Print advertising that includes faces, or images that could be interpreted as faces, tends to be more preferred by consumers than ads that do not have this feature, according to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Gianluigi Guido and Marco Pichierri (University of Salento), as well as Giovanni Pino (University of Chieti-Pescara) and Rajan Nataraajan (Auburn University), discussed this topic in a paper, entitled Effects of face images and face pareidolia on consumers? Responses to print advertising: An empirical investigation.

Specifically, their analysis investigated whether print ads that involve faces, or an image that could be interpreted as such (known as a “pareidolian” ad), are more effective than ads not providing these elements in various ways.

The research demonstrated “that consumers preferred both face and pareidolian advertisements to other types of advertisements”.

“The results highlight that face and pareidolian advertisements attracted greater attention than other advertisements … regardless of the length of exposure,” they wrote.

In one of their studies, some 322 people were shown a selection of print ads featuring different types of faces, along with print advertising that did not, and a fun video not involving any ads, before completing a questionnaire.

A second study, with 135 people, used 16 magazine ads that featured a model’s face, and alternate versions that removed the faces from these images, and several other ads that never included faces.

Thirdly, a sample of 154 people were exposed to “pareidolian” ads, with “the image of a product or other elements resembling a face”, as well as various ads not meeting this criterion, according to the scholars.

Drilling down into the length of time that study participants were exposed to the ads in question, they found that longer durations did have a mitigating role where attention is concerned.

“Given short exposure times, individuals instinctively sought faces in advertising because of the orienting response mechanism, which stems from the superior significance of faces, emotionally and biologically,” the academics revealed.

“Exposure time, however, represents a caveat. For both face and pareidolian advertisements, participants’ attention decreased as exposure time increased.

“This result suggests that a longer exposure mitigated the attention-grabbing effect of faces. Given more time, viewers probably were able to observe other advertisement features and hence evaluate the whole advertisement, without necessarily focusing on faces.”

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff