Seeing is Believing!

21 Oct 2013|Added Value


“What you see depends very much on what you look for.” John Lubbock

So far, the team from Added Value Paris have explored the marketing opportunities provided by sound, smell, touch and taste. In the last of a series of five articles, we’re focusing on sight, as well as what happens when you combine all five senses together…

More than what we see, it’s what it means to us that is important
The eyes are the body’s most stimulated sense organs, with more than two-thirds of our sense cells located in our eyes. In fact, our retinas contain some 100 million photoreceptors that transmit messages to our brains, so it is perhaps unsurprising that scientists estimate that some 83% of the information we retain is received visually.

Functionally, sight helps us perceive contrasts and differences between, for example, small and big, light and dark, or thin and thick. However, we also use those visual cues to make up our minds and evaluate our surroundings. Shape, symmetry, colour and materials are all triggers of deeper meaning, most being culturally-biased and ever evolving. These signals influence our visual assessment on a daily basis and create unconscious biases, which in turn impact our behaviors.

For example, an experiment showed that men dressed in black during meetings were perceived as more assertive, aggressive and intellectually sharper, while those dressed in pale color suits conveyed more friendliness, but also weaker intelligence (all the more reason to choose your work clothes very carefully each morning!).
It seems that symmetric shapes are easier for the brain to comprehend than asymmetric ones, as their perceived centre of gravity is easier to locate. However, they also appear less interesting. Conversely, our sight can’t find the center of gravity of asymmetric shapes and our brain is more actively stimulated.

Having a clear understanding of your brands’ codes is essential
With extended product offerings and an increased pace of life, immediacy of impact will prove to be key for brands. Sight is the first sense to come into play as consumers near a store, and many experiments have shown that is also central to product selection: 40% of all perfume purchase decisions are estimated to be based on the design of the bottle.

Savvier consumers are increasingly expecting more visual sophistication from brands and as visual codes gain in maturity, brands will have to work hard to cue finer nuances.

However, since our sight is the most solicited of all our senses, and is ever more in demand, we may well be nearing visual saturation. We are confronted with an ever expanding range of gimmicks and optical illusions – 3D, augmented reality – making it difficult to manage disruptiveness in an overly visual world. Could visual silence be one of the ways to cut through the noise?

It’s important to understand the visual landscape of your category
A major challenge in optimizing the visual communication of a brand is to ensure that we are able to take into account consumers’ daily habitat and the overload of visual stimulation to which they are exposed; it is important to confront both the initial visual assessments of a brand and the reality of the experience, in context. In a world with ever-renewing codes and signifiers, visual future-proofing is an aspect that brands cannot afford to neglect.

Semiotic analysis can often seem complicated, but a focus on the cultural expression of a brand code (rather than on an academic dissection) can reveal the unwritten rules for a brand to abide to. That’s why it is important to explore ‘raw culture’ for insight and. We need to look for patterns across a variety of creative genres, forms, markets and categories that collectively make up the cultural fabric used—typically subconsciously—by consumers to make sense of brands, products and communication. And finally to deconstruct the cultural codes at play to help us understand the meanings at play (what’s old, what’s dominant and what’s new and emergent) in a particular category (e.g. cheese) or related to a cultural topic (e.g. authenticity).

If you’d like the team at Added Value to help you decode what your category looks like, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Footnote: the curious case of synaesthesia
We’ve chosen to look at each of the five senses one by one. But imagine how powerful it could be to activate all five senses at once to create a multi-faceted emotional experience for your brand. For this, we can look for inspiration from a real-life neurological condition called synaesthesia.
As many as three or four per cent of the population are said to experience this condition, in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to an automatic, involuntary experience in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. It manifests itself through inter-modal experiences across senses such as: a sound triggering a concurrent color experience (e.g. a clicking evoking the color red) or a touch-olfactory convergence (e.g. an image of a chair being linked with a banana smell).

Although most of us don’t experience such extreme connections between the senses, a new study published in Flavour, by Oxford University’s Vanessa Harrar and Charles Spence, reveals that something as basic as the utensils you use can very much affect the way you experience everything from the sweetness to the expensiveness of food. They report that blue utensils make food seem saltier, lighter utensils make food seem richer and clashing, and contrasting food and utensils affect how much people like food.

So what if the same was true for your brand’s use of the senses?
Through our journey exploring the senses, we’ve seen many examples that show that creating an engaging brand experience means knowing how to tell a story that uses colours, aromas, sounds and sensations as part of a multifaceted and multi-layered narrative.

However, where and when you should be seeking out congruency across all five senses as opposed to opposed to providing unexpected sensory contradictions is less obvious. Inevitably, it will involve much trial and error… but our view is that brands that have the courage to make the leap into the new worlds of haptic technology (touch) and flavor replicators (like the Madeline or le Whaf), or who delve into sound theory and semiotics to develop stronger visual and sound signatures will be amongst the winners in the race to be amongst the world’s best loved brands.

Written by Mark Whiting, Sandrine McClure, Directors, Alexandre Richard, Project Director, James Horton, Intern, Marina Cozzika, Public Relations.

Image credits: Added Value

Read more about how to use the other senses in market research:


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