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The question that gets our attention

The question that gets our attention

April 15, 2024

What’s in it for me?

It could be a banner ad, a press release, a video or any other medium your brand uses to communicate. Whatever form it takes, your message needs to answer that question if you want to gain someone’s attention and earn their interest.

And it needs to be framed to fit their culture, their experience, their perspective, their wants, needs, hopes and desires.

That’s how they’ll see what’s in it for them.

But if there is no problem, there is no solution.

And if there is no problem or solution, there is no need for them to pay attention or take an interest in your message.

Here is a list of problems:

  • It’s visible
  • It’s painful
  • It’s smelly
  • It’s tasteless
  • It’s poisonous
  • It’s sexy
  • It’s delicious
  • It’s loud
  • It’s big
  • It’s easy to understand
  • It’s dangerous
  • It’s rational
  • It’s complex
  • It’s immediate
  • It’s rapidly worsening
  • It’s surprising
  • It’s embarrassing
  • It’s morally repugnant
  • It’s costly
  • It’s deniable
  • It’s status-threatening
  • It’s status-enhancing
  • It’s risky, really risky
  • It’s intensely irritating


It’s solvable

If your message isn’t appealing to, or voicing, one of those problems, fair enough, but why would we pay attention to it?

If it’s just one of those things, you got our attention, for a second or two, but now you need to follow up.

Why should we solve it?

Which is your cue to say, “Because…”

That’s the solution. The pay off. That’s what’s in it for us, the customer. That’s what earns our interest after you got our attention.

Your message needs to appeal to one or more of those problems. The questions we all voice in our hearts and minds from time to time, although we may not be conscious of them.

They may take other forms. They may not come in that order. There may be more problems to add to the list. They may take on different degrees of importance to each and every one of us.

You don’t have to be explicit, you don’t have to answer them all.

Hints. Clues. Suggestions. Allusions (but not illusions). Messages that imply a problem and solution can work just as well as spelling everything out.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a pair of trainers, trousers or glasses. It makes no difference what you’re offering.

It could be a cure for cancer.

If we don’t get a sense that there’s some sort of problem that has some sort of solution, then it won’t make much sense. The brain won’t join the dots.

In which case, you can kiss goodbye to our attention and interest.

This is the brutal truth anyone in marketing deals with on a daily basis, but specifically for us when we’re writing scripts and storyboards for animated explainer videos or video productions.

We have to answer the cold hard question, “what’s in it for me?”

Yes, that’s a selfish question. But selfish doesn’t automatically mean bad. Is it selfish to feed yourself when you’re hungry?


Because context matters. Intent matters. To take all the food when others need some, or wantonly throwing half of it away… that’s not good.

So, when we’re trying to write a script or storyboard that will attract someone’s attention and earn their interest, we put ourselves in their shoes and ask: what’s in it for me?

As in, what’s the problem and what does a solution look like?

Even if you don’t present the audience with a problem, it’s a problem pretending to be an opportunity.

Schrödinger’s lottery…

Buying a lottery ticket is an opportunity to win a million pounds, right?


It’s an opportunity to stop being poor.

Being poor or feeling poorer than the Jones’. That’s the problem. But none of the advertising mentions poverty or being poor, only the dream of winning it big and how many luxury yachts and villas on the French riviera you can buy. It’s all sunshine, sandals and sex.

The first rule of Fight Club, “There is no problem…”

You might be poor, or feel poorer, but that’s the problem they don’t and won’t advertise. Because being or feeling poor is something we might want to deny (or at least not want to be reminded of).

Denial is on the list – that’s the problem.

Imagine a TV ad showing a tramp finding a pound in the gutter and instead of buying food, buys a lottery ticket… and then wins!

Would you identify with the tramp?

He won. And you want to win. Right?

What now?

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and ask: What’s in it for me?

Your answer matters. Because if people aren’t paying enough attention to your messages, your problem is probably not knowing what’s in it for them.