Home Thinking Aloud What David Copperfield Can Teach You About Marketing

What David Copperfield Can Teach You About Marketing



Spellbound and mesmerised, the audience stared mouth agape as David Copperfield entered a coffin like box.

His lovely assistant grabbed a couple of mean looking swords. One by one, she pierced them into the box.

Gasps of horror emanated from the audience. Will he survive this death-defying stunt? What happens if the celebrity conjurer is lobotomized?

The assistant twirled and pirouetted before she opened the multiple locks on the “coffin”, and voila! Our protagonist is nowhere to be seen!

Seconds later, David Copperfield appears at the back of the stage in a cage suspended high above the arena. The entire arena erupted in thunderous applause.

Magic and Marketing.

As professionals who are out to capture the hearts and minds of consumers, marketers and magicians have many things in common. We seek to grab your attention, hold it there for as long as we can, and leave you so satisfied that you’d give us a standing ovation – or sign your cheque book!

Thanks to the brilliant book “Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing” by Roger Dooley (famed for his work in neuromarketing), I learned six of the selling secrets of magicians.

Seat yourself down comfortably on a soft sofa (expands your mind and make you more flexible), grab a hot steaming cup of coffee or cocoa (increases warm and positive feelings), and enjoy the show!

#1 Focus On One Thing.

Have you noticed that stage magicians appear to focus on one trick at a time?

Many of the best illusions of conjurers are done by showing you something with one hand, while doing something which you don’t notice with the other. This taps on the insight that we can only really pay attention to one thing at a time.

Neuroscientists have equated our attention to that of shining a spotlight. We only see what is lit, and forget about everything else. The term for this is tunnel vision.

Kill All Distractions.

Like David Copperfield, ensure that your audience is focused on one thing at a time. Minimise all distractions and keep your customer focused on that one thing in your advertisement, sales pitch, or event.

#2 Use Motion to Grab Attention.

White doves are great props with magicians. Beyond the fact that they are cute and docile, their explosive burst of white, flapping wings as they fly off is guaranteed to draw the attention of every eyeball in the audience.

Our brains are wired to respond to motion. Established as part of our primitive reptilian brain since prehistoric times, they help us to escape from predators or find food.

Motion Stirs Attention.

Like the conjurer, consider using motion to grab the attention of your audience. Now this may be difficult to do in a static print advertisement. However, there are opportunities to inject some movement (or perhaps the illusion of movement) in your online content through videos, gif files and other moving object.

I guess this is why videos are fast taking over images as the preferred content for Facebook.

#3 Big Sweeping Motions Rock.

Notice how magicians are likely to wave their hands and legs, dance around the stage, and use grand sweeping gestures to swing their cloak around?

They know that doing so helps to prevent you from seeing their small moves, like pulling a card out of their hidden sleeve pocket. The audience will tune out the small gestures in favour of paying attention to the big one.

Go Big or Go Home.

If you are at a live event, find ways to move around so that your audience will continue to train their eyes on you. Standing like a statue on the stage will not win you attention or interest from your audience. S

Similarly, choose to include a piece of “big motion” in your content to draw your audience’s attention. This can be the opening few seconds of a video, or the “cover” visual on your website.

#4 Unleash the Unexpected.

We all love surprises, even when it is anticipated like in a magic show.

Despite paying close attention to what the magician is doing, few of us can overcome the distraction techniques which a skilled conjurer puts in place.

For instance, when David (Copperfield or Blaine) rubs his nose, or folds up his arms, our brains tune out those actions as they are expected and uninteresting. However, what we do not know is that these small seemingly everyday moves could mask the transfer of a prop or some other preparation step.

Novelty is Nice.

As a marketer, you need to catch your audience’s attention by surprising them. Introduce a novel sound, unfamiliar image, or unexpected move.

The same works with text in your copy. “New!” or “First time!” are some of the most attention-getting words in advertising.

#5 Mirror Your Audiences.

One of the reasons why you fail to notice actions by a magician like pulling a hidden string under his cufflinks, or palming a coin hidden in their mouth is that the these actions are seemingly ordinary. You know how it feels like to scratch your nose, adjust your sleeve, or rub your chin.

According to neuroscientists, our mirror neurons light up if we notice such actions. This makes it appear as if we were performing the same action ourselves.

Magicians exploit this phenomenon with decoy actions – for instance, seemingly taking a sip of water but actually passing an item from their mouths to hands in the process. Our brains “play along” with the decoy activity, and interpret the action as one that we are wired to understand.

Show a Familiar Action.

While you shouldn’t be trying to disguise a sneaky action (at least that’s what Dooley says), you could learn how you can engage the mirror neurons of your audiences.

For example, if you are offering a new car for sale, you should allow your prospects to experience opening the car door, sit in the car seat, switch on the engine, and hear the rumble of your car. Filming or shooting this and showing how it’s like to your audiences would also work in engaging the mirror neurons of viewers.

#6 Cut The Small Talk.

Have you watched a silent live magician? Well, neither have I.

Many of then will talk about what they are doing, explain the difficulty of the challenge before them, and ramble about their life history all while keeping their hands busy with the trick.

Naturally, their purpose is to distract you rather than provide real information about their technique. In your minds, the constant chatter from the magician becomes another stream of information for your brain to process. The overload makes it less likely for you to notice what’s really happening.

When Silence Can Be Golden.

Conversely, distracting your potential customer with all that yakking is a big No No, especially when he or she is examining your product. Allow your prospect a few moments of silence so that they can contemplate your product or service features.

Beyond shutting up when your prospect is in serious consideration, do also ensure that what you say does not conflict with what is presented. Allow your audience to only focus on one thing at a time, reduce the chances that they will stray away due to excessive verbiage.

A similar thing works in slides. Lengthy text bullets in a presentation may distract your audiences if the speaker is making the same point verbally. This reduces comprehension and recall.

A Great Primer on Neuromarketing.

What I’ve described above is just a mere drop in the ocean of wisdom from Dooley’s book. Comprising 100 different chapters,”Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing” is a treasure trove for marketers and sales folks alike. I highly recommend it for anybody who is in the business of persuasion.

Are there other tricks that you can think of which magicians can teach us?