June 2, 2005

Is a Picture Really Worth a Thousand Words?

Automated pink bunnies playing the drums. A man made of tires. A burger-selling clown. Almost every advertisement is accompanied by a visual image. And consumers use these images to infer about the product being offered. But are those inferences the right ones?

According to an article in the June 2005 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research consumers do not always connect the dots. Furthermore, researchers conclude that it may often have to do with how the visual images are presented.

"This research finds that people will make inferences about products--even if the ad copy does not explicitly address those features--just from viewing a product picture. However, when both the ad copy and a feature of the picture both direct the ad viewer to think about a product feature, viewers are most likely to infer that a product has that feature and will perform well. Under these conditions, they also seem to like products better. Thus, consistency of the picture and ad copy helps people to make positive inferences about a product," explain the authors, Laura Peracchio (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and Joan Meyers-Levy (University of Minnesota).

This study is unique to the current research of consumer behavior because previous research has not delved into how consumers respond to visual images and what implications that response has on marketing of products.

"This research shows that subtle properties of ad pictures can have a big impact on people's impressions of products," conclude Peracchio and Meyers-Levy. "The current paper shows that making these types of associations to camera angle actually requires a fair amount of effort and thinking on the part of the viewer. Extensive thinking is required if the viewer is to understand and appreciate the subtle qualities of pictures."

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