How to Intensify Curiosity. Featuring: Advertising.

Brett G Friedman
2 min readNov 11, 2020


The Method

If you had to guess, what makes you the most curious? I’ll tell you what the research says in a minute. See if you were right.

The Experiment(s)

Since the 1960’s thousands of experiments have focused on what makes people curious. In 1994, a renowned behavioral economist, George Loewenstein, aggregated the data and found the answer. It’s something most people know intuitively but often can’t put into words. Something obvious and easy to understand, but at the same time oddly surprising.

You can see it in many of the most successful ads of all time and more so in ads running today.

The Results

Did you figure it out? Did you already know the answer? They’re called Knowledge Gaps.

Curiosity comes from knowing you don’t know something. Or you might say, a known gap in your knowledge.

According to Loewenstein, there are three factors that increase the intensity of curiosity and five optimal frames for creating it.

Intensify curiosity by:

  1. Adding definition, concreteness, and clarity to the unknown information (like a thick border)
  2. Making it clear the information is easy to obtain
  3. Giving the information to everyone but the one you aim to make curious

Optimize for curiosity by framing the information as:

  1. A puzzle or riddle
  2. A resolution to a sequence of unpredictable events (like a race. Bonus points for generating predictions.)
  3. A violation of expectations that triggers search for an explanation
  4. A fact everyone else knows
  5. A fact forgotten but needed in the present moment (Tip-of-the-Tongue)

The Application

Take a look at that Harry’s ad above. It hits nearly all the checkboxes for curiosity.

  • The copy presents a riddle with answers known to others.
  • The encircled images give you just enough information to generate predictions of what those answers might be.
  • And all of it leads to the conclusion that the information is easy to obtain: just click the ad.

That’s a conversion waiting to happen.



Brett G Friedman

Data-Driven Creative | Life Experimenter | Likes Words, Tea, and Psychology | AMA about Happiness, Death, Marketing, or Behavioral Economics Research| Marpipe