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The eyes have it

When (if!) ever we think of how we see the world around us, we often get it wrong. Some people use analogies like cameras to describe how our eyes ‘capture’ the external world. But we now know different. We now know that our eyes don’t see the world…our brain does. Our eyes gather data about light, movement, etc, but it is the brain which interprets these and makes sense of it. And where there is interpretation, there is room for opinion…and error.

Consider the pictured illusion (and the key word here is ‘illusion’!) 

When you first look at this do you see a messy array of black and white lines, which are all at differing angles overlaying each other? Hmmmm, I thought so. Now, look more closely. All of the lines are in fact parallel and the same width. Uniform. All of them. Get a ruler if you don’t believe me!

You see, the way the information from the eye was interpreted, was wrong. The brain is telling us it is one thing, when actually it is another way entirely.

What we do know is that, all things being equal, the eyes are the dominant sense. If you take a group of highly trained tasters (wine in this case…at the University of Bordeaux) and simply put flavourless red food dye into white wine, they will not notice that it is white wine. They will drink, discuss and rate it as a red wine. Their eyes have told them it is red, so whatever they taste, they already ‘know’ it is red.

This is because when we are interpreting what we see in our brain, we are applying experience and judgement amongst other processes. It is worth noting that this is actually very hard work too. In fact, visual processing takes up about half of everything our brain does.

Hence, we have what is referred to in memory functions as the ‘pictorial superiority effect’. A concept which many of us know and are familiar with – that the more visual an input is, the more likely we are to be able to remember it. This is the theory behind Mind Maps and many successful advertising campaigns.

When we ‘see’ an advertisement, the image will usually be processed prior to us reading any of the text. It is the image which will attract our attention. The image which will make us curious, recoil, become aroused (psychologically!) or engage us. In this increasingly complex and fragmented environment we live in, the image has a significant job of work to do to cut through the ‘noise’ and get our attention.

You see, we have relied on vision for thousands of years. Words and text are only quite recent within human evolution. Our brain is not equipped to deal with them properly yet…in fact some researchers think our brain ‘reads’ by viewing each word as a picture. This reinforces the power of pictures with every word we read!

But different images work for different people, and in different circumstances. Images of food won’t connect with me as well at 10:30 in the morning, as they would at 12:30. Images of darts players probably won’t connect with me at all!

So, what can we take away from this and apply in our marketing? We pay the most attention to pictures that move. (As an aside, we have a special part of our brain which knows if it is us moving, or the picture, so we respond differently to moving images seen from trains and buses). We give lots of attention to colour, size and orientation of images.

Within our brains, pictures really do paint a thousand words – so make sure yours are saying what you actually intend them to!

Is that clear?