In light of recent research, Shutterstock CMO, Jeff Weiser, explores why simple, visually led ads are more engaging and how marketers can use this knowledge to make better ads.

Images matter. Compelling content now requires lots of visuals to actively engage audiences. Visual content can define your brand and whatever style you choose will help define your identity. This opens exciting opportunities for online advertising, however it also brings with it new challenges in cutting through a crowded space where first impressions are everything.

Recent research from Shutterstock and Lumen has shown that the key to creating engaging online advertisements is to produce simple, image-led creative that mirrors the demographic profile of those they are targeting. If done successfully, online ad engagement can be doubled.

Visual content can have a significant impact on advertisement engagement. Marketers must be selective and use simple, targeted imagery. Research by Buffer found that tweets with images get 18% more clicks, 89% more favorites and 150% more retweets. Facebook’s newsfeed has become extremely visual, and is now overwhelmed with memes, gifs and auto-playing videos of cooking recipes. Images are clearly what capture audience attention – so how do businesses stop us from ‘scrolling past’ and make us pay attention to them?

What makes a good ad?

When viewing images, Lumen’s eye-tracking technology revealed:

  • Faces grab attention quickly: they are often the first thing that people look at
  • Busy images can split attention: not everyone is attracted to the same part of the image straight away
  • Attention begins in the middle: when the image does not have a key focal point, focus starts in the middle, before spreading to the rest of the image

This below print advertisement by Nike for example is minimal, yet gripping. The combination of poster boy, Wayne Rooney's, euphoric expression and striking red cross stained torso is raw and commands audience attention quickly. The image draws the eye to the centre as there is a clear visual focus. The image is, of course, tagged with Nike's iconic 'Just Do It' and 'swoosh', complementing the image and leaving no doubt of the brand, without diverting heads. Most importantly, a flag is a very visual cue and therefore does not need text embedded for understanding, this means the advert doesn't require reading, but can still make an impact just from a glance. 

What makes a bad ad?

The Lockwood advert below was criticised for its ineffective engagement. The advert appears to be a mixture of elements and messages, of sponsorship and product. The Shutterstock and Lumen research found that an ad maximises its potential through its simplicity and ability to draw a viewer’s attention to a focal point and keep it there. This advert does not do this. There are multiple images, it is text laden and there is no fixed visual point. highlighted that the use of multiple images in this advert was a key reason why the advert failed, as it made it ‘too complicated and confusing’.

Study Highlights

Some highlights from the study found that males (on average) are more responsive to online ads than females. Males viewed or noticed almost a third (31%) of all the ads in the study whereas females viewed or noticed just a quarter. Futhermore, males looked at the ads for 0.4 seconds longer than females (males 0.9s vs females 0.5s). This is great news for those marketers who are targeting a male demographic, however it also challenges those aiming to engage with a female audience. It is useful for marketers to be aware of this, as it should encourage the use of online ads targeted at men. However, it is clear that marketers need to work harder to engage women.

The research also found that image-led ads featuring children are more engaging to parents. Those with children viewed 25% of these ads for an average of 1.3 seconds, whereas those without children viewed 22% of these ads for an average of 0.8 seconds. Children are clearly a good advertising hook and should be used when targeting certain demographics such as parents.

Image-led ads featuring an elderly couple were viewed more by the older generation, half of those aged 55+, a third of those aged 18-34 and 38% of 35-54 year old’s viewed the ads. For most 18-34 year old’s, an image of an elderly couple will most probably remind them of their grandparents, however, it is hard to imagine one day that being them. A generation gap is evident in this part of the research, which is important for marketers to implement in future work.

The eye-tracking research makes clear that the choice of image for an ad can have a significant impact on who is engaging with the advert. Images that relate to the audience will have a greater influence on them and they will view it for a longer period of time. The key is to grab that initial interest; therefore, it’s important to be bold, relatable and simple in selecting imagery for campaigns.

Images courtesy of Shutterstock.