How To Grab (And Keep) Attention With Open Loops In Copywriting

Have you ever binge-watched a TV show?

You may find that even when you get tired of it, or want to do something else, you still wait until the end of an episode before you take a break.

If you've done this, you've experienced the power of open loops.

This concept can be applied to copy of any kind. Open loops are a powerful psychological tool that will compel your readers and viewers to stay focused on your message until the end.

However, you can definitely misuse open loops. If your story ends before your message has been told, readers won't have a reason to keep ongoing.

Luckily for you, we're going to tell you exactly how to grab (and keep) attention with open loops in copywriting, and explain why they work as well as they do.

 

What Are Open Loops?

How To Grab (And Keep) Attention With Open Loops In Copywriting

Open loops are mysteries. You've been given information, but not enough to solve the mystery. So, you want to gather more information so you can solve the mystery and put it to rest.

But why are humans so easy to "trick" into solving these cases? Wouldn't it be easier to just leave them be and go do something else?

Well, yes and no.

Our brains are hardwired to search for closure in everything we do. If you're halfway through a task, you want to finish it before you take a break.

However, what's curious about this is that after you've finished the task, you often can't remember too much about it. You're hyper-focused on it while you're still working on it, but afterward, it leaves your short-term memory.

Of course, this isn't good for copywriting.

After a reader finishes reading your copy, they'll most likely forget about the details afterward... Unless they haven't finished the new task of buying your product...

But let's consider the other angle.

If you are forcibly stopped from finishing a task, you'll feel a strong urge to get back to it as soon as you can. We hate leaving jobs unfinished. You can employ this tactic in copywriting by "forcing" your audience to remember you and your copy.

Your readers and viewers want to solve the mystery, and want the gratification of finishing a job. If your copy taps into this psychological trick, you'll find that many more people will be interested in your message. And more interested people means more sales.

So how do you use open loops in your copy?

There's no singular answer to this. Open loops come in a variety of styles and can be used as you see fit.

However, we can at the very least go over each type of open-loop.

 

Use Open Loops To Add Mystery

How To Grab (And Keep) Attention With Open Loops In Copywriting

The easiest way to create a "mystery" is to literally do it. If your content uses this style of open loop, the message itself will be part of the gratification.

For example, Marks and Spencer released a Christmas ad in 2016. The entire ad revolves around what present Mrs. Claus sent to a family that she got a letter from. The letter is from a younger brother wanting "something" for his sister.

What is that something? That's what we want to find out!

You may or may not actually invest in the product that's being advertised, but you most certainly want to watch the ad until the end so that your question gets answered.

And what about the present that Mrs. Claus was given? What's in that?

That question never gets answered, so we tend to remember it.

And that's exactly the power of an open loop.

Let's take another example: Samsung's Mystery ad. The ad is blatantly advertising their phone, a Galaxy Note 8 specifically, but the environment is unknown and confusing.

We have no idea where we are, how we got there, or why we're there, and those questions are never answered.

Even though those questions aren't relevant to the ad's purpose, we still remember the ad better than most.

But... why?

Well, it's an open loop: our minds start to question what the environment has to do with the ad, but that never gets answered. Unanswered questions in our minds beg to be answered and we don't forget about them easily.

So the general format for this tactic goes as follows:

  1. Create a mystery early on
  2. Include content in the middle to keep people waiting on the solution
  3. Include your company's message at the end
  4. Either solve the mystery and create another one, or never solve the original mystery (both options leave your readers without closure, and make them remember you)

However open loops don't have to be as blatant as a mystery story...

 

Use Open Loops To Leave Out Information On Purpose

How To Grab (And Keep) Attention With Open Loops In Copywriting

This is when you leave out vital details that our minds really want to know about, thus creating an open loop.

Here's an example of an ad written by Roy H. Williams for a diamond seller named Woody Justice:

Antwerp, Belgium, is no longer the diamond capital of the world.

Thirty-four hours on an airplane. One way. Thirty. Four. Hours. That's how long it took me to get to where eighty percent of the world's diamonds are now being cut. After 34 hours I looked bad. I smelled bad. I wanted to go to sleep. But then I saw the diamonds.

Unbelievable. They told me I was the first retailer from North America ever to be in that office. Only the biggest wholesalers are allowed through those doors. Fortunately, I had one of 'em with me, a lifelong friend who was doing me a favor.

Now pay attention, because what I'm about to say is really important: As of this moment, Justice Jewelers has the lowest diamond prices in America, and I'm including all the online diamond sellers in that statement.

Now you and I both know that talk is cheap. So put it to the test. Go online. Find your best deal. Not only will Justice Jewelers give you a better diamond, we'll give you a better price, as well.

I'm Woody Justice, and I'm working really, really hard to be your jeweler. Thirty-four hours of hard travel, one way. I think you'll be glad I did it.

A mystery isn't directly created, but your mind starts to wonder: "If Antwerp isn't the diamond capital, what is? Where is the plane going on that 34-hour trip? Is it somewhere fancy? How cheap are those diamonds?"

Those few huge open loops are enough to leave people pondering. No specifics are given, but enough information to peak curiosity has been provided.

In this case, we won't forget about the ad easily because we haven't solved the mystery! You might find yourself itching to search for the missing information yourself.

And that's exactly how they get you onto their landing page and other conversion-optimized content from a simple ad.

Williams could have written the ad in a very stereotypical salesman style, having Woody directly stating the prices and where they came from. But then there would be no open loop. We also would probably shrug it off as "too good to be true" or something similar.

Here's another example. Read the intro of this post by Shuki Mann:

It all started when I wanted to buy a new Mac. I went into a store, checked a few models and decided on the new Macbook Pro. I got an attractive offer and yet I still wanted to check the price at the official store, where I saw the exact same model but at a 15% increase in price.

Eventually, even though the price was higher - I pulled out my credit card and made the purchase at the second store.

Sounds irrational? Absolutely!

Well, not exactly.

The information that was left out here is a lot more obvious than the previous ad. Your mind will instantly start wondering "Why did he buy the Mac at a higher price?"

That single mystery is the setup for a much longer article. That first 5% of the article gets people to read, the other 95% to find out the answer.

Meanwhile, the open-loop in this example actually ends up being closed fairly quickly:

We all love to buy low cost but somehow we always end up paying a little more in return for peace of mind. We want to know that we made the right decision, we bought at the right place, from the right person and that we got full value for our money.

In other words, we want a sense of confidence. We want to believe the salesman and feel secure with the business and product.

As a marketer you should always keep in mind that trust is one of the most important parameters that affect the customer's decision to purchase and in many cases can influence customers to pay more.

In fact, It doesn't matter how low or tempting your price is - if you don't give your potential customer the feeling that you are reliable and that buying from you is safe, they will not hesitate to buy from the competitor even if it will cost them more.

So, if you would like to optimize your conversion rate and have already tried various sales or cut off prices and nothing seems to quite work - it's probably time to move on to something new.

This is the section immediately after the intro. It pretty much solves the "mystery" right then and there, saying that his trust in the business was more important than the price.

That instant gratification from solving a mystery that was created mere moments ago feels great. And that feeling can carry through the rest of the article.

With this example, the open-loop simply gets the reader in the mindset to finish the rest of the article and get the information they want.

With the previous example, the open-loop is aimed to lure readers onto a conversion-optimized website. This goes to show that you can use this same tactic in two very different ways.

For this tactic, the format goes as follows:

  1. Leave out important details early on
    • This leaves your readers begging for an answer to a question that hasn't been asked
    • Optionally answer those questions right afterward, and end the loop here
  2. Get your company's message across
  3. Either directly link your audience to the details they're looking for, or leave them unanswered and compel the audience to search

However, sometimes you don't have to artificially create a mystery to keep people hooked...

 

Using Open Loops To Break Your Content Up Into Parts

How To Grab (And Keep) Attention With Open Loops In Copywriting

Creating a series of content is also an easy way to create open loops. All you have to do is leave cliffhangers of some kind at the end that encourage your readers to wait for the next part. And since those cliffhangers are open loops, they won't forget.

For example, think of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Even after Vader claims to be Luke's father, we are never certain of it, even at the end of the film.

Additionally, Han Solo's capture and unknown fate leave us wondering as well. These are both open loops, but knowing that the answer is in an upcoming installment greatly incentivizes the viewers to keep them in mind and search for an answer.

While movies aren't the same as copy, that same concept can be applied. When you ask a question and leave the answer for another article, your readers are left without closure.

There's an element of the sunk cost fallacy in here too: your readers made it through an entire article, but their questions weren't answered, so how can they quit when they're so invested?

Leading your audience through a series will keep them invested and stop them from forgetting your message.

For another example, let's look at Kate Spade's Miss Adventure ads. These appeal to their viewers in a number of ways. First off, they're more like skits than traditional ads, so most viewers actually enjoy watching them.

Second, the ads employ open loops constantly, as each ad has a follow-up and you can't get the whole story with just one of them.

The Miss Adventure series has similarities to how TV shows keep your attention. Each "episode" is easily digestible because of its modest length.

That short length helps foster a "just one more" attitude, as there are constant open loops that you want to solve, and a short length means there isn't a huge time investment in solving them.

Once you see one of the Miss Adventure ads, you might just find yourself looking to watch the whole series to see the "finale".

So not only does the Miss Adventure series keep your attention with open loops, but you get invested in the "show" and want to watch them all, which keeps Kate Spade in your memory even after the open loops are done.

Here's the general format:

  1. Create a post as normal
  2. Towards the end, create a mystery of some kind
  3. At the end, directly or indirectly tell your audience where the next part is
  4. Repeat until the end of the series

Of course, you don't have to create cliffhangers to keep people invested...

 

Open Loops Delay Endings

How To Grab (And Keep) Attention With Open Loops In Copywriting

All open loops are meant to try to delay the end of the content, but subtly delaying the end can have a similar effect without actually using open loops inherently.

For example, take a look at this post by Groove. This particular post uses a mini-series to keep the reader interested. While not as "deep" as a full-blown series, a 2-part series is enough to delay the reader's gratification and keep them invested.

After all, the sunk cost fallacy is present in all of us, and a short series will play on that. With Groove's blog post, there's no way I would manage to get through that entire blog and then not want to read the second part, so it stays in my mind.

A mini-series is different from a longer series because the goals are different. When you use a long series format for your content, you're relying on people getting invested and following your open loops to their conclusion.

A mini-series is simply trying to delay the reader's gratification just enough to get them to your second part, where you can convey your message and potentially convert them.

Another way you can delay the ending is to simply write more!

Ok, that sounds obvious, but hear me out.

If your posts contain a large amount of relevant content and external links, you'll keep peoples' minds on your post for longer. Plus, if you properly employed an open loop at the start of your post, the reader will be searching for an answer until the end and stay focused.

Here's a list of the things you can do to "lengthen" your content without actually writing much more:

  • Use lots of lists
  • Include examples and analyze those examples
  • Show lots of diagrams and pictures
  • Include links to or embed videos that go over the topic
  • Link to any examples or resources that the user might be interested in

For example, take a look at Neil Patel's guide to copywriting:

  • He has a huge number of lists, which adds extra content to every section of the blog without being hard to make
  • He includes a ton of examples, which both clarifies his points and serves as easy content to write about, and more content means more attention from the reader
  • Almost every section has links to an external website for users to go to
    • Each link takes minimal time to add but gives the readers much more content to read through, and the nature of open loops means they'll come back to the original article
  • Every topic has an in-depth explanation
    • Sure, sometimes they're necessary, but oftentimes you can get the point across with a simple explanation and the in-depth one serves to add extra content

With all this being said, there's one major point you need to know: delaying too much will hurt your content rather than help it. Readers want gratification, but if that gratification ends up being not worth it, they'll give up.

And post that delays its ending too much will only serve to frustrate the readers rather than push them along.

That's why optional content works the best: you can provide links, videos, pictures, etc, but they won't frustrate the readers that are losing their patience. You can add a few forced delays, but don't overdo it.

Here is how this normally goes:

  1. Create content as normal, but thicken it up with external links, extra details, and optional content.
  2. Optionally include a cliffhanger
  3. Check over the content and make sure you're not delaying the ending to the point of frustration

Of course, even if you know every type of loop and how to use them, it won't help you if you don't know where to use them...

 

Where To Use Copywriting Open Loops

How To Grab (And Keep) Attention With Open Loops In Copywriting

Open loops are powerful tools, but if your loops aren't being entered in the first place, or aren't followed-through, they won't accomplish anything.

Which means you need to consider how you're positioning your loops:

  • If you're including them in basic written copywriting, use them in headlines and at the beginning, or at the end for a cliffhanger
    • An open loop at the start gets the reader going on the rest of the article, and headline open loops catch scanners
  • In videos, your open loops should be obvious and towards the beginning, but not right at the beginning, or at the very end
    • Starting with a compelling attention-grabber is more important, as mobile users are quickly scanning through videos and desktop users are there for a reason and the open-loop will grab them later on
    • Cliffhangers almost always leave viewers wanting to know what happened
  • Images with written open loops should make the open-loop incredibly obvious
    • Circle, highlight, make it bigger, etc. As long as people get hooked after reading it, and consistently read it first, it'll work.

You can see this styling in every example mentioned thus far:

  • The Marks and Spencer Christmas ad starts with a bit of story and some humor before introducing the mystery
  • The Samsung Mystery ad introduces the phone immediately but waits a few seconds before getting "weird"
  • The Justice Jewelers ad introduces an open-loop immediately, and a second and third one early on too
  • The Shuki Mann post almost immediately introduces its open-loop and promptly closes it after you're hooked
  • The Empire Strikes Back ends on a cliffhanger and introduces a mystery halfway through it, both of which leave the viewer waiting on a sequel of some kind or at least some answers
  • The Miss Adventure series leaves you with constant cliffhangers and the short length introduces a "just one more" attitude
  • If you read through the entirety of Groove's post, there's no way you won't want to close the loop, since you're so invested and want to know their secrets
  • Neil Patel has an open-loop near the beginning but has so much extra content that you're focused on that loop for a long time and more likely to remember it after it's closed

 

Get Your Audience Hooked By Using Open Loops

How To Grab (And Keep) Attention With Open Loops In Copywriting

Open loops are an easy enough concept to understand, but it can be hard to use them appropriately. It requires a degree of audience awareness and foresight that makes it hard for lots of people.

Hopefully with this in-depth guide, however, you won't have to struggle to employ this incredibly powerful psychological trick.

That being said, for some people a guide alone isn't enough, and that's ok. If that's the case, don't be afraid to hire a digital marketing consultant.

If you don't have enough time, don't understand the strategy well enough, or just want a second opinion, a digital marketing consultant will keep you on track.

Want higher conversions on your landing pages, sales letters, emails, or ads? It might be time for you to work with an expert copywriter. I’ve driven tens of millions of dollars in revenue for hundreds of clients over the past 10 years — including some of the largest B2B companies and digital brands in America.

Using my words, I’ll tap into your prospects’ deepest desires, deploy my menagerie of psychological sales triggers, and prime them for the sale. The result? More wins for your business and more revenue and profits in your pocket. Sound interesting to you? Click HERE to learn more about my copywriting work and see if we’re a good match.

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About the author

Daniel Doan is a veteran direct-response copywriter with over 10 years of expertise leading copywriting teams and writing copy for some of the largest brands in America.
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