Art of Message

Art of Message – June 28, 2023

A moderately suprising fact about marketing copy

Definition of Art: “That which provokes significant and lasting emotional, spiritual, and intellectual surprise.”^1

^1 “Art,” in Blue Elephant Dictionary, 2023, accessed June 27, 2023,

People like surprise but not too much.

This is according to researchers from the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. They published a study: “Creating Effective Marketing Messages Through Moderately Surprising Syntax” (syntax being a fancy word for word structure).

BTW, this is not a new idea. What’s new is creating a mathematical model that can measure surprising word/sentence structure in marketing copy. Then to apply that measurement to a large corpus.

Note that the study is confined to syntax (structure). But surprising semantics (meaning) also works.

The semantically unsurprising slogan for an energy drink would be:

Red Bull gives you tons of energy.

The semantically surprising slogan is the one we all know. Though it’s only moderately surprising, because wings are an allusion to flying, which is a common metaphor for the feeling of having lots of energy.

Red Bull gives you jetpack-brain, on the other hand, might be too surprising a meaning.

Syntactic plus semantic suprise could look like this:

Jet-pack brain,


on Red Bull.

You get the picture. Let your messaging fall in the sweet spot between too predictable and too weird.

But now for the real surprise..

Why did I look this study up to begin with? Because I have seen people posting about it on LinkedIn for months now. So I got moderately curious whether it was peer-reviewed scientific research (it is). And when I did some poking around, I found several dozen LinkedIn and blog posts referencing it.

Yet it looks from the study publication page as if the supplemental materials document, the only substantive part of it that’s free, has only been downloaded 4 times, and one of those was me.

Surprise, surprise (:

The message above comes from…
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