In ‘Captivology’, Ben Parr Proves His Thesis Around Attention And Helps Us Understand The Factors That Drive It

We all seek to gain attention. Whether it be for ourselves or for a third-party company, brand, cause, or product, getting people to notice and shift their focus towards it is not exactly an exact science. As a reporter for The Next Web, I received numerous pitches from agencies and tech companies eager to get my attention in order to write a story about them. We all have some need to get other people to pay attention, including for page views, shares, sign-ups and subscriptions, downloads, usage, and more.

But while it might be easy to think about deploying a tactic or gimmick to get people’s heads and focus to turn and be intrigued, it’s better to understand the concept around attention and the scientific rationale for why something is viral, bestselling, engaging, and worthwhile versus a similar offering from a competitor. This is exactly the purpose of Captivology: The SCIENCE of Capturing People’s Attention, a new book from former Mashable editor-at-large, CNET and Inc. columnist, and venture capitalist Ben Parr.

Attention [n. uhten-shuh n; interj. uh-ten-shuhn]: a concentration of the mind on a single object or thought, especiallyone preferentially selected from a complex, with a view to limiting orclarifying receptivity by narrowing the range of stimuli; a state of consciousness characterized by such concentration; a capacity to maintain selective or sustained concentration.

This 221-page book isn’t a history of the tech industry nor is it a self-help type of publication. Rather, readers will find it is more akin to a textbook that you would find in a college bookstore that shines a light at seven key aspects that causes our eyeballs to shift to the creator’s directions. Called “captivation triggers”, Parr says that these are psychological and scientific phenomena that “trigger shockingly predictable and quantifiable responses in the mind.” So what are these triggers?

  • Authenticity: Using specific sensory cues like colors, symbols, and sounds to capture attention based on automatic reaction to certain stimuli.
  • Framing: Adapting to or changing somebody’s view of the world so they pay more attention to you.
  • Disruption: Violating people’s expectations to change what they pay attention to.
  • Reward: Leveraging people’s motivations for intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.
  • Reputation: Using the reputations of experts, authorities, and the crowd to instill trust and captivate audiences.
  • Mystery: Creating mystery, uncertainty, and suspense to keep and audience intrigued until the very end.
  • Acknowledgement: Fostering a deeper connection, because people tend to pay attention to those who provide them with validation and understanding.

“I wrote this book because attention is THE engine that drives almost everything in the modern economy. I have had many agents and publishers approach me about writing a book over the years, but this was the first time I ever found a subject that I wanted to spend countless hours of my energy and time pursuing. I became fascinated by the topic of attention and its impact on our economy and culture. I simply had to write this book,” says Parr. And it’s not surprising that he centered around attention based on his background. Aside from his career covering, mentoring, and investing in startups, Parr is no stranger to doing outrageous, but highly attention-driven events.

Captivology certainly has that textbook feel to it, but if you’re looking to specific how-to tips, then you might not want to read this book. Think of it as something more strategic in order to help you understand the methodology behind driving attention. It’s helpful that Parr has included numerous examples and very succinct case studies to help prove why his captivation triggers have some validity. Some of the examples include why Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. wound up capturing our attention in the video game market, how Allied forces successfully tricked German forces using its Ghost Army, why we were so captivated by Wieden + Kennedy’s Old Spice Guy campaign, BuzzFeed, and Batkid. Parr even conducted dozens of interviews to gather the necessary research needed for Captivology.


You might think that because Parr previously covered technology issues that Captivology was written with the entrepreneur in mind. On the contrary as Parr tells me that he wrote it “so it could be accessible and useful to anybody, regardless of what they do. Sure, entrepreneurs need to get the attention of users, but teachers need to captivate their students; politicians need the attention of voters; charities need to grab the eyes and ears of donors. It’s for everybody.”

Overall, Captivology is an engaging book with some real great points to make that anyone who is interested in marketing themselves or whatever they’re working on should read. A couple of things that I’d like to see in the book include (1) in a few pockets throughout the book, it can seem to get a bit more academic and you just want to glance over it, but those are few and far apart, and (2) while presenting these strategic overviews about the concept of attention-getting, what are the next steps in which someone can go forth and put it into practice? There are plenty of proven studies in the book, but how does a teacher, marketer, entrepreneur, investor, filmmaker, or average person put it into practice?

That being said, in Captivology, Parr has proven his thesis about attention as it’s not a book you can easily put down and it’s easily understandable.

Captivology is published by HarperOne and is available for purchase online starting March 3.

Photo credit: Batkid in San Francisco via Associated Press

3 responses to “In ‘Captivology’, Ben Parr Proves His Thesis Around Attention And Helps Us Understand The Factors That Drive It”

  1. Chuck Robinson Avatar

    Ken, I love theory but I also love the pragmatic. I will be buying this but would also love to read any companion books that would work well with Ben’s book. Any suggestions?

    1. Martinicat Avatar

      “Made to Stick” by chip and dan heath

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