Humans are visual creatures. 65% of us are visual learners, according to the Social Science Research Network. Most of us process information based on what we see rather than simply the text that we read and this has long been recognised in education and the development of learning materials.
But we don’t stop being visual as soon as we leave school, it’s a characteristic that stays with us for our whole lives, and almost all of us are highly visual across the spectrum of our activities. Display advertising has, since its earliest beginnings, used powerful and highly evocative images that support the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.
Which is why Sarah Mandato, Director of Content Solutions at Nativo, is so right to remind us of the importance of headline images in our native advertising. We tend to focus on headlines when we evaluate or design content, but the headline image is actually doing the talking for a good proportion of the audience.
Mandato goes on to give seven tips for choosing visuals. She talks about being authentic; for example, pictures of real people rather than models, because most people only engage with real people, not mannequins, albeit living, breathing ones. She also carries that argument through to the use of stock-shots. We all need to fall back on them sometimes but they’re just not real enough to engage as a headline image.
Next she warns us against using product shots and again, in the context of native advertising, she makes the strong point that native engages by sharing the aspirations and the interests of the audience. It’s not the pack that sells, it’s showing the interested visitor that you understand what they’re trying to achieve.
Joined up thinking
Whatever visuals you choose, it’s obviously important that they should be hi-res and eye-catching, but it’s just as important that they connect with the headline and the body content. This aligns with the very heart of native that everything they see and read should add value to the experience; no ‘clickbait’ as Sarah Mandato describes it, and not too busy either because it won’t translate well on the smaller mobile screen.
Particular care should be taken when setting up auto campaigns. The spirit of native is that the content sits perfectly within the editorial stream; a headline image that has no obvious connection with the editorial environment will just scream ‘spam’.
With Christmas already a major theme on the high street, it’s worth saying a word about seasonality. Keeping in step with the seasons in both our content and visuals reinforces the currency of our content; out of season clothes and activities only really works if you’re trying to promote next year’s holiday.
Sarah Mandato’s final tip comes from the wisdom of all disciplines; test, test and test again. Play around with some of the variables that are in your control, and don’t worry too much about those that aren’t, such as what else is on during your live time.
Thanks to Sarah for some great insights; another example of how native advertising is building on its own experience, day by day.