Marketing is getting tougher as people are becoming more aware of the tricks we use in marketing to try and influence them. There are, however, a few tried and tested design tricks we can use that continue to work effectively, even when people are aware these tricks are being used.
This article examines some of the most effective design tricks used in marketing, and how to put them to best use. Whenever there are situations where a particular trick is best not used we'll do our best to point those out.
Do not worry that using these tricks is unethical. There's enough research out there to prove that you can't really make somebody do something against their will, even with the most effective advertising message in the world. It's not like we're conducting mass hypnosis, we're just leveraging whatever is already lurking in a person's mind.
1. You can sexualize (almost) everything
This is the oldest trick in the marketing playbook, and that's because, as everyone knows already, sex sells. Sexuality in marketing is extremely common, and it's present even when it's not obvious.
Let's start with a fairly obvious overt use of sexuality in an advertisement (don't worry, it's safe for work).
The above ad for sun and waterproof markers doesn't need to use a sexy model to make the statement, and the message is almost lost in the distracting eye candy on display, but this ad is certainly effective in getting attention.
In the past, the use of sexuality in advertising was overused to an extreme degree, and that was a mistake because it's not always appropriate.
Two different research studies from the University of Minnesota (2013) and the University of Florida (2006) found that women rarely respond positively to sexual imagery in advertising, even when the sexual imagery is specifically intended to be appealing to women.
In fact the Florida research indicated women would respond more coldly to an advertisement as the sexual provocation level of the ad increased. The more sexy the model looked (especially if female), the more it turned most women off.
These findings, however, need to also be looked at in terms of being confined to certain cultural subgroups and should not be imagined to apply to all women everywhere, even though the authors of the study probably would love it if you did.
Here is an example of an image that most people of either gender would be likely to find more offensive than arousing or amusing:
Feminists often incorrectly assume that ads like the one above are reflective of the attitude of the average man toward women, and that's another reason why when sex is used in advertising, some care is required.
In fact many ads like the one above, especially where the female models are tall, leggy and thin, are created by gay males. This explains why the ads are the exact opposite of sexy. Rape just isn't sexy, but there's a stereotype that suggests it is.
So use of sexual imagery is probably not best employed when your target demographic is primarily female, and it is definitely off the table in any advertisement aimed at or including children or teenagers (as Calvin Klein found out at great expense).
Perhaps the biggest complication is that all research points to the fact that the best product type to use sexual imagery with is alcohol, but in the United States there are regulations against using “sexual prowess or sexual success” as a selling point for alcoholic beverages.
The bottom line is that yes, sex does still sell, but it's not always a good strategy to make it the main thrust of your campaign. There are other ways to make a splash, and if you get your trajectory wrong, the result can be very messy.
2. Babies are adorable
Here's another not too well kept “secret”. Women love babies. So when you're marketing to a primarily female demographic, babies are a really good way to get their attention.
It's not only human babies either. Women will respond equally well to puppies, kittens, and even ducklings. Now you know the logic behind all those Kleenex ads.
Animals can also have a place in other kinds of ads, completely unrelated to the baby effect. But that's not really the point of what we're writing about here. The real message is babies get attention because they're babies.
Once again, babies aren't always the best inclusion in every kind of ad. If you're selling to men, babies will be less effective in generating a sale unless the product being advertised is something that directly applies to babies (baby products, in other words), or the ad is really funny.
However the effectiveness of babies in advertising is undeniable, as this article from The Red Hot Marketing Blender shows with many examples.
Now here's where it can get interesting. You can throw in some of the attributes babies have when you're creating graphic designs, but without including any actual babies in your design.
Soft curves, pastel colors of pink and blue, and pretty much any illustration showing a face where the eyes are way out of proportion to the nose and mouth are ways of getting women's attention without it being obvious that you're exploiting their love of babies to do it.
3. Dilated pupils are the bomb
As mentioned above, babies are pretty effective in getting attention from women, and one of the key reasons why is because they have those massive eyes and huge pupils, way out of proportion to the rest of their head.
Using PhotoShop to artificially dilate pupils can make almost any person seem more attractive. This is the Bella Donna Effect, and it works on both genders but is likely to influence women more strongly.
You can more about the effects of pupil dilation and how this contributes to marketing results in this article at NeuroMarketing.
4. Use colors to summon emotion
If you're trying to get people fired up, bright red, orange an yellow are just the thing. Want to evoke sadness? Blues and grays and blacks are helpful with that. In fact using grayscale images with enhanced black tones can be very powerful.
Color is effective in influencing mood. The same color can evoke different moods depending on how it is used. The combination of the message, overall imagery, and use of color is what will make the effect work.
If you doubt that color is really as effective as we're telling you, perhaps you should consider the reasearch done by Sparkman and Austin (1980), which demonstrated that single color newspaper ads generated 41% more sales than the same ads when printed in black and white.
5. Use low contrast drop shadow to help text stand out
Getting text to look distinctive when placed on top of an image is somewhat difficult to achieve. One technique that can improve the readability of text on an image is to add a subtle drop shadow to the text, so it will stand off the photo more.
6. Place text as a block within the image
Research suggests that people respond better when exposed to the image first and then the text. By consolidating text into a block that appears nested within the image, people may actually be more likely to read it. Use this technique when the text is the most important part of the ad.
7. Use fonts creatively
Our last tip is nothing especially new, but it's interesting how few designers are using this highly effective technique these days.
Using the font as part of the message is not only clever, it makes the reader pay more attention. Additionally it could make a reader more likely to remember your ad and talk about it with others.
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