Up until the last couple of years, adding images to the mix was a luxury on most of the design projects that I worked on. When designing statements, notices, policies and other mandated communications there was typically a logo, maybe an icon or two and if you were really lucky the opportunity to put together some sort of instructional infographic.
With the installed base of high volume, production inkjet printers growing rapidly in the US and Europe, the ability to add full color images to high-volume customer communications is no longer a hardware limitation. Now, we creatives need to think about effectiveness, appropriateness and, of course, cost is still a factor. In pursuing research on the impact of images on customer behavior, I came across some interesting sources. First, “The Effects of eye images on everyday cooperative behavior: a field experiment,” by Max Ernest-Jonesa, Daniel Nettleb and Melissa Bateson studied littering behavior in a university cafeteria. From the study:
“We found a halving of the odds of littering in the presence of posters featuring eyes, as compared to posters featuring flowers. This effect was independent of whether the poster exhorted litter clearing or contained an unrelated message, suggesting that the effect of eye images cannot be explained by their drawing attention to verbal instructions. There was some support for the hypothesis that eye images had a larger effect when there were few people in the café than when the café was busy. Our results confirm that the effects of subtle cues of observation on cooperative behavior can be large in certain real-world contexts.”
Second was “Images of Eyes Enhance Investments in a Real-Life Public Good,” by Damien Francey and Ralph Bergmüller which also examined littering behavior, this time at a bus stop to track whether individuals would deposit more items into the appropriate trash bin in the presence of images of eyes.
“The treatment had no effect on the likelihood that individuals present at the bus stop would remove garbage. However, those individuals that engaged in garbage clearing, and were thus likely affected by the treatment, invested more time to do so in the presence of eyes. Images of eyes had a direct effect on behaviour, rather than merely enhancing attention towards a symbolic sign requesting removal of garbage.”
And finally, “Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting” by Melissa Bateson, Daniel Nettle and Gilbert Roberts examined the effect of an image of a pair of eyes on contributions to an “honor bar” used to collect money for drinks in a university coffee room. According to the study:
“People paid nearly three times as much for their drinks when eyes were displayed rather than a control image. This finding provides the first evidence from a naturalistic setting of the importance of cues of being watched, and hence reputational concerns, on human cooperative behaviour.”
So, the eyes have it! Images can impact behavior. Now that we have the opportunity to add more imagery to customer communications – let’s not waste it on pretty pictures with no impact. Think carefully about the reaction you want to cause and invest in A/B Testing of design options to determine which images have the desired effect. It’s a great time to be in statement marketing and this research certainly opened my eyes to new possibilities.