Neuroscience and beauty: Why visually appealing marketing assets matter
Is beauty in the eye of the beholder or the neurobiology of the brain? The answer to this question might surprise you. As a marketer, you have an opportunity to create an immediate connection with your audience – and that starts with the look and feel of your marketing assets. This is because your audience’s brain responds favorably to aesthetically pleasing stimuli. And yes, that includes emails, print ads, web pages, social media posts, digital ads and more.
The aesthetic experience starts the moment your audience looks at your ad. At this moment, your audience’s brain begins to process visual content quickly. In fact, the processing of visual information happens so quickly that your audience is unaware of what the eyes see, at least initially. Put more succinctly, the brain processes visual stimuli before consciousness is even possible.
When it comes to creating an aesthetic experience, the visual strength of your imagery is key for creating an immediate connection. According to Anjan Chatterjee, Professor of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, “the brain responds automatically to beauty.” In other words, beautiful imagery, whether in the form of a print ad or a social media post, is critical for creating positive associations with your brand automatically.
Inside the aesthetic experience
An aesthetic experience stirs activity in different regions in the brain, including areas associated with emotion, reward and decision-making. Importantly, the experience extends across multiple sensory modalities and happens to occur regardless of whether a person is viewing a painting, listening to music or admiring a perfectly constructed math equation. Remarkably, you can quantify the experience.
Researchers across multiple studies directed subjects to view artwork and state the extent to which each image was considered beautiful – all while measuring activity in the brain. As Semir Zeki, Professor of Neuroaesthetics at University College London, observes, activity in a key area of the brain, the medial orbitofrontal cortex, was “proportional to the declared intensity of the aesthetic experience.”
When it comes to viewing attractive faces, the experience becomes even more profound. In a 2019 study, Chatterjee demonstrated how an aesthetic experience can actually activate the motor parts of the brain to compel people to move physically towards attractive faces. In the study, a computer monitor displayed a number at the bottom of the screen and two numbers at the top. The task was simple. Click on the number that was closest to the number on the bottom.
Simple enough, right? But to see if attractiveness affects motor behavior, the researchers paired the top numbers with faces, one attractive and the other unattractive. Incredibly, researchers discovered the mouse would drift toward the attractive face – even if the number was incorrect. In other words, the aesthetic response to an attractive face was so powerful that it affected hand movement!
Marketing science takeaways
As you think about the look and feel of your marketing assets, you might want to consider these key takeaways:
- The brain responds to beauty automatically
- Using science to navigate office politics
- Creating visually appealing content
The brain responds to beauty automatically
Given that your audience’s brain responds automatically to beauty on a subconscious level, one of your goals as a marketer should be to approach behavior on a subconscious level. In other words, get your audience to become drawn toward your marketing asset. As a skilled marketer, however, you already know that’s only part of the story. Once you engage your audience’s brain on a subconscious level, you must present the appropriate message, which taps into individual preferences within a culture-appropriate framework. As such, you must create content that resonates with your audience since triggering aesthetic appreciation is only a starting point.
Using science to navigate office politics
In your role, you’re often presented with obstacles from less informed persons. Have you worked for a client – or reported to a CEO – who was uninterested in what your marketing content looked like? Are you told that your audience doesn’t care what your marketing collateral looks like? The problem is that your audience’s brain is attracted to aesthetically pleasing stimuli – whether they know it or not. Now you can make a science-based argument on why you must create good-looking marketing content.
Creating visually appealing content
The most important takeaway is to understand that visually appealing content matters. Since brain regions that are associated with emotion and reward become active when viewing aesthetically appealing content, it’s important to create marketing assets that tap into the circuitry that’s involved in the aesthetic experience. When you’re able to do that, you’ll find that beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder but also in the neurobiology of the brain.
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