You’ll Look at this Blog Differently After You Read It
New research has blown my mind: “POOF.”
When I was but a wee lad at university, my design professor, Kay Amert, suggested that we follow the eye flow of the person on the page. If they are looking left, we will look left first. If they are looking off the page, we will naturally look off. So we assumed that the gaze of our subjects should always be into the copy or their eyes should be pointed at the headline.
The prevailing design thought (and supported by research from Roper/Starch Worldwide) was that direct eye contact is preferable. A new paper from Vanessa Patrick, associate dean for research and professor of marketing at the University of Houston’s CT Bauer College of Business (wow, what a title), found that an “averted gaze” might be more effective to convey emotion or how someone feels about a product. The direct gaze works better when you want to inform someone.
The people in ads do influence viewers in subtle ways, including changing gaze direction. I still believe that we take clues from the people in ads. If they are looking out into the sunset, you might get a different emotion than if they are looking right at you. But that comes from knowing the product or service and the target audience. A direct gaze can muster thoughts of confidence, knowledge and connection. If they were talking to you and they kept looking away (or off page), what would you think?
The problem I see with the new research is that the researchers used a newspaper-style ad, not a digital ad or an ad in a newsfeed that may not have copy left or right, but above and below the model. The real value of this research is to remind us that the gaze of a model in our marketing materials is another important element to consider as we craft our messaging.
I think Kay had it right. We tend to follow the eye flow of the person. Start with that and see where it leads you.
Mark Mathis III is chief creative & strategy officer, partner and cofounder of AMPERAGE Marketing & Fundraising.