Heart-Stopping Suspense Isn’t Just for Scary Movies—it’s for Native Video Too

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Just about a year ago, we published a post about mystery and its effects on how consumers click. The post explains how leaving gaps in information provides a sense of mystery, which motivates consumers to take action.

The feeling of suspense is related to mystery but with one main difference—suspense is highly emotional. Not only is it emotional, but the emotion doesn’t subside even after the suspenseful moment has passed on screen.

The late, great movie director Alfred Hitchcock once described the difference between mystery and suspense as this:

“Mystery is an intellectual process. Suspense is an emotional process.”

Suspenseful feelings can be either positive or negative—videos that include everything from romance to a thriller can incite you to cringe in suspense. Maybe your favorite character dies and you feel sad, or the couple you were hoping would get together finally decides to tie the knot and feel happy.

Both events are suspenseful, and marketers can learn from how both types of suspenseful events incited action in the viewer.

Marketers: This is what makes a video suspenseful.

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Chicago-based marketing researcher, Linda Alwitt, ran several studies to understand the power of suspense and the specific characteristics that make a video suspenseful. In these studies, she defines suspense as ‘the alternation of hope and fear as the narrative unfolds.’

She discovered that suspenseful videos are more likely to have the following characteristics:

  • A conflict between people
  • Time pressure
  • Moral questions
  • Music that creates feelings of suspense
  • Uncertainty about the outcome
  • A surprising ending

Screenwriting master, Robert McKee talks about similar video characteristics in a Harvard Business Review interview.

For marketers looking to incite action from consumers with suspense, implementing these aspects of suspense psychology into your videos could be effectiveand what’s more, your audience won’t be bored.

Alwitt also uncovered that suspense doesn’t only make us feel strong emotion, but the emotions are so powerful that time passes for them more quickly—viewers feel suspenseful videos are shorter than non-suspenseful videos.

This is how marketers are using these tactics today.

Superbowl ads are a great example. At a time and place where viewers are already in suspense as the big game unfolds, marketers take advantage.

This commercial from Jeep uses suspense to capture the viewer as their latest model goes head to head with a T-Rex.

The same goes for this commercial from Jack in the Box, which uses conflict between two parties to create a suspenseful feeling for viewers.

Take a moment to notice your own behavior during seconds 21 to 27 of the Jeep commercial, and in seconds 31 to 38 in the Jack in the Box commercial.

In the peak of suspense, your emotional reaction rises, but so does your attention.

High attention is the main reason advertisers should use suspense in their video ads. According to Alwitt, this brings about high memory encoding, which is great for any advertisers who are looking for brand awareness.

Suspense can also be used in sponsored content campaigns.

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Although we generally think of suspense when it comes to video, it’s also found in literature, music, and in marketing. Many of the videos on Taboola utilize suspense, and some sponsored content headlines do as well.

Here are some effective examples:

  • Wife Passes Away Hours After Giving Birth. Then Husband’s Instinct Tells Him To Check Her Pregnancy Blog
  • We Tried HelloFresh: Here’s What Happened

These types of headlines—whether they’re leading to content or trying to promote a specific product by telling a story—can increase the feeling of suspense, and therefore incite action from a consumer in the form of a click.

By including an uncertainty about the outcome of a video or by using a suspenseful headline, marketers encourage consumers to resolve that suspense by either watching until the end of the video or by clicking on the headline and reading the content post-click.

Next time you put together or choose a video to promote, or next time you put together a headline, try to include some suspense in it for further reach and brand awareness.

If you’re interested in more tips and tricks for better headlines and videos, check out my posts on rhyming and lyrical headlines.