Visual Elements Just as Important to Ads as Storyline

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At a time where consumers are just as likely to be watching a TV show or advertisement on their smartphone or tablet as they are on the television, brands have a matter of seconds to capture the viewer’s attention – making visuals equally as important as your storyline.

A new study by researchers at the University at Buffalo found viewers don’t need to see behaviour to make a distinction between the hero and the villain in fictional TV shows or ads – costume, cast and the ordering of shots are just as important.

The study manipulated what characters looked like and measured audience perceptions to find out whether simple differences in appearance (black clothes compared to lighter colours) would be enough for viewers to categorise a character as a hero or a villain.

Viewers tend to like the good guys and dislike the bad guys, according to lead author Matthew Grizzard, assistant professor in the Department of Communication and an expert on the cognitive, emotional and psychobiological effects of media entertainment.

But the study found that we don’t necessarily need to see behaviour to make a distinction between the hero and the villain, with data showing that when the main protagonist is more moral than the villain but equally competent, visuals can activate perceptions of heroic and villainous characters.

Judgments of characters are also dependent on comparisons audiences make between characters — and the order of introduction also plays a key role.

Heroes were judged to be more heroic when they appeared after a villain, and villains were judged to be more villainous when they appeared after a hero.

“Villains aren’t just immoral. They’re good at being bad,” Grizzard said.

“What’s happening here is that we’re not making isolated judgments about these characters using some objective standard of morality. We’re constantly making comparisons about these characters and the forces they face.”

Scorch London’s chief strategy officer, Duncan Ramsay, said: “This research proves having a visually compelling and high-quality advertising campaign is just as important for brand’s ad campaigns as the creative messaging.”

“Nowadays, consumers are watching television on their mobile devices, and seeing ads pop up in their news feeds on social media, often without sound. Therefore, the opening shot, the casting, the sequence of events, the costume and lighting – these elements are just as influential for the overall perception of your brand as the concept and messaging.”

Implications range from better understanding our relationship to fictional narratives, to improving the effectiveness of character-based public service campaigns that try to promote certain behaviours.


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