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Jul 2010

Learning from the Ad Men

Blog posts

Cammy Bean

Cammy Bean

Senior Solutions Consultant at Kineo US

E-learning programs have a lot of competition out there.  An employee needs to take a 20 minute program on health and safety, but the lure of other shiny objects is strong:  work deadlines, websites, social networking applications, the guy in the next cubical.  

Who’s got it figured out?  Why the advertisers, of course.  TV Commercials and prints ads have a way of drawing us in, capturing our interest, creating the desire, and then -- when they're really good -- getting us to make the big purchase.

Some of us have recently gotten hooked on the show Mad Men (a stylish tale of a 1960’s New York advertising firm).  While life today may not be as boozy as all that, we like to take a page or two from advertising and marketing.  Let’s explore the classic copywriting model called AIDA and think about how we can apply that to e-Learning projects.

What is AIDA?

AIDA stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.  It’s used to describe a sequence of events that goes into making someone want to buy your product or service. 

But, you say, that’s completely different from e-Learning!  e-Learning isn’t about buying and selling stuff.  But isn’t it?  We think e-Learning needs to sell itself – the e-Learning itself needs to be compelling and of course the content that you put into it needs to hook the learner in and sustain their interest.

So let’s break AIDA down.


What’s your hook?  How do you pull the learner in and get them to sit up and notice your program in the first place?  
A simple way to grab attention in print media is with a great headline.  In e-learning that’s the title of your course.  Instead of calling the course “Customer Service Basics” call it “Five Ways to Make Your Customers Smile”.  Put the "what’s in it for me" factor out on the table as early as you can.

We’re also big fans of getting attention in the content – early and often.  Tell shocking stories, share powerful statistics, ask questions to get them engaged.  Use emotion to connect with the learner, get them to pay attention, and then get them to stay.


In AIDA, you capture a potential customer’s interest by focusing on advantages and benefits of your product and service, not by doing a feature dump.  

In e-learning you can do the same – avoid the feature dump (leave that to a job aid), and instead keep the focus in the program on the "why this matters" part.  How are you going to use this new process to speed up your sales cycle and get better results?  


Great advertisers play to our desires.  “If you use our product you’ll be sexier, stronger, smarter and really, really cool." Smart consumers know what’s going on, but even the clever ones are susceptible to the message.

In e-learning you’re not creating a desire to buy, but rather a desire to change behaviour, a desire to follow the new process, a desire to move forward, a desire to learn.  Incite desire and inspire:  “you’ll make fewer errors, be more efficient, and get to go home earlier!”


In copywriting, the final A stands for Action.  This is the bit about getting the consumer to go out and buy that new car. “Call now and for just $19.99 you’ll also get a free knife!”

At the end of an e-learning program, you want them to go out and do something.  We like to send our learners off with a final call to action: practice the new process on the live system with your manager; make three cold calls today;  set up an account on a social networking site and send a practice message.

It’s a Sequence

The mistake most e-learning makes?  We attract Attention with some intriguing statistic, but then skip to the Interest and Desire steps.  This does little more than intrigue and creates absolutely no interest or desire to commit to completing the e-learning.  We then dive straight to the presentation and Action stage.

How can you avoid that?  Don’t think of AIDA as a checklist – it’s not "as long as I cover those four I will be OK", but rather a well structured linear sequence that taps into the hearts and minds of your audience.  Cover the entire A-I-D bit upfront.  If you don’t get to the D stage right at the start, they won't bother going through the rest of the module.

Of course, don’t forget the instructional part!  This is e-learning after all.  The meat of your program – the knowledge – should reinforce the Desire by constantly showing the benefits of changing your ways.  This then leads to the final section, the Action stage.

Start Using AIDA Today!

So there’s there info.  Your call to action?

1) Start watching Mad Men and learn a thing or two from Don Draper.   
2) Analyse a TV commercial or print AD – how are they using AIDA? 
3) As you write your next eLearning program, apply AIDA to your design and writing.

And then what?  Well, watch your e-learning sign like an opera star! (Aida… get it?)

Cammy Bean

Cammy Bean

Senior Solutions Consultant at Kineo US

Cammy has been collaborating with organizations to design online learning programs since 1996. An active speaker and blogger, Cammy gets fired up about instructional design, avoiding the trap of clicky-clicky bling-bling, and ways to use technology to create real behavior change.