Scientists have been looking at how human vision works and how advertising and other communications ‘cut through’. What follows will probably contain what you see as some good news: a great opportunity to communicate more effectively. And some bad news: if you realise just how poorly your current communications align with how shoppers and consumers look, see, engage and buy.
Researching visual advertising
Firstly, here’s the science. In 1997, a team led by Stewart Shapiro investigated the impact of incidental exposure or advertising on product choice. The research involved something as simple as a line sketch of a carrot, accompanied by a slogan that read ‘By nature, organically grown for delicious safe eating’. Another ad was created, that one featured a tin opener. Both ads were then placed in the left column of three columns of text on a computer screen, so that it resembled a magazine layout.
Volunteers were then asked to read only the centre column of text and then answer some questions. One group read material where the ads were present, while a control group read the copy where there were no ads. The results were astonishing!
The group that had been exposed to the carrot or tin opener ad (only in their peripheral vision) showed a much higher propensity to buy a carrot or a tin opener compared with those in the control. In the words of the researchers:
‘Our findings indicate that an advertisement has the potential to affect future buying decisions even if subjects, who are preoccupied with another task do not process the ad attentively and thus, do not recollect ever having seen it.’ (Shapiro et al. 1997: 102).
Regardless of how we explain these results, what are the ramifications in-store? The fact is that this is further evidence of how things in our peripheral vision directly impact on our perceptions of the environment and subsequent behaviour.
The power of human vision
Human vision has 3 different process, that have evolved over millions of years and if you align your in-store communications with them, you can gain serious competitive advantage. Here’s how:
1. Peripheral vision
Your peripheral vision is like an early warning system, constantly scanning your surroundings for likely threats, meals and mates. If anything appears on the horizon that could possibly represent any of these, then it is given parafoveal and then foveal attention (the other 2 visual processes). So the first step in terms of maximising performance in-store is to generate serious peripheral vision appeal. Here, you again need to add some science; for example, peripheral vision can’t read, is in black and white and probably blurry. But think about it, how does something happening in the rear view mirror of your car suddenly grab your attention? It initially does so peripherally.
2. Parafoveal vision
Parafoveal vision is an area that extends to an angle of 5% of where you are fixating (foveal vision). As a guide, this represents about 20 letters on a page, PC screen or product pack. Things that are in this area are easily attended to and can more clearly be seen than items in peripheral vision. Staying with our rear view mirror analogy, as you suddenly attend to whatever grabs you attention, pretty much all of what’s occurring in the mirror is in your parafoveal vision. At this moment, the road, i.e. the direction you are heading fades into peripheral vision, scary, eh?
3. Foveal vision
This is the form of vision that is associated with conscious attention. It extends to just 2 degrees of precisely where you are focussing: Approximately 6 - 8 letters on a page, screen or pack. With regard to the rear view mirror; this may be looking directly at the reflection of the face of the driver in the car behind.
In-store, the process of getting meaningful attention works like this. Firstly, get meaningful peripheral attention by way of fight, flight or find a mate stimuli. Secondly, Provide more focussed meaning to the peripheral stimuli in terms of retaining the initial attention by way of sub-conscious explanation (visually draw the eye in). Finally, the payoff: Hit the shopper with a key conscious message/ call to action.
A real life example of effective visual communication in-store
- Hanging POS depicting Bats, Ghosts, etc. - this triggers fight or flight
- Illuminated pumpkin faces within the image further home the attention
- ‘10% Halloween discount’ message offers added value and a trigger to spend
Finally, next time you see in-store POS, try to identify if and how it follows this proven 3 step process to effective communication.
Unfortunately, 95% of the time, it simply won’t. And that’s your opportunity!