Why do smokers pay closer attention to ads with cigarettes?

Why do people with eating disorders spend more time watching fast-food ads?

Why do people with anxiety pay more attention to threatening faces?

These tendencies to pay closer attention to certain stimuli than others are all documented in psychological studies ranging from smoking to anxiety to pain, among many others.

This phenomenon is known as Attentional Bias.

It’s the tendency for our minds to pay closer attention to stimuli (including marketing messages) which align with our “recurring thoughts” at the time. What is a recurring thought, you ask?

Well, let’s consider someone who has anxiety.

Those who are experiencing this state of mind have recurring negative thoughts. These thoughts set your mind up to, in a way, wear “blinders” so you’re primed to only see faces which reinforce this state. So if you have anxiety, your attention will be attracted to threatening faces, threatening situations, and threatening ideas. Thus, you have a higher tendency to enter a downward spiral toward depression.

Conversely, if you train yourself to have an attentional bias toward positive stimuli (such as happy faces, happy situations, and happy ideas), you have a higher tendency to be more socially engaging, abundant, and resistant toward negativity.

Using Attentional Bias In Your Marketing

If you are marketing to a group of people with a similar deep-set challenge, there’s a high likelihood that the Attentional Bias will play in your favor.

It’s important that this challenge is deep-set and uniform across your audience; otherwise your messaging will only “land” with a select few. Once you have identified this uniform and deep-set challenge, it’s time to activate the Attentional Bias through your marketing. We do that through the use of Attentional Imagery and Attentional Copywriting.

Attentional Imagery

When you’re deciding what imagery to use in your website, advertising, or social media, stick to photography. Attentional Bias will be most directly applicable to real-life events that you audience can identify with and relate to (illustration and other graphics won’t do that).

Attentional Imagery


Carefully choose high-quality photography from sources such as Pexels (or find a local photographer with services like PhotoSesh) and have the core focus of the imagery (meditation, in the case of those with a deep-set uniform challenge of achieving deeper mindfulness) be the primary focus of the image.

Tip: Make sure you have several variants to test across your website, ads, and social imagery. This will ensure you can constantly experiment and improve with your Attentional Imagery.

Attentional Copywriting

Gaia Homepage

Gaia knows the language that their mindfulness-focused audience uses. So they include it in their messaging to strike a chord with their ideal visitors.

When you’re writing copy designed for an audience with an Attentional Bias, your choice of words is of paramount importance.

Do research in forums, books, and through networking to understand the language patterns and specific words that your audience will pay closer attention to than any other words.

If we continue to use the example of the mindfulness audience, we would use evocative words like:

  • Bliss
  • Flow
  • Meditation
  • Ritual
  • …among a few others

Create a list similar to the one above and then start writing your website copy, ad copy, or social media copy. When you’re done, every one of those words should have been used in an obvious way.

  • For Websites: Use these words in headlines
  • For Ads: Use these words in text overlays on images and in headlines
  • For Social Media: Use these words in text overlays on images and in the top line of posts

Using Attentional Imagery and Attentional Copywriting will allow you to reach your audience more quickly and more authentically than if you ignored the mental biases your prospects are demonstrating. This Attentional “approach” communicates your customers’ pain points more effectively and, as a result, they will have a higher likelihood of paying attention to you.

Bedrock Of Brilliance

Brilliant ApprovedSince Attentional Bias is, in fact, a “bias” that your customers aren’t necessarily aware of, it’s important to know how to responsibly apply this strategy to your business. That’s why we have the Bedrock of Brilliance’s Neuromarketing Code Of Ethics. In this code, you have a set of guiding principles which tell you when to use certain neuromarketing strategies and when to avoid them.

In this case, it’s critical to pay close attention to the code of ethics’ Bleary Brain principle, which states:

“Under no circumstances can you take advantage of clinical illnesses, psychological disorders, or any mental condition associated with downward spirals or impulsive behavior on the part of your audience. If you use these as the basis of your marketing campaign, you are deceiving your customer.”

If you are using Attentional Bias as a part of your messaging or branding, you should be doing so with either:

  • Non-Clinical Negative Recurring Thoughts: These are patterns that your customer is self-aware of and which they want to change. An example of this would be thoughts of being overweight (in which case Attentional Imagery and Copywriting focused on food and being overweight would be applicable).
  • Positive Recurring Thoughts: These are positive patterns that your customer may or may not be aware of which are positively focused. An example of this would be thoughts of being mindful (in which case Attentional Imagery and Copywriting focused on meditation or yoga retreats would be applicable).

If you decide to use the Attentional Bias in your marketing, be sure to adhere to all of the tenets in the Bedrock of Brilliance. And once you start seeing results, tweet them my way! I love hearing about applications of these principles in different industries.