10 Captivating Ads and their Captivation Triggers


As much of the work we do at E29 Marketing involves advertising, I asked the team to share their favorite ads and explain their reasons for being impressed. As you know, consumers are inundated with ads, so it is imperative that ads are excellent in order to capture attention and encourage ad and brand recall.

What makes an ad captivating?

Ben Parr's book, Captivology is a wonderful resource describing the seven captivation triggers to capture immediate, short and long attention. The seven triggers are automaticity, framing, reputation, disruption, reward, reputation, mystery and acknowledgement.

1. Starbucks: Afternoon Made at Starbucks

Megan says "My favorite ad right now is a Starbucks ad titled "Afternoons Made at Starbucks." It's REALLY visually captivating. I saw it on Hulu and I think it's a great placement. Hulu is the only place where I see ads besides the occasional one on social (YouTube, Instagram or Facebook). Starbucks has been doing a push to get more people to there stores in the afternoons. I've gotten notifications through their app regarding their "Happy Hours" and it ties in really well with the ad I saw. On a side note, I believe they are testing serving alcohol so this could be a pre-test to see if they can get more people to visit in the afternoons/after work."

Consider the audience who watches Hulu, which is predominantly females 18 – 34 and how much this audience appreciates cool, hip and well…sugar! This ad effectively makes use of the automaticity trigger with sensory cues of color and sound. Zooming in on the drinks and showing the swirling of ingredients together could be argued to be the framing trigger, because it is forcing the viewer to imagine seeing each drink very close their eyes so that they imagine how it would feel to be drinking one.

2. okcupid: DTF

This campaign while somewhat controversial, does a good job of making people think. Once you understand what DTF means and how it plays on the millennial favorites of "WTF?," and "Down to F___" then you understand what it's all about. I like ads that make me feel smart, so when I feel like I understand the ad after spending a little time to figure it out, I feel part of an elite who get it. This is good for brand building and makes use of the acknowledgment trigger by encouraging a deeper connection with the brand because I feel validated and part of a community who use "WFT" and also understand the innuendo of "DTF" and how OkCupid is changing the meaning in an empowering way. Take a look at AdWeek's article about the campaign where the CMO says the DTF campaign boosted buzz by 50%. The campaign is also using the disruption trigger as it includes all types of relationships and for a dating app, it is very well targeted to daters of all sexual orientations.


And the results of the campaign are telling too: "In the crowded category of dating apps, OkCupid has rarely been one of the most high-profile options, but its recent "DTF" campaign seems to be working at changing that." 

3. Geico: Longest Goal Celebration Ever & 4. Old Spice: Talk to the Land

"My [Terra] household watched every single World Cup game. If we weren't home to watch live, we recorded it and watched as soon as we got home. This was extremely different for our family as I can't remember the last time I watched anything LIVE, let alone RECORD something to watch. We are die-hard HBO and Netflix fans.

This meant that I watched a boat-load of Fox TV (ugh) and real, live, TV ADS (gasp!)

There are two ads that stand out for me. No, they don't have talking animals or babies (which I typically LOVE), but both are similar in the following ways:

  1. They make me laugh out loud even as I watched them for the 3rd and 4th time
  2. They have nothing to do with the product being sold - or even really mention/show product benefits other than their taglines (gasp again…), no RTB, no POD, and, I'm not even sure there is a consumer insight?
  3. They are both PURE entertainment, and almost make their products feel irreverent. I didn't feel like I was being "sold", there wasn't any fluffy marketing speak, just pure entertainment.

The first ad is Geico's Longest Goal Celebration Ever, the robot at the end leaves me on the floor.

The second ad is: Old Spice's "Talk to the Land". Why would he need deodorant spray when he's going to crash? The whole thing is so absurd, it's awesome.

My 10-year-old son asked me why we don't have Geico and is Geico better than what we have? I told him that all insurance is the same. He said, "Well, why wouldn't you want to save 15% or more on car insurance?" It's a good question. My 12-year-old son asked my husband why he doesn't buy Old Spice. Another good question. Net, net, even though I loved these ads, I will not change my insurance, or buy Old Spice for my husband.

This begs the question of the role of cable and network TV ads. I would argue that yes, broad-scale awareness can be achieved. but ONLY if it's entertaining. My next question won't be confirmed for another 10+ years but... will my boys purchase Geico and Old Spice? Or, will they stick to boring old State Farm and Aussie Products?"

Thanks to Terra for her very entertaining perspective and accurate observations. The Geico ad also makes use of the acknowledgment trigger in that it was placed during live soccer games and who is more likely to appreciate goals and soccer idiosyncracies than soccer fans?

The Old Spice ad makes use of the disruption and mystery triggers. Disruption because the ad is so strange and unexpected and mystery, because it is a story and we watch in order to know the outcome. Mystery, uncertainty and suspense are very good at keeping an audience intrigued until the end.

5. Smove

You may have seen this one on Facebook or Instagram for the ultimate in selfie-sticks. The ad runs equally well whether sounds is on or off for the viewer as it has captions. What Smove is doing well is capturing attention with frequency and appealing to the audience who wants to look good on social networks. The special offer code makes use of the reward trigger and for the gadget loving yuppie with disposable income, this lifestyle enhancing device looks like it could be a winner. The number of reactions and views of the video don't hurt either.


6. Pepsi: Radio Ad

As Carol is often exposed to ads is when driving long distance and listening to the radio, she says "I really like the Pepsi Stuff radio ads that are currently airing. One, in particular, has the male speaker say stuff so many times, and in such a hilarious voice, it not only drives home the promotion (buy Pepsi, earn points, redeem for stuff), but also makes the listener want to go check out what all the stuff is (and on a 90 degrees day as you're driving around in a hot car, hearing the cans opening in the background actually almost make you crave a Pepsi because they sound so refreshing)… There is no image obviously with radio, it all has to be imparted verbally, and in my opinion, this ad does it well, not only through the repetition, but also with humor."

The ad uses the automaticity trigger with the sound of opening a Pepsi and probably also the disruption trigger in that the voiceover is saying unexpected things to be funny.

7. FullStory

On Instagram, I was stopped in my scrolling for an ad for FullStory. The ad is very well targeted to me and tells me everything I need to know about eCommerce checkout funnels in less than 30 seconds. The role of an ad is to spark curiosity to get the potential customer to want to learn more and therefore visit the website. This one worked on me. Also notice the colors that match Instagram. That was no mistake as people have very strong feelings about Instagram which will be sparked again with this ad.

The trigger/s used? Acknowledgement as well as reward.

8. Monday.com

Another one that does an excellent job of explaining a product 30 seconds is one for Monday.com. The ad is fast, succinct, fun and makes me want to check out the product since after watching it I believe it will save me and my team time. The captivation trigger here is framing, which as Ben Parr describes it is: "Adapting to or changing somebody's view of the world so they pay more attention to you," and also the acknowledgement trigger, because the Monday seems to understand me in my work life and need to manage projects differently.

The ad isn't shy about being an ad and the confidence is very compelling to the viewer. They don't say "confidence is sexy" for nothing.

9. Suburu: A Life Story on the Line

Another commercial Megan loves. "It captures your attention from the beginning by telling a story, while you are unsure what the ad is about. At first, it seems like a love story, taking you through a couples big life moments, which is appealing to women. Then it pans over to an accident, which then made me think it was an anti-drunk driving ad and that the children (in the car) had died. But then it informs the viewer that the family is still happy and alive because of their Subaru Forester. Ending on "That's why we will always drive a Subaru. Make sure your life story is a long one." They use a bit of a scare tactic, but I don't think it is overdone as now many people in their lives have some connection to drunk driving, texting and driving, etc. Typical car commercials are showing how fast and cool their cars are, but this Subaru commercial speaks to its safety awards. The story is very compelling and does a great job connecting to parent drivers who want their kids to be safe."

The trigger being used for this one is the mystery trigger as we want to know how the story ends, so we watch it all the way to the end.

Sidenote from Megan: "Acura tried to create a commercial like that, where they talk about seeing their test dummies as real people to convey how important they think safety is. But they do not do as good of a job conveying the importance of safety as the Subaru commercial does."

I totally agree. As humans we are hardwired to enjoy and be captivated by stories. Where the Subura one takes us on a journey we can imagine ourselves on, the Acura one is just Acura telling everyone how wonderful they are. As consumers we connect better with stories than with brand touting their own prowess.

10. Barbie: Imagine the Possibilities

Our fearless leader's favorite ad is one that is super entertaining and while watching it I challenge you to try not to smile. Amie says "At the core it taps into the insight of how little girls play with Barbie and encourages Girl/Women empowerment." It completely reshaped Barbie for the current times and the creative execution is fantastic.

This one makes use of the mystery and disruption triggers because it keeps our attention by being unique, unexpected and intriguing.

On the Horizon:

Not yet fully mainstream, but something that looks interesting and coming soon are scroller ads for mobile. “Scroller” mobile ads are ads where if you’re reading an article and you scroll, the image scrolls with you. Megan says "With all the competition, it does a great job of capturing attention as it is not what you are expecting." Making use of the disruption trigger due to its uniqueness, scroller ads are sure to soon be commonplace on mobile devices.

Your turn:

What is your favorite ad and why do you think it is effective? Also, there's extra credit for identifying which captivation trigger the ad is using.