New research has got me thinking about the relative importance of images and words in persuasive communication.
We know there is power in the right image. People process pictures instantly, are hard wired to recognize emotions, find images easier to remember and don’t read beyond headlines. Studies also show adding photos increases the believability of statements.
New research findings from the University of California goes further to reveal the relative importance of images and words. Findings suggest that emotive images are significantly more influential in changing behaviour than the corresponding word.
The experiment conducted by Piotr Winkielman found positive emotive images (e.g. a happy face) increased consumption of a drink offered to participants and negative images decreased it. In contrast, participant behaviour was not influenced by emotional words – even though the words were rated to be as emotive as the pictures.
Such findings are a reminder that successful persuasion could depend more on pictures than words. There appears to be a case for avoiding an over reliance on words in communication development and not leaving thinking on the visualisation of benefits too late.
1. Think ahead to the visualisation of benefits when crafting concept statements.
Outside of research the opportunity to fully communicate a concept is very limited. (The dominance of a 30 second TV commercial is long gone). For consumers short on attention, immersed in social media and overwhelmed with choice a concept must be translated into something more distinct, visual and succinct.
As part of a concept development workshop I get participants to generate memorable images or scenes that dramatise their benefits. These menu of images will then be used to improve concept statements and can support future agency / stakeholder briefing.
2. When assessing ideas and concepts we should be wary of a bias to words.
Observing reactions to pictures, photos and prototypes without an introductory concept statement can reveal instinctive, emotional responses that can be considered alongside quantitative statement assessment. My experience is that this will reveal reactions and opportunities that may be missed in responses to a concept statement.
3. Apply caution when considering additional messaging on packs.
A pack is often the dominant source of communication so the addition of words for claims or benefit description will be tempting. Winkielman’s research, however, suggests words and claims assessed as motivating in isolation could in reality just get in the way of a design being recognisable, attractive and emotionally engaging.
In summary, be wary of a communication development bias towards words and keep in mind that successful persuasion is likely to depend as much on on the right visualisation as the right words.