Jesamine Harvey • Nov 21 • 4 minutes

Suspense: meet your brand’s new superpower

So, it’s been years since I studied film, but ever since working in a brand design agency and entering the big world of brand marketing, one film theory has always strangely stuck with me. Coined by Alfred Hitchcock, it’s called the ‘bomb theory’. 

Here’s how Hitchcock defines his ‘bomb theory’ process in order to explain how he creates fantastic, tense, horror films:  

“Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then suddenly, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, they have seen an ordinary scene, of no special consequence.  

Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table, and the public knows it…  In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene”  

My geeky love of film theory is showing, I know.  

But there are a lot of parallels between what Hitchcock is saying here and great brand communications. Suspense is a state of feeling excited or anxious uncertainty about what may happen. So, with that neutral definition in mind, suspense could never be reserved for just films and novels.  

After all, like good films and good novels, good brands tell good stories. 

And much like the story arc in films, suspense and rising action are incredibly pivotal parts of brand storytelling. Take for example the case of Apple.  

Since its inception, Apple has been utilising the power of suspense to market its products. From their two-word 1997 evasive slogan “Think Different” to their most recent debut of their new Macbook Pro, Apple is a master of wielding suspense.  

In the recent ad above, Apple establishes the new Macbook Pro by personifying it as a “wild thing which draws everything in”. In the ad’s final moments, the frighteningly-voiced narrator asks, “What have we done? and more importantly what will you do?” leaving the narrative open for the viewer to conclude, creating ominous suspense around the next course of action.  

As masterful brand storytellers, Apple opened a narrative loop in the minds of their consumers, leaving them to finish the story that Apple started. Consumers, then on the edge of suspense, are persuaded to finish the story by purchasing a MacBook Pro and finding out for themselves just how wild it really is.

So, how can you bring suspense to your brand? 

1. Generate intrigue, prep people in advance, and slowly reveal 

If you have something new in the works, let people know. But always remember that you don’t have to say on the day. Surprise is nice, but suspense is better. Two weeks in advance is a great time to start posting content about the latest thing you’ve got cooking.  

One way you can show what’s happening without oversharing is to give your audience a sneak peek behind the scenes. This way you can show them something big that you’re currently working on, creating suspense and establishing your brand as one to watch. By taking them through the backstage process, they will anticipate and want the final product you’re offering.  

2. Create excitement by introducing giveaways, competitions, and polls 

Social engagement can be hugely bolstered through suspense. If you enable your customers to engage with you in things like giveaways, polls, and competitions they will feel seen and heard. In offering this you carve out mental availability as a brand that truly cares about its audience.  

You can promote giveaways and competitions through multiple platforms: Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, or an email series. If you do decide to offer a competition/giveaway, make sure you take note of point #1 and spread out the reveal of the winner. This will create suspense for those who did engage and also those who didn’t.

3. Start a buzz around your brand by producing teaser videos  

It doesn’t have to be a huge brand storytelling ad like Apple, it can be as seemingly small as an Instagram reel or a video on LinkedIn. But either way, it must leave people wanting more. The content needs to act as a narrative cliffhanger, whereby the viewer can finish the story by purchasing your product, following your brand, or simply knowing who you are for future reference. 

There are so many more ways that you can generate suspense, but by just employing these three methods, you can create mental availability, boost social engagement and generate awareness for your brand.

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