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Using advertising tricks to maximize training effectiveness

When film-making first started, it was a blast just to see a short motion picture of a train entering the station. It was thrilling. As things started to evolve and Hollywood gave us all those glamorous stars and wonderful films, the audience started to demand more and more out of this form of art and entertainment. And along with the film industry, there was a new branch that developed, one that is even today managing to make a lot of money in a very short yet very expensive air time. I’m talking about advertising.

A good video ad can boost sales to unprecedented heights by convincing audiences to buy a product or service. The catch word is “good”. Since the lime is limited, it needs to be catchy, witty and memorable.

It is exactly how instructional designers want their content to be. And learning modules are aimed at driving behavior (just like publicity is) so there are quite a few things to be learned from those colorful interruptions of our favorite TV programs.

It’s all about the hooks

Of course, instructional designers have known that the hook was compulsory from the beginnings of corporate training. Getting and holding learner attention has always been as important as having great content and getting the most reliable Subject Matter Experts to vouch for it.

Read more: The role of SMEs in e-learning – cooking up the perfect course

When talking about advertising videos, however, it is not ‘hook’ but ‘hooks’; plural, because even if the time is so limited (or precisely because that is the case), the whole thirty-forty seconds have to be engaging and memorable. If there is a story (amazingly images have the power to actually tell one in a very short time), audiences need to be interested enough to follow it.

With people’s attentions spans dwindling, it’s paramount to get and hold their interest long enough to make both an impression and a point. That’s why there are at least two major hooks to be taken into consideration: the concept of the video and the dramatization focused on the learning point. They both have to be very well thought out, unique and have just the right ratio of everything.

Figuring out the concept

It’s great if while designing the video one can come up with an amazing, out of the ordinary, world rocking concept. Since they are hard to come by, there are a few things to be checked off the list in order to make sure that it is at least a good one.

First of all, the concept needs to be centered around the learning objective since that is what has to be accomplished in the end.

Then the designers need to decide if they want it to appeal to the heart (drive emotion) or to the brain (provide a mind opening experience). These are the two important areas that can drive behavior. And in order to achieve that – a desired change in behavior, the video concept has to also be meaningful to learners or else it will go right over their heads and miss its purpose.

Last but not least, it has to stand out from the crowd. With the amount of video content trying to move people to do certain things – from buying a certain product to being more responsible about the environment – a good concept is one that is distinctive from all the others: fresh and surprising.

Dramatizing the learning point

Video ads are essentially concentrated stories that have an obvious take away. They take the skillfully thought out concept and dramatize it so it speaks to the viewers. The same should happen with learning content, the focus having to be the learning points.

Just as at the end of an add viewers know exactly what kind of toothpaste they ought to buy in order for their smile to be shinier or what telephone company they should choose in order to always be connected to their loved ones, learners should have, at the end of a learning module, a very clear idea about its point.

This is why it is best if the message is also made visual – as in literally spelled out, narrated or (better yet) written somewhere. If the concept and its dramatization were properly constructed, learners will have already got the point before it appears in a sentence on the screen but since repetition ensures retention it’s not too much to clearly state it once more.

Read more: Subscription learning: Because repetition is the mother of learning

Actually, with all the digitization taking over these days, it might not be a bad idea to send a written reminder of that important take away some time after the learning module is completed.

Not going over the top

If repetition has its well-defined role in learning, drama for drama’s sake is too much. The story has to support the learning objective and not the other way around. It’s very tempting to add spectacular images and effects because it is so easy to do that nowadays but trying too hard can be counterproductive.

At one point I had to deliver a number of trainings on complaint handling and I was trying to get the participants to understand that any complaint, as simple as it may sound, has very many layers, most of them emotional and in order to get to the ‘teary’ center you must peel all of them away. For the first few sessions I traveled to the locations with a bag of onions and gave one to each participant for dramatic effect.

Then one time I forgot to go grocery shopping before the course and had to borrow my produce props from the hotel kitchen where the conference room was booked. I figured it was a strange request to begin with so I only asked for one onion. The effect I got by simply holding the vegetable in my hand and starting the conversation from there was just as good. And it was more time effective, not to mention my car smelled better.


Video ads have been around for a long time and they still manage to bring a lot of money to companies that chose to advertise that way. The workings of video publicity can easily be incorporated in e-learning for better engagement and information retention.