What This Sneaky Football Play Can Teach You About Online Marketing

by on September 11, 2014
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Somewhere between LOLcats and Deadspin last night, I ran into this video (27 seconds).

Now that’s genius.

And while there probably isn’t a name for it in a football playbook, there is a term for it in what’s called neuro-linguistic programming (NLP): pattern interrupt.

Our co-founder Jeremy wrote about this in a recent post on the science behind exit overlays, but to restate, a pattern interrupt in a disruption from an expected sequence flow or thought.

It works by leading a group of people—listeners, viewers, even opponents—into an expected pattern or dialogue. Once a pattern is established, an interruption takes the group out of the expected pattern.

The person’s subconscious mind is expecting the next part of the pattern to occur, while the conscious mind is distracted.

The origins of pattern interrupt

Pattern interrupt is part of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), an approach to communication that claims a connection between the brain’s neurological processes, the language we speak, and the experiences we’ve had in life.

According to NLP theory, human beings experience the world subjectively. This subjective experience is channeled through all 5 of our senses, and has both conscious and subconscious components.

By understanding how subjectivity and consciousness affect learning, NLP theory states that tapping into these tendencies can help people achieve our goals.

Pattern interrupt is everywhere

The purpose of pattern interrupt is to create an opportunity—an opening—for one’s desired action to be accomplished.

In sports, pattern interrupt is used to distract opponents from your real intentions. In the football example above, the opponent is expecting a normal snap of the ball. When the center linebacker starts walking forward, their subconscious expectation of this normal pattern stops them from reacting.

In comedy, pattern interrupt is used as a non-sequitor to throw off the audience and get them laughing. Dave Chappelle is a master of this technique. Check out this clip from his 2000 standup special Killin Em’ Softly:

In film, plot twists use a form of pattern interrupt to throw the audience for a loop. Remember The Sixth Sense? From Dusk Till Dawn? Or how about my favourite plot twist of all time from the ‘90s classic The Usual Suspects:

And in sales, pattern interrupt is used to get prospects thinking about something other than you being a salesperson. The pros have used it for years.

As a former vacuum cleaner salesman, I used pattern interrupt myself, albeit I didn’t know it had a scientific term. If I was standing in your living room, sucking lead bullets through a knotted vacuum hose, best believe I was saying anything I could to distract from reality.

Think of a normal cold call. The prospect gets a million of them, and their expected pattern is to pick up the phone, hear (not listen to) the pitch, and look for some kind of opening to end the conversation and get back to their lives.

To counteract this, salespeople will say something unexpected to throw a stick in the wheel of this expected pattern. A few examples of this could be:

‘Does my name sound familiar?’

‘From 1-10, how much do cold calls annoy you?’

They’re buying themselves a few valuable seconds to make a connection with prospects.

And like other effective selling techniques, pattern interrupt has found its way onto The Internets.

Pattern interrupt in online marketing

It didn’t take long for online marketers to tap into this technique.

We first saw it emerge 15 years ago, when popups became a popular form of web advertising.

Unexpectedly, an advertisement (often with little relevance to what the user was browsing) would appear in a second window.

New Window Pop-Up (Circa 2005) (1)
Advertising popup circa 2005

Some advertisers achieved impressive results early on, but there was a problem: users hated the interruption and lack of control over unrelated windows being opened.

By 2004, popups found themselves at the top of Jakob Nielsen’s Most Hated Advertising Techniques. The annoyance sprung an offshoot industry around popup-blocking (remember StopZilla?), and a concerted effort was made to rid the web of their presence.

But the industry didn’t last, as browsers soon got wise to popups, and mostly all web browsers now include popup-blocking technology. By the late 2000s, traditional advertising-driven popups were mostly extinct.

So how could online marketers leverage pattern interrupt without pissing off users?

Marketing overlays: pattern interrupt without the annoyance

A marketing overlay is an online advertisement that appears over top of the window a user was currently browsing (hence the word overlay).

A marketing overlay from Xeroshoes, circa 2014

Marketing overlays differ from popups on several fronts:

  1. They open in the same window, not a new window.
  2. They’re controlled by site owners who have a vested interest in user satisfaction, not 3rd party advertisers.
  3. When executed well, they contain relevant offers (for example, a user browsing shoes online may be offered 15% off that specific product via a marketing overlay).
  4. They can be targeted at certain user segments and web pages, they don’t activate at random.
  5. They’re often activated by user behaviour such as page flow, keystrokes, and mouse movements.

All of these factors have contributed to making the marketing overlay less disruptive, more valuable to users, and more profitable for site owners than its predecessor, the advertising popup.

About that user experience…

Exit overlays—overlays that activate only when users are about to abandon a website—are designed to recover sales and signups from abandoning users before they leave your site.

Exit overlays in particular are noted for having little impact on the user experience. And the numbers back this up.

Dan Zarrella ran an interesting experiment by A/B testing his homepage with and without an exit overlay.

Image Source

Brian from Backlinko ran an exit overlay on this page, and had this to say: “No one cared about the nano-second interruption. I’ve had the form on my site for almost a month now and no one has said a word about it.”

The feedback from our clients has been consistent with this. Steven Sashen from Xeroshoes reported no customer complaints after several months of using a Rooster Exit Overlay.

And about those results…

Using a Rooster Exit Overlay, we’ve had a client increase sales leads from their website by 300%.

Another client drove a 9.81% increase in company order volume.

The conversion lifts vary, but clients are reporting positive results.

All told, an effective pattern interrupt technique has finally found it’s way on to the web. And it’s a great strategy for turning abandoning users into cash.

How many abandoning users can you convert? Rooster is available on a free 30-day trial.



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