. For example, a phone that is designed for better hand grip improves the customer’s experience with that product. Little details like the ease of use can influence customers’ behaviors.


I would say commercial jingles is a good example of sound being utilized in advertisements, but I actually can’t think of any recent jingles that really stuck. Instead, a more modern take on sound as a sensory marketing tactic is the use of catchy slogans that have a certain ring to it.Who could forget McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” slogan or KFC’s “It’s Finger-Lickin’ Good” slogans? Both are easy to remember because when you say it, it has a particular intonation that instantly reminds you of the companies they’re associated with.Another example could be the music that comes on in stores. When it’s classical or jazz, it instantly turns the atmosphere somewhat luxurious. On the other hand, when it’s pop music or rap, you know the store caters mostly to millennials or the younger generation in general.


This one I’d have to say is the least used because it’s mostly restaurants that can benefit from this. However, companies for which taste is relevant, it’s high on top of priorities. For restaurants, sometimes the taste is what makes or break the customer experience, regardless of the ambiance.

Sensory Marketing Examples

I’ve gone ahead and done a separate post on sensory marketing examples.

It’s worth a look if you’re interested in sensory marketing.


A study shows that sales increase by 4 percent when sensory marketing is utilized. Naturally, when at least 2 senses are ignited, each fires up the other. That’s why good design goes well with a well-thought-out manufacture.It goes for gadgets, clothes, furniture, and any type of product there is. As for food, the smell and taste makes a dish delectable and irresistible to even a non-foodie.The thing is, when something is made so good, it disrupts people’s expectations and almost permanently influences their experience of your brand. That’s the most simplified way to illustrate how sensory marketing can aid capturing attention, and ultimately affect sales.

About the Author

I have been in the 'online business' space since 2009 when I started an eCommerce business selling motorcycle parts (sold in 2012). Since then I have owned and operated several successful online business (and had a fair share of failures), along with owning offline home services businesses. Currently my focus is online businesses that are profitable with paid traffic. As a 'self employed individual' I do not use Linkedin, but you can connect with my on my personal instagram and youtube which largely revolve around my mountain biking passion!