Visual awareness: A manifesto for market research to engage with the language of images

Simon Pulman-Jones and Colin Strong

We represent ourselves using three key ways – action, word, and image. Market research and indeed our wider culture traditionally focussed on the first two. We argue that despite the explosion in the use of images within contemporary culture and society, they have remained an under-explored tool for understanding consumers.

  1. The importance of images
  2. It seems curious that images, so potent and central to human culture since the first cave art, have not played a more central role in market research's core repertoire of ways to understand the consumer.

    Today, images are the lifeblood of the internet. In its early years, the internet was of course text based, used in a functional way to exchange basic, primarily technical, information. Since then, the ability to display images has been the primary factor driving internet performance and browser capability: firstly on the wild-west frontiers of pornography, then with the rich media experiences required by brand-building sites, and now with the prodigious volume of photos and videos shared via social media sites. In keeping with our call for market research to recognise that the language of images must be given due recognition, it is instructive to recall that 'facebooks' were, and indeed continue to be, US high school photo albums – a reflection of the photo sharing that is at the heart of social networks. Image-based social networking sites have proliferated with YouTube, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Vine all having the explicit function of sharing still or moving images. Whole new forms of image capture and sharing have developed, giffing being a prime example where users generate a short film, just a few seconds long, and edit it using online tools to give it a jerky, 'cinema-reality' style look.

  3. Image as a tool for social identity