Visual media: heightening our senses for marketing effectiveness

The Visual Media Conference in Leeds held recently promised to expose the effectiveness of colour in marketing and communication and explore the hype around Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Consumer Behaviour – and it certainly didn’t disappoint. 

A large focus of the many presentations was on packaging and how advances in digital printing have given rise to new possibilities from a colour perspective.   

Colour has a huge role to play in helping brands achieve standout amidst the vast array of competing SKUs on a supermarket shelf.  For some brands with smaller marketing budgets, their packaging may be their only advertising opportunity.  Colour is critical because humans have a hard-wired visceral response to it.  You only need to take play the ‘guess the brand logo’ game in black and white to emphasise just how critical colour is in helping us short-cut to familiar brands, or in nature, quickly distinguish potential threats e.g. red = danger. 

A presentation from Andrew Pike, UK&I Marketing Manager for HP Indigo & IHPS highlighted that whilst traditional printing only used to cover 68% of the pantone range, the HP Indigo digital press has increased that proportion to 97%.  Printing almost all metallics and fluorescent colours is now possible.  For marketers this presents hugely exciting opportunities e.g. a key property of fluorescent colours is that they really ‘pop’ under fluorescent lighting.  Drinks brands could use this to real effect within nightclubs and bars, for example. 

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Advances in digital printing have also seen an array of brands play around with multiple variants of their pack design being in circulation at the same time with great effect.  Consider the iconic ‘Share a Coke’ campaign the Irn Bru clans campaign and the Amarula ‘name them save them’ campaign.  Colour and a sense of personalisation was all critical to their success. 

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Whilst colour is no doubt one of the key assets in a marketers toolkit, the conference also touched on how brands can achieve even greater success through appealing to our full range of senses – a central tenet of Martin Lindstroms’ book ‘Brand Sense’ in which he suggests brands need to go beyond visual cues in their marketing.  

A fascinating presentation from Jonathan Sands OBE, Chairman of Elmwood, explored how brands can use biomotive triggers to build deep subconscious consumer engagement thereby ensuring they are hard-wired into our brains and thus more intuitive to recall, connect with and buy. 

Sensory cues are vital in activating our reptilian brain – the bit that responds 20 x as fast as other parts of our brain and kicks in as a means of survival before our slower, rational system 2 brain has even woken-up.  Our brains are hard-wired to automatically recognise what colours, shapes, sounds and facial expressions mean both semiotically i.e. because of what they signify, and in nature.  For example, pointy sharp shapes equate to danger, soft curvy shapes equate to safety and nurture.  The use of eyes in advertising and packaging is another example.  When someone or something looks at you are instinctively compelled to look back and understand why. 


Armed with this fact, Elmwood, overhauled the packaging of Kimberly-Clark’s Andrex toilet tissue brand through amplifying the emotional engagement of the famous Andrex puppy on pack.  Over 1000 puppies were auditioned for the role in order to find the eyes and face that most conveyed the ‘buy me, take me home’ plea to every passing consumer.  The results:  the brand went from six years volume decline into record revenue growth


Further on the theme of sensory cues, the conference also heard from Kim Arazi, Founder and CEO of IN3 and innovation hub & consultancy who specialise in creating multi-sensory brand experiences and events.  Kim argued how in some ways tech has killed off what used to be sensory experiences e.g. the e-book replacing the smell of a freshly printed book, or the smart-phone replacing the ritual of making a phone call on an old rotary dial phone (ok, I’m clearly a luddite for quoting such an old example!).  However, now with VR and AR, the reverse is also true with tech allowing us to create more heightened sensory experiences than ever before. 

Take for example, how we perceive flavour – it’s via more than just taste.  Everything from the colour of the plate the food is served on, to the cutlery that’s used to the environment in which we dine can all heighten our experience.  This is key as we are now in the era of the experience economy where millennials, in particular, are far more driven by experiences than owning things.  The world-renowned chef Heston Blumenthal has tapped into this with his ‘Sound of the Sea’ dish which is served accompanied with a soundtrack of breaking waves.  Apparently, customers reported their Oysters tasting stronger and saltier as a result. 

Which draws me finally onto VR.  Put simply, VR has a huge role to play in helping brands create multisensory experiences (and in helping researchers simulate future experiences so as we can test them more accurately).  VR allows us to immerse consumers in the future and obtain their intuitive, emotional responses far better than simply showing them flat stimulus of future concepts on boards.  Topshop have used VR to great effect as part of London fashion week in transporting shoppers to feel as though they are live, front row at their fashion shows thereby creating strong brand engagement.  VR can also be used to powerful effect for brands with a social purpose.  Not for profit, New York based Charity Water recently used VR to stir empathy and action amongst donors by allowing them to experience the daily journey of a young girl in Ethiopia as she went on a mission to find clean water only to be confronted with dirty, polluted water. 


VR experiences can further be enhanced by making those experiences social.  Jasper de Tarr, the CEO of Raktor, an immersive XR company, discussed how even right now, film studios and theatre companies are using VR to enable their audiences to virtually step into the world of the film long after the film itself is over.  In this virtual environment, the audience can become characters in the film themselves and engage with the films characters and even import their social profile and contacts into the ‘game’ to enhance the experience.  It was TBH quite mind-blowing stuff and I have to say he lost me when he went on to talk about Decentraland (the blockchain based metaverse) and Cryptokittes (supposedly the new virtual currency of the future). 

A famous brand once used the slogan “the future’s bright the future’s Orange”.  From what I witnessed yesterday it’s fair to say the future is in fact technicolour, virtual and multi-sensory.  I say hoorah for the exciting and endless possibilities we as marketer and researchers can now play with thanks to tech and visual media. 

Laura Morris - Director

Katie Grundy