Just For Fun, Here’s How Calls to Action Work

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A call to action is one of the most important things in a Marketers toolbox.  Unfortunately there is a constant battle with designers and branding people about how to use them.  Marketers need to have them off-balance or standout so that they attract attention and generate a response.  Designers and branding professionals want balance and tend to throw a fit when you make them design something that breaks the balance of the design.

The trick is to find the right balance of how to use one to maximize the response from your audience while also not breaking branding guidelines.

First let’s define what a call to action is.

A call to action is a verbal, visual or readable command that tells or tries to get a target to respond or react.  It can be a submissive mention to donate via displaying a phone number to call in, telling someone where to click, what to type in or where to find a link to donate with your voice in a video or on a podcast, or even trying to bait a click or a vote with a button, or to cause a reaction like tears, raising hands or depression so you can then generate a response.

So why would I do a post about calls to action?  Over the last few years I’ve been dealing with a lot of new designers enterting the workforce and a serious lack of understanding on what the purpose of calls to action (CTAs) are.

Designers and branding people want everything to balance or fit within a guideline and to “look pretty or nice” since that is what they’re trained to do.  Unfortunately that can hurt conversions and revenue.  Marketers are measured on results (at least good ones are) which is why we need functionality.  I’ll get more into this in a bit.

This post will walk you through some of the theories on how and why calls to action work.  But before we do that, I have a couple of fun questions, since it is the holiday season and we all need a break…and because I got stuck on YouTube watching cat videos today.  

have you watched cat videos

This is an example of a call to action.  I asked you to do something in writing and respond to it by raising your hand.  The same can be used within a video with a verbal request or reminder.  There’s a chance that if you’re a cat owner, you probably just raised your hand since you can relate to watching cat videos while your cat watches you and gives you dirty looks.   If I would remove “if you have”, the CTA is a lot shorter and more direct which may also cause more people to react.

To be fair, Frost (you can see him in this post) always gives me an awesome WTF look when he catches me watching cat videos like I did earlier today.

He’s like “hey, you have a cute cat right here…what I’m not good enough for you?”.   Here’s one more thing that is not call to action related,,,and because I’m getting ready for my annual trip to the animal rescue league to drop off toys and treats, it’s time to tell your little one you love them.

tell him you're sorry and you love him

Now that you’ve seen what a command can do, lets get back to my original comment about designers.


Balance does not equal good design because BALANCE DOES NOT create flow.

Making everything pretty is like putting lipstick on a pig, you end up with a pretty pig; but it doesn’t do anything more than waste your lipstick.

It’s a constant battle between good marketers and the typical designer.  As a marketer, do you agree or disagree with when it comes to designers?  Click one of the boxes below to vote.

(On a side note, you’ll love the responses below when you vote (even if you don’t have an opinion on it so try it)).

yes or no



Now forget what I wrote above.  You actually can have balance with a CTA, but you still need it to pop.  That is what defines a great designer for banners, websites and UX.  A good marketer also understands that you have to have consistency and flow.  There is a definite balance you and your designer need to understand.

What I did above was show you how baiting someone off of emotions, relating to a niche struggle can cause a reaction. I made false statements about a professional and capitalized words to make them standout.  I also stated things as facts that are really just opinions (until you prove them right or wrong).  The goal was to get you to agree or disagree by causing a feeling of content or anger.

You also cannot actually click on the image (either red or green) to get to vote.  Even though it isn’t clickable, did you try to click them more than once in case it was broken to try and get them to work?

Even without a radial button or check box for voting, people may still click. You may also notice something else.  If you went to green first, that is a color we’ve been trained to think means yes and move forward or keep going.  Even if you disagreed with the claims above, did you read green first or were you more drawn to it?

I use tools like this one (yes this is a real affiliate link to a real tool I actually use) to help discover where people are clicking, why they’re clicking something and where they are not clicking.

By realizing where you accidentally added a call to action, you can now provide a better user experience.  This can remain true with product images on ecommerce sites or words that trigger responses in text, or a random image within a site or blog post.

Here’s a few more fun ones.

favorite movie as a kid

first car

movie have you watched

comfort food

These four questions rely on your ability to bring emotions and memories that you cherish. It is the base of  retro marketing.  Retro marketing is a tool that some brands and non profits use to generate reactions based on past emotions.

Non profits use this to help you remember bad things or to feel guilt so that you donate money or help spread their message or cause with social sharing.  For profit companies bring back nostalgic icons and designs to help provide that feeling of comfort from when you’re young so you buy the product.  I used to work with a very well known collectibles company.

Their success started by creating a few fun stamps that people bought the stamps but never used.  What they found was that people purchased the stamps because of the memories, aspirations and emotions attached to the images.  Instead of using them, they didn’t want to let them go so they collected them.

The stamps led into figurines and model cars.  By paying attention to every detail so that someone who has the emotional attachment could appreciate them, they could now sell a product to someone based on an emotion.  It could be the car they dreamed about, a movie they obsessed with or a person they aspired to be.

Now think about politically and socially charged calls to action.

women make in the workplace

Chances are you instantly thought men in your head.  Using politically driven and social media responses is a great way to drive reactions, regardless if you’re right or wrong.  You need to be cautious since they can also backfire and cause PR nightmares.  You can also generate a ton of discussion for your user base, but that can also be good or bad and alienate your audience.

What I hope you learn from this is that a call to action needs to cause a reaction.  Sometimes it can balance and flow like in the example with the cats.  Other times it needs to be out of balance and pop to bring attention to it.  You can also use emotions to generate responses.


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