Here's a sentence I never thought I'd say, but I mean it: an alleged scandal in the cat food industry is going to make your next piece of writing instantly more interesting to your audience.
Outlandish as that sounds, I know it's true. How? Put it this way... until I started using the writing technique that alerted me to said scandal, I'd won a grand total of zero awards for my writing. Zero!! Then, the moment I started deploying the technique with the same zeal footballers deploy adultery, I scored... big.
So, what's the writing technique?
It's called an 'Open Loop'.
Yes, you're right, I've referenced Open Loops in my other unmissable articles many times, but if I didn't publish a stand-alone article on this elite writing technique, I'd be failing you all.
What is an Open Loop?
In simple terms, whether used in a newspaper ad, a TV ad, the opening page of a novel or the first scene in a movie, an Open Loop presents a tantalising piece of information that demands a resolution, but critically, the resolution is delayed, thus sustaining the viewer or reader's interest.
Here's the greatest example of an Open Loop I've seen this year:
I'd never heard of cat food startup KatKin until one of their YouTube ads hooked me with the most sensational Open Loop of the year so far. Out of sheer admiration for it, I accepted the ad's 'learn more' invitation and clicked the button (yes, some people actually do watch/engage with YouTube ads!)
"WOW!" I thought, as I arrived at the KatKin landing page and marvelled at yet another scintillating Open Loop.
See below for what I saw. This is, in my opinion, the most edge-of-your-seat cliffhanger since 'How much is my gas bill gonna be this month, ffs?!!' swept across Britain:
Now, understand, I do not own a cat, but thanks to KatKin's provocative opening allegation, I was instantly pulled hypnotically into their world. My desire to know what's 'terribly wrong' with the cat food industry overcame me. In that moment, the rest of the world fell silent, and my curiosity would only be quenched once I learned why the hell cat food smells so bad?
(PS. I didn't even know cat food does smell bad. Does it?)
Truth is, it doesn't matter if cat food smells bad, the fact I was even asking the damn question was impressive enough, right? Remember, Open Loops are all about eliciting curiosity and delaying resolution.
Why do Open Loops work?
The short answer is... Open Loops are effective communication tools because they buy you valuable seconds of someone's attention. When brands hire me, they aren't hiring me to write per se, they're hiring me to buy valuable chunks of time from message-fatigued humans. 'What is message-fatigue?', you ask. As psychologist Rick Hanson recently wrote:
"We're bombarded with things to think about all day long, flooded with words and images to process, and forced to juggle unprecedented complexities. Our minds are being hauled along behind a culture without a speed limit, but the human body and brain do have a limit, a natural carrying capacity, and when we exceed it, there's always a price."
So, then, you should look at Open Loops as a way of reducing the number of things your reader has to think about from hundreds of things to just one — one painfully tantalising thing that agitates the hell out of their curiosity.
Here's an Open Loop that won me an award (well, two awards, actually)
Did you know that when I'm not writing for brands, I write and produce micro documentaries? The voiceover I recorded for my double award-winning documentary '61 Hugs' in 2018 forever cemented my love affair with Open Loops. You see, although 98.7% of that film was a beautifully unplanned, un-staged fluke, the nine words that opened scene one are as shamelessly deliberate as they come. Not only is it one of my proudest ever sentences, but critically, it is a textbook Open Loop. I make no apology for it, by the way, because as far as I was concerned, deploying the world's greatest writing trick was a must. Why? Because just like your next Marketing message, I had approx 1.7 seconds to secure the viewer's attention... possibly even less than 1.7 seconds considering the film's production budget was £2.97. Yes, the film cost me £2.97 to make, yet still, it took me to America for an exclusive Q&A, was screened in Europe's most prestigious documentary festival and sparked months of newspaper, radio and online media coverage. Good ROI.
Watch the opening nine words here — and if you can't spot the Open Loop, then I'm afraid I've failed you as a teacher.
NOTE: If you can't be bothered to acquaint yourself with '61 Hugs', simply scroll back to the opening paragraph of this article for yet another Open Loop. As I said, it's a love affair.
3 tips for writing effective Open Loops
TIP #1: Be early
Deploy your Open Loop immediately. Don't be cute with people's attention span, elicit curiosity in sentence #1. My most-read article of all time, for example, wastes no time conjuring-up an implausible image of chicken nuggets,
TIP #2: Be brief
Be merciless with your word count — keep your Open Loop tight and succinct. Both KatKin and I deliver our Open Loops in just one sentence, and I see no reason for more.
TIP #3: Be patient
One day, I might publish an article revealing all the Open Loops I've rejected over the years. Trust me, seductive Open Loops almost never fall out of the sky and land in your lap. As you agonise over your opening sentence, you have to hunt down the perfect Open Loop like a footballer hunts down adequate legal counsel. But trust me, if you're willing to persevere, a seductive Open Loop will buy valuable chunks of time from fatigued humans like nothing else.
When it comes to securing the attention of passive humans in under two-seconds, I can think of no more powerful tool to sprinkle throughout your Marketing copy than the humble Open Loop. But, for best results, be quick, be brief and be patient.
If you'd like one more dazzling case study, let me introduce you to the talented client I recently guided to award victory thanks, of course, to the world's most reliable writing technique... the Open Loop x
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