Power of imagery

The Unspoken Power of Imagery in Advertising

When I started my first job in an advertising agency, a senior copywriter told me that only 10% of people read past the headline. At the time I thought, “The headline must be the most important part of an ad, surely.”  But what he didn’t mention was the power of another part of the ad: the image, in advertising performance.  

Now that I work in behavioral science, I believe the most powerful tool in an ad is the image. Effective advertising leverages this power, tapping into our emotions and symbolism. It grabs attention and primes us to receive the message that a brand is looking to get across, greatly impacting the success of the ad as a whole.

With such an important choice to make, how can we be sure that we effectively test advertising images? Much of the impact of imagery is subconscious, so consumers struggle to be aware of its impact, let alone concede that it influences them. Traditional research methods that use cognitive measurements with a Likert scale, don’t tap into the types of insights that are needed to reach these system 1 thoughts and feelings


Measuring the true impact of advertising

Measuring the true impact of advertising would help clients, as they want to create advertising that grabs attention. But they are scared it might grab attention for the wrong reasons. Contrary to the popular saying, there is such a thing as bad publicity for many brands.  These reasonable concerns mean that guard rails are put on creativity, and as a result, advertising can all start to look the same. ‘I think this could be amazing’ is replaced with ‘I know this won’t do any harm’.

At Protobrand, our behavioral science-based approach measures the impact of advertising at quantitative scale and qualitative depth. It activates those subconscious thoughts and emotions and gives participants the tools to talk about them. The strength of our approach is that it doesn’t ask consumers what they think of an advertisement, because that is not how advertising is consumed.   

Advertising aims to create a human connection. It changes how you feel about a brand. If you can measure how people feel about the imagery in an ad, and how well it fits with their identity, then you have a safety net to give you the confidence to walk out further on the tightrope of creative ideas.


Tapping into unconscious beliefs

Clients need a way to measure the impact of their image choices that taps into consumers’ unconscious thoughts, beliefs, and feelings, and metaphor elicitation does exactly that. Here is an example. We tested two creative approaches for a nature-based skin care product. Each approach had two executions – one featuring a model’s face and one featuring a pack shot. 

Our visual metaphor methodology was able to capture distinct differences in the feelings that the imagery elicited. One model shot was associated with feelings of ‘nature-oriented’ and ‘peace of mind’. The other model shot was seen to be more ‘happy-go-lucky’ and ‘adventurous’. The pack shots were both seen to be more ‘health conscious’ .

These associations were discrete and measurable, so the performance of each execution was compared. Armed with this information, the client selected the advertising imagery that best aligned with their brand strategy. We have applied this methodology to static ads, storyboards, digital ads, commercials and even pack tests. It works for B2C and B2B audiences. 

These advertising tests take me back to my time in advertising. Long conversations over the selection of a model with the ‘right look’ for a brand. Full day photoshoots trying to capture the right image. The creative director struggling to describe to the photographer what they were looking for, but also wondering how far they could push the client. I wish I could have turned to behavioral science back then. 

If I had, I would have understood the importance of making sure that images evoke the right subconscious thoughts and feelings. So next time you find yourself wondering what consumers think of your advertising, stop yourself, and start asking how the ad makes them feel.


Interested in learning more about how the power of images can help your brand better understand unconscious consumer beliefs? Book a demo today to find out how.