Mind your body language! How non-verbal communication works in advertising

Unknown-5Vanessa Van Edwards of in the US, outlines ten ways non-verbal body language can make ads more effective (and you thought we didn’t do science here). Vanessa says her goal is to make you the “most memorable person in the room.” For people, in this case, substitute ads. 


More About Advertising likes to look at unique ideas and trends that are happening in the advertising world. Body language and non-verbal communication is an interesting lens to apply to the advertising world.

Many people have no idea that there even are there non-verbal cues in advertising. Hidden non-verbal cues are often the secret sauce to successful campaigns. Additionally, the right advertising is all about finding the right body language cues to put the right brand messaging into every aspect of your campaign.

As a behavioral investigator, I research body language, non-verbal cues and human behavior at Science of People.

Here I am going to share a few examples of how nonverbal behavior is used in advertising and see how you can use body language to increase the success of any campaign.


1. Show People Where to Look

UnknownUsually in an advertisement there is a central focus–an action step, like “Click Here” or a product. This is where a customer’s attention should ideally be. There is actually a non-verbal trick to getting your customer to focus on your target: Have someone in the advertisement looking at the target. Humans instinctively want to look at what someone else is looking at, so if you have a “Buy Now” button on an advertisement or a shoe in a commercial, you want to have a model looking right at that target or main message. In the example (left) your eyes want to follow where her eyes are looking…towards the slogan.



2. Eyes As Cues

UnknownHaving a picture like this in your ads or website is a great way to control the gaze direction of your customer. Look at this picture of an eye map. This is where most people look when seeing a picture for the first time. As you can see we typically look at people’s eyes, so if their eyes are pointed somewhere else, we tend to follow.





3. Pointing

Unknown-1You will also notice the picture (left) has the woman gesturing or pointing up. Pointing is another non-verbal way to get your customer to look or focus where you want them to pay attention. This is why stock image photos of people looking, gesturing or pointing in every direction are so popular.

This is a great way to get people to focus on your product or action button. Here is an example in a print add of someone in the ad gesturing towards their main message. This automatically makes you look up towards the message.


4. Happy Faces

We have mirror neurons that encourage us to mimic or mirror the person we are looking at. We do this to feel empathy. When we make a face we tend to feel the emotion. This is called the Facial Feedback Hypothesis – where the face you make also makes you feel that emotion. In your ads it is a good idea to use happy faces. If we see a confused or frustrated face in an ad, we tend to copy the face and therefore feel more confused or frustrated ourselves. Hopefully, your product or service is solving a pain point, so show the end emotion of success not the frustrated starting place.


5. Babies

Unknown-3Our brains love looking at babies. So, if your product could have a baby in the ad, include it! See this iconic ad from Coca-Cola (left).

Babies engage a different area of our brains – especially for women. It instantly puts us in a warm, caring, compassionate mood. And this of course, makes us want to buy more.





6. Dilate Pupils

Back in the 1870s Charles Darwin found that when we feel fear, our pupils expand to help us take in more of our surroundings – this helps with fight or flight response. When we can see more, we are more likely to survive. Interestingly, our pupils also expand when we see something we like.

In 1965 a psychologist named Eckhard Hess performed an experiment where he showed his research assistant, James Polt, a series of photographs while tracking the diameter of Polt’s pupil size. When Hess showed Polt a picture of a nude woman, his pupils enlarged immediately. Further experimentation found that, in fact, our pupils do dilate when aroused – to take in more of the pleasant surroundings.

Additionally, researchers found that people also find faces with dilated pupils as more attractive. If you really want to up the attractiveness of your product and your ad, try increasing the pupil size with photoshop. When you look closely, you will notice most major advertisers already do this.


7. Use Color Psychology

Research has found that colors can greatly affect our moods and perceptions. Here is an interesting guide to how advertisers can use color psychology.


8. Money!

If you use dollar amounts in your advertisements there are two nonverbal ways to increase sales:

Researchers have found that removing the $ sign in front of numbers helps take the sting off of the price for customers.

If possible, prime with a higher number before listing your price. For example, there is a reason infomercials always say, “Most products like these cost thousands of dollars, we are only offering this today for 199!” They are priming you to think that thousands is high, so $199 isn’t high comparatively.


9. Trust Action, Not Focus Groups

Many people put together focus groups or ask friends or family what they think of their ads. This is actually not a good idea. Our logical brain often makes different decisions than our emotional brain – and our emotional brain is what dictates our buying behavior.

Take this study for example: Researchers had 30 smokers who were trying to quit watch television commercials from three advertising campaigns, which all ended by showing the phone number of the National Cancer Institute’s smoking-cessation hotline. They had to choose which campaign, “A” ”B” or “C” would be the best.

The smokers chose A and B as the best and C as the least effective. The researchers also asked experts in the anti-smoking field which ads would work and which wouldn’t. They also thought A and B were the best with C in last place.

Then the researchers had the smokers watch the ads in fMRI machines and saw that the medial prefrontal cortex had higher activity during advertising campaign C than it did during A and B. It turns out their brain knew which ad was best, even if their logic didn’t. When the ads aired, the C campaign caused a thirty-fold increase in call volume while A and B had less than half of that.

So, don’t ask people what they think, ask a small group of your target demo to actually take action.


10. Position for Readiness

Non-verbally, you want your advertisement to signal “readiness.” What I mean is that if you have a picture of a food product you want that product to look like it is easy to pick up and eat. This triggers to the brain that it is about to have a snack – hence increasing cravings. For example, which of the ads below do you think will perform better: A (left) or B (right)?


If you guessed A, you would be right. This is called the Visual Depiction Effect. Non-verbally this signals to a customer that it is ready to buy or eat simply by changing the product’s orientation. Researchers have found that if you orient a product toward a person’s dominant hand in a visual campaign, it increases the imagined product use. Researchers Ryan Elder and Aradhna Krishna experimented with images of bowls, cups, sandwiches, coffee and yogurt to test how nonverbal orientation could change purchasing and product desirability. They found that it is best to appeal to the right hand side (sorry lefties!).

Remember that the non-verbal messaging in your advertisements can greatly increase your sales and impact. Don’t forget about body language, orientation and color messaging!


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