Ambiguity bias refers to people’s tendency to prefer information that is open to interpretation, rather than clear and unambiguous. This bias can be a powerful tool for marketers, salespeople, and designers looking to capture their audience’s attention and hold it. In this article, we’ll explore some ways to leverage ambiguity bias in your marketing, sales, branding, design, and advertising efforts.
1. Use Cryptic Messaging to Pique Interest
When messaging is cryptic, it creates an air of mystery and intrigue that can capture people’s attention. This ambiguity can be used to pique interest and draw people in. Consider the marketing campaign for the movie “Inception.” The posters and trailers were intentionally cryptic, with the tagline “Your mind is the scene of the crime.” This cryptic messaging generated buzz and interest in the movie, driving ticket sales.
Example: A software company could use cryptic messaging in their advertising to create buzz and generate interest in their product. For example, an advertisement that shows a series of seemingly random numbers and letters with the tagline “Unlock the Code” creates a cryptic message that requires interpretation, creating intrigue and building anticipation around the brand.
2. Use Abstract Imagery to Spark Imagination
Abstract imagery is open to interpretation, allowing people to fill in the gaps with their own imagination. This can be a powerful tool for capturing attention, as people are drawn in by the opportunity to create their own meaning. Consider the famous Apple logo, which is an abstract image of an apple with a bite taken out of it. This image is open to interpretation, sparking people’s imaginations and generating interest in the brand.
Example: A cosmetics brand could use abstract imagery in their Instagram posts to spark people’s imagination and increase engagement with their brand. For example, a post that shows an abstract image of a sunset with the tagline “Makeup as vibrant as your imagination” creates a sense of intrigue and encourages people to use their imagination to interpret the image and learn more about the brand.
3. Use Double-Entendres to Create a Sense of Playfulness
Double-entendres are phrases that have two meanings, one of which is often suggestive or risqué. This ambiguity can be used to create a sense of playfulness and humor, capturing people’s attention and generating interest in your brand. Consider the advertising campaign for the car company Audi, which used the tagline “Progress is Beautiful” in a series of print ads. The phrase can be interpreted in two ways, as a statement about the beauty of progress, or as a suggestive statement about the beauty of the car.
Example: A wine company could use double-entendres in their advertising to generate interest in their product. For example, an advertisement with the tagline “Get a Taste of Something Juicy” could be interpreted in two ways, as a statement about the flavor of the wine, or as a suggestive statement about the experience of drinking the wine.
4. Use Open-Ended Questions to Encourage Engagement
Open-ended questions are questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no, but require more thought and consideration. These types of questions can be used to encourage engagement and generate interest in your brand. Consider the marketing campaign for the clothing brand Everlane, which used the question “How do we fit?” in their email marketing. This open-ended question encouraged subscribers to engage with the brand and share their thoughts.
Example: A fitness company could use open-ended questions in their social media marketing to encourage engagement. For example, a post that asks “What’s your favorite way to stay active?” could encourage followers to engage with the brand and share their own experiences.
5. Use Contradictions to Create Cognitive Dissonance
Contradictions are statements or messages that are inconsistent with each other. This inconsistency can create cognitive dissonance, which occurs when people are confronted with information that conflicts with their beliefs or expectations. This can be a powerful tool for capturing attention, as people are drawn in by the need to resolve the conflict. Consider the advertising campaign for the clothing brand Diesel, which used the tagline “Be stupid” in their advertising. This contradictory message created cognitive dissonance, drawing people in to learn more about the brand.
Example: A coffee company could use contradictions in their advertising to generate interest in their product. For example, an advertisement with the tagline “Wake up and slow down” creates a sense of cognitive dissonance, drawing people in to learn more about the brand.
6. Use Irony to Create Humor
Irony uses language or imagery that is unexpected, creating humor and encouraging people to engage more deeply with your brand. Consider the advertising campaign for Dos Equis beer, which used the tagline “Stay thirsty, my friends” and the ironic character of “The Most Interesting Man in the World” to create humor and encourage people to engage more deeply with the brand.
Example: A food delivery service could use irony in their advertising to create humor and encourage deeper engagement with the brand. For example, an advertisement that shows a person ordering food delivery while sitting in a restaurant creates an ironic image that is humorous and encourages people to engage more deeply with the brand.
7. Use Unusual Pairings to Create Surprises
Unusual pairings bring together two things that are unexpected, creating surprises and encouraging people to engage more deeply with your brand. Consider the advertising campaign for Skittles, which used the tagline “Taste the Rainbow” to create an unusual pairing of fruit flavors and encourage people to engage more deeply with the brand.
Example: A food brand could use unusual pairings in their advertising to create surprises and encourage deeper engagement with the brand. For example, an advertisement that shows a burger with a scoop of ice cream on top creates a surprise and encourages people to engage more deeply with the brand.
There are several cognitive biases that are similar to ambiguity bias,
Vagueness Effect: The tendency for people to prefer vague information over specific information when making decisions.
Information Bias: The tendency to seek out more information than is necessary to make an informed decision.
Choice-supportive Bias: The tendency to remember one’s choices as better than they actually were.
Framing Effect: The way in which information is presented can influence how people perceive it.
Illusion of Control: The tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events that are uncertain.
“The Power of Ambiguity in Advertising” by Billee Howard, Forbes – https://www.forbes.com/sites/billeehoward/2017/06/07/the-power-of-ambiguity-in-advertising/?sh=2e1c714b7cd8
“How to use ambiguity to increase your marketing success” by Jacco van der Kooij, SalesHacker – https://www.saleshacker.com/ambiguity-in-marketing/
“Information Bias: When More Is Not Always Better” by Kendra Cherry, Verywell Mind – https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-information-bias-2795012
“The Psychology of Choice-Supportive Bias and How to Avoid It” by Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist – https://www.becomingminimalist.com/choice-supportive-bias/
“The Framing Effect: What Is It and How Does It Work?” by Kendra Cherry, Verywell Mind – https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-framing-effect-2795882
“Illusion of Control Bias” by Brad Johnson, Decision Lab – https://thedecisionlab.com/biases/illusion-of-control-bias/