How To Win (And) Keep Attention Like A Fox

“Red fox looks for predators sitting in its natural habitat” by Jiri Sifalda on Unsplash

I screamed as though I’d just touched a hot stove with my bare hands. It wasn’t pain. It was the sight of something creepy.

I’m hanging out in my living room, typing away on my laptop. I look out the window and make eye contact with a fox. Foxes don’t scare me but I don’t see them often. They almost always trot through our yard without paying attention to humans.

This one stood in the center of our front yard and looked at me square in the eyes as if to say.

“Yeah, I’m here. And I know you’re not gonna do anything about it.”

I yelled out.

“A fox!”

The kids came running to look out the window.

“I see it. I see it.”

The fox ran away; perhaps the sight of two more humans shifted the risk/reward ratio out of his favor. They are clever little creatures.

The Two Principles Of Attention

The excitement waned as he disappeared and we went back to our mundane activities.

But for about sixty seconds, the fox owned our attention. When someone (or something) wins our attention I take notice. What caused it? What were the circumstances around it? Forget that it was a fox. The two principles in this experience are universal. You can use them to win and keep the attention of your audience.

What caused our attention to shift?
On average, we’ll see a fox once a week. In most of those cases, the fox is running from house to house. In this case, the fox stood on our lawn and stared at us.

What was different about it this time?


First, the behavior was unusual. Unusual behavior attracts our attention. Think of the guy dressed as a clown in a room full of people in business attire. We’re drawn to the novel or unusual. The generic and familiar goes unnoticed.

Danger Or Pleasure

The unusual wins our attention. Now add the element of danger. I swear this fox sported an evil look on his face. It triggered these subconscious thoughts.

“Is this something I need to worry about?”

“Do I need to take any action to ensure the safety of my family?”

“I need to pay attention.”

If the unusual or novel steal our attention, unusual plus potential danger keeps our attention.

We kept our attention on the fox until it was out of sight. At that point, I satisfied myself that the danger had passed.

What does this mean for the marketer or writer?

Do something unique or unusual to win our attention. Pique our curiosity.

Give us a reason to hold our attention. Give us the impression that reading on will help us avoid pain or move us towards pleasure. Pain avoidance is more powerful. Pleasure works but to a lesser degree.

Most important, you need to land on one end of the spectrum. What you don’t want is the dreaded middle.

If your reader feels indifferent, they’ll click away faster than a fox running through your yard.

Before You Go…

I write about marketing, creativity and writing. I’m giving away guides on creativity, bullet writing and more. Click here to get yours. Connect with me on Twitter or linkedIn. P.S. — Click “clap” below. It helps others find this story.