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Image properties - we prefer to look than we read

Image properties - we prefer to look than we read

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Do you like to read brochures without pictures? Are you surfing the Internet and only paying attention to texts? You are sure to be like most people: Without pictures, we quickly lose interest and get bored. We put the brochure aside or click our way on the Internet.

Texts still play a decisive role in PR. However, reading is an effort that more and more people shy away from - we prefer to look rather than read. Why? This is faster and costs our brain less energy. Everyone knows the feeling during lectures: Slides with text desert overwhelm us and quickly bore us. Strong images activate and arouse our interest - after a lecture we often only remember the images and catchphrases.

Images can show feelings such as fun, happiness and pride in a more impressive, lively and lasting way than texts. Even texts are clearer and more interesting when they are pictorial. An Arabic proverb says: “A good speaker can let his audience see with his ears.” We read texts especially when images reach their limits.

Pictures have many advantages

We prefer images because we perceive, process and store them much more easily than texts:

  • Pictures can stand out: Basically, we pay attention to images before texts; experts refer to this as image dominance [ii]. Images can activate strongly, i.e. stir up, which means that we can take and process an image better. Your PR images could therefore lead to contact with your company in the first place.
  • Images work quickly: We perceive them 60,000 times faster than texts. A cursory glance is enough to make a first impression and get in touch emotionally. In numbers: 0.1 seconds is enough for us to roughly imagine something under the picture. In one second we can recognize 5 images in rapid succession - this would not be possible with critical awareness. Looking at a picture for 2 seconds is enough for us to recognize it later. So if you want your communication to work quickly: rely on images.
  • Easy recording: We take pictures effortlessly if they tie in with what we know. They also work when the viewer only picks them up on the side, for example when surfing the Internet or at a trade fair. Let's compare pictures and texts when taking a picture: An image ad is observed for about 1.7 to 2 seconds. During this time, viewers take in about 5 percent of the information; for all of them it would take 35 to 40 seconds. [iii] What do you record in that time up to 2 seconds? 76 percent is accounted for by the image, 16 percent for the heading and only 8 percent for the text. [Iv] The viewer takes in 50 to 70 percent of the image information, but only 2 percent of the text information [v] - that's about 6 to 7 Words. [Vi] If someone breaks off contact with the advertisement and a brochure, at least the recorded image information remains in effect. Images are less affected by the loss of contact than texts. They can therefore be more important for communication success.
  • Fast, easy processing: We process images largely automatically - this saves energy. They work directly: They address the visual centers of our brain directly and do not have to be deciphered like texts.
  • Pictures are more convincing than text: Pictures prove that something happened exactly like this: “I saw it exactly in the picture!”. For us, images document reality. [Vii] Even infants smile and turn to images that closely resemble a real face; later they have to learn to distinguish a picture from reality. [viii] If picture and text contradict each other, we consider the pictures to be true and the texts to be untrue. [ix] Pure picture advertisements lead to more pronounced convictions than pure text advertisements. [x ] How strongly we take pictures for reality shows the breaking up of a picture as a symbolic act for ending a relationship. Another example is our problem of gouging out a person's eyes in a picture. With PR images, you can convince your customers how customer-friendly you are and how caring you are.
  • Long saving: We remember pictures particularly well, because the stronger activation stimulates our long-term remembering. Since we remember images better, we recognize them more quickly: We can still recognize hundreds of images after days. [Xi] In a test, subjects recognized from 10,000 slides 73 percent. [Xii] How well we store images shows the Hamburg exhibition “Pictures in our Minds”: The texts for 40 press photos could be read - but they could not be seen. Nevertheless, strong inner images emerged in the viewer, such as that of Willy Brandt and his kneeling in Warsaw.
  • Intense experience: Pictures show feelings much better than texts; they can in turn trigger this strongly in the viewer. [xiii] We experience images even more emotionally if they also appeal to other senses. They can, because our visual system is linked to other sensory areas: When we look at the picture of a spring meadow, we can imagine how freshly mown grass smells. How so? We save things with all our senses, a sensory network is created. We can activate this network from anywhere: if we hear the scratching of a nail on a slate, we see the image in our mind's eye and we get goose bumps. In the same way, when we see a rose in a picture, we can imagine what it feels like to carefully tap a sting with our index finger. If it is possible to address all 5 senses with one picture, it has a tenfold effect. [Xiv] Pictures allow us to smell, taste, hear and touch.
    Images can also trigger strong feelings because they trigger further fantasies about what is seen - experts call this the third eye. If we look at the picture of a Porsche, we could imagine our neighbor bursting with envy when we drive up with him. Another example: on a table are a pearl necklace, a cup with cappuccino and an expensive fountain pen. You could describe what time of day this scene takes place, what happened before, and what happens next. In order to involve the viewer, you should show 90 percent; the missing 10 percent is revealed by his own imagination. So we see things that we don't see.
  • Affecting attitudes and opinions: According to the results of advertising studies, images alone have a positive effect on brands. [Xv] If important design rules are observed, the image appears even stronger - for example because the image is very large. [Xvi]
  • Acting on behavior: Advertisements and posters with calls for donations from aid organizations after natural disasters show how strongly images trigger behavior. Each of us donates multiple times. If there are no pictures to be seen, the donation volume drops drastically. Many studies show that clear, attractive images have an enormous effect on people's feelings and can thus control behavior. [Xvii]


We process images unconsciously

One of the most important properties of pictures is that we process them very unconsciously - they work without us noticing anything. Social researcher Siegfried Frey showed students from Germany, France and the USA 180 film clips from 60 politicians from the TV news of the three countries. The clips contained short excerpts from the speeches of these politicians, the sound was switched off. In just a few seconds, the test subjects formed a rich judgment of the politicians. It didn't matter whether they knew the politician or not.

It was particularly interesting that the politicians activated the test subjects very differently: Ronald Reagan did very well, a French politician left viewers cold. They reacted very strongly to Ronald Reagan even when they judged him to be a politician with limited expertise in the subsequent questionnaire. No wonder Reagan's advisors thanked journalists if only the pictures were correct.

These findings also shed a new light on the court case involving Josef Ackermann: The Deutsche Bank manager's appearance is generally considered a PR flop, but in fact it could have benefited Deutsche Bank's image. Why? We could unconsciously assess his appearance as a sign of strength and inflexibility: If our money is safe in any bank, then there. Then fuel in the fire was the statement that those banks give a weak picture that allow money to be promised by the state during the financial crisis.

Conclusion: In the future, PR will have to consider unconscious processes to a much greater extent in order to capture the full effect of images.

[i] According to findings from cognitive psychology, visual information is processed and stored differently than linguistic information. This is expressed in the fact that pictures are “easier to learn, remember and recognize again than words”. (Sachs-Hombach / Schirra 1999, 75; Engelkamp 1998; cf. also Kroeber-Riel 1993)

[ii] This is called picture dominance or "Picture Priority Effect". Paivio justifies this effect with the fact that they are stored both imaginally and verbally and thus twice (cf. Paivio 1971, Paivio / Csapo 1973)

[iii] See e.g. Scheier / Held 2007

[iv] See Kroeber-Riel 1996

[v] Cf. Kroeber-Riel / Esch 2011, p. 261

[vi] Behrens / Hinrichs 1986

[vii] See e.g. Hollbrock 1983

The psychologist Frank Keil, who works as a researcher at Yale University, was able to prove how great the power of images is: Keil let elite students assess how well they understand the principle on which a helicopter is based. Then he showed a second group of technical drawings of these items and asked them the same thing. The second group was much safer. When it came to explaining, however, the elite students failed and stuttered because they overestimated themselves.

[x] See Mitchell, / Olson 1981, pp. 318-332

[xi] Shepard showed his subjects 612 advertisements. After looking through it once, he mixed the pictures with new ones. During the subsequent recognition, the test subjects were able to recognize 99 percent of the images. After three months they were still able to recognize almost 60 percent (see Shepard 1967)

[xiii] Sachs-Hombach 2002, p. 27

[xv] For example, the study by Levie (1987) shows that images generate emotions more quickly, change attitudes and are particularly believable.

[xvi] Rossiter / Percy 1978, 625; see also the further information in Mueller, 2002, p. 123

[xvii] See for example Kroeber-Riel and Esch 2011

[xviii] E. St. Elmo Lewis developed this sequence of steps in 1889, initially for sales talks; later he transferred them to advertisements.

[xix] E.g. Scheier / Held (2007) assume that 95 percent of advertising contacts take place on the side.

[xx] Ambler and Vakratsas viewed 250 scientific publications on the topic of "How does advertising work?" They came to the conclusion that the concept of the hierarchical course of effects, that is, one advertising effect follows the other, cannot be empirically confirmed!

The author: Prof. Dr. Dieter Georg Herbst is the managing director of source1 networks GmbH. He is an honorary professor at the Berlin University of the Arts, where he is also head of the master’s program “Leadership in Digital Communication”. Herbst also teaches in St. Gallen (Switzerland), Shanghai (China), San Francisco (USA), Bangalore (India) and Rio des Janeiro / Sao Paolo (Brazil). He has written 16 books on branding and communication.