Almuerzo Creativo – Contrast and the Curiosity Gap

Posted by Tina on June 3, 2014

There was this really dumb super villain in the old Superman comics, Bizzaro-man. He did everything… opposite. It was really stupid (and cool). Try being Bizzaro-Man. If your product is white sheets, write the headlines in mud. If your product is beautiful, show something ugly. Encircle the logo for your bank client with hot dogs.

—Luke Sullivan, copywriter, author, and CD

Last week, it was my turn to present our bi-weekly creative lunch, which has a fancy Spanish name that I can never pronounce, and therefore never say. Alysse did such a great job presenting take-away shows during our last creative lunch that I felt compelled to share a few music videos of my own. I settled on the piano version of Yelawolf’s Pop The Trunk, and This Year by the Mountain Goats. How did these two videos, which represented very different genres and very different concepts, strike me as so similar? And why did I like them so much?

Yelawolf – Pop The Trunk


It all came down to one thing: Contrast.

Contrast between the sounds of the piano and the rap, or the juxtaposition of being kidnapped into a family home. That contrast kept me intrigued.

I did a little more digging, and realized there’s a theory behind why this is so striking, at least in advertising. George Loewenstein, who studies the way economics and behavior influence one another at Carnegie Mellon University, defines the feeling as a “curiosity gap.”

We feel curiosity when there’s a gap between what we know and what we want to know. When you set up your spot with something that opens this gap, it creates an itch. Watching the rest of the piece is the only way to scratch it.

In his book, Hey Whipple: Squeeze This, copywriter and creative director Luke Sullivan points to Saturn’s 2003 commercial, “Sheet Metal,” as one of the best examples of the curiosity gap. Why is that man walking backwards out of his garage? Why is he going into the street? What exactly is going on here? You have to keep watching to find out, and once you do, the message is beautifully simple, and perfectly executed.

Instead of showing the car, Saturn shows everything but the car. They show the people.

That contrast between what you know and expect—and what’s actually happening—pulls you in, and then tugs you along.

Which brings me to the final video I shared over lunch, my favorite car commercial ever. The first time I saw it, I wrote down the company (Volkswagen) and the car (Tiguan)—and I’m not even in the market for a new car. To me, the contrast between the tricked-out car, the song (Chamillionaire’s “Ridin'”), and the well-groomed soccer mom was both hilarious and intriguing. I had to keep watching to find out what was going on, and the punchline delivered.

I won’t give it away, but it follows the same rules: To promote safety, show the opposite. Volkswagen doesn’t show a safe car. They don’t list all the benefits of the Tiguan. They don’t do what you expect. And that’s why it works.

But as you’re pushing boundaries and being provocative, remember these wise words, spoken by Mr. Sullivan:

Be sure your provocativeness stems from your product. You are not right if you stand a man on his head just to get attention. You are right if you stand a man on his head to show how your product keeps things from falling out of his pockets.

So go ahead. Shake out of your box a little bit, and push your clients to do the same. Encircle your corporate logos with hot dogs. Stand a man on his head. Play around with contrast. And why not? Nobody likes feeling sold, and everybody loves a surprise!