Message & Media: Stop Them in Their Tracks
Are you using violators to capture your scanner's attention and quickly transform him or her into a reader-responder? If not, why not?
A violator is a powerful creative element that can be used across channels to violate natural eye flow and pull a scanner into reading your messages.
I first learned about a violator's disturbing power as a catalog and direct mail writer. I was taught to use violators to call out value pricing, free trial offers and discount deadlines. While violators may not be aesthetically pleasing to fans of fine art and white space, it's their uncomfortably disruptive quality that makes them effective in driving response.
Today, I use violators in writing for print, as well email, landing pages, space ads and home pages—anywhere and everywhere I want to attract attention to an important product benefit, offer element or call to action.
Do an Internet search for "violators" and you'll find references to corner snipes, bursts, starbursts, ribbons, banners, badges, strips, splats, as well pop-ups and pop-unders. (They even have their own Pinterest board. At the time I'm writing this, the board had grand total of 37 pins and nine followers)
Once misunderstood and underutilized because they were thought to be too hard-sell and look too schlocky, these powerful hot spots are now universally recognized as effective eye-catchers for attracting and directing reader attention. Even The Wall Street Journal example uses a violator to move readers from one page in a section to another.
Here are a few of the many ways you can put violators to work in your own marketing messages.
Most emails have a life span of only a few seconds. Violators quickly capture immediate attention, pulling your reader in.
• Buttons: Text links in body copy generate clicks, but a button is a stronger visual call to action. Make it red and it's the first thing seen, and one they're likely to "push."
• Corner slash/snipe: An angled violator draws the eye because it disrupts the neat horizontal rows of words and graphics. Use it to call out something important that you'd like to have seen first.
• Color: Using color isn't unique to email; it's effective for disrupting and violating eye flow in any channel, immediately drawing in the scanner.
Traditional bursts and banners, as well as other variations on violators, continue to be used across all direct mail formats, from postcard and self-mailers to solo and 3-dimensional packages. As with violators in any channel, it's the combination of copy, color, shape, graphics and placement that makes them work.
• Free: Red circles and bright yellow bursts may seem old hat, but when they're calling out something free, they work.
• Handwriting: When everything else is in black type, something as simple as a single handwritten word attracts the eye.
• Arrow: Put your call to action inside an arrow that points to the business reply card and the eye jumps on it.
According to Jakob Nielsen, visitors often leave Web pages within 10-20 seconds. But pages with a clear value proposition can hold a person's attention for much longer. Violators—copy elements that stand out and provide helpful value—can increase the length of time spent on a page.
• Easy action: A button or other violator at the very top of the page can eliminate the need to scroll. E*TRADE positions an "Open An Account" button in the upper right-hand corner of its home page.
• Carousel: OverDrive, a digital distributor of e-books, audio books, music and video, uses a carousel of three slides on its home page to grab a visitor's attention and provide a series of reasons to go further into its website. In this case, it's a combination of movement, placement, graphics and copy that violates the otherwise static page content.
• Navigation: Keep it simple and easy to use, but if there's someplace you really want people to go (like signing up for your blog or getting a free quote), make sure it stands out from the rest. The Fingerprint Marketing website uses an aqua envelope icon with the copy, "GET ME THE GOOD STUFF!" to call-out the sign-up page as part of the navigation.
• Pop-ups (and pop-unders): Violators in the digital space are often pop-ups that appear when you open a new browser window, or pop-under ads that appear behind active windows. Both can be disruptive, often annoying and equally effective at capturing attention. Everyone has an opinion about pop-up ads; let results guide your use of them. Pop-unders are a variation in which a new window opens under the active window and isn't seen until the covering window is closed.
On a shelf packed with homogeneous-looking rectangular boxes, violators grab a shopper's attention and differentiate your product just as a buying decision is being made.
• Announce what's new: New & Improved with 4X more power
• Call out an improved feature or benefit: Kills 99.9% of viruses and bacteria
• Promote a piece count: Now 115 pieces ... 15% more
• Emphasize a benefit: Made with real chicken
• Feature a rebate or discount: Save $2
• Focus on free: Free sample inside
One last thought about violators: Just as too many cooks spoil the broth, too many violators make your message look way too busy, ultimately confusing rather than directing the eye. Use violators deliberately, strategically and appropriately.