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Using Images to Persuade


Techniques General persuasion > More methods > Using Images to Persuade

Showing the product | Brand-alignment | Illustrating action | Telling a story | Beautiful people | Facial attraction | The power of eyes | See also


Pictures and images are often used in advertising and other persuasive situations. Beyond just showing the product, they can have other specific persuasive messages.

Showing the product

The most basic promotion is simply to show the product, making it clear what you are promoting. If your customer is not sure what you are selling, this will make it clear.

The secret of success with product images is the same as with any image: emotional appeal. If your product is desirable, then simply showing an appealing picture of it may suffice. Food and high-tech companies both use this principle.

The risk in simple product shots is that customers are not excited and quickly move on, or think 'so what'. It does not matter if your products excite you, which they probably do. It is the majority of viewing customers who really count.


An important part of using images in advertising and company literature is ensuring the picture matches the brand of the product and the organization.

Hence, for example, if the brand value of a detergent is 'soft' then softened photography of people with soft clothing may help. A brand value of 'innovative' may be highlighted with unusual and surprising images. A brand value of 'leading edge' may be reflected in views of high technology contexts, young people being dynamic, active marketplaces and so on.

Illustrating action

People don't always understand what you are selling, what it is really for or how to use it to best effect. Pictures can show this, saying 'here's how to do it' or 'look, it's easy.'

Even if it is obvious, when you show the product being used, you make it easier for people to imagine themselves using it in the same way as they are interpellated into the position of the person in the picture.

Telling a story

Stories help us create meaning in the way they narrate a sequential reality that aligns with the linear nature of conscious thought. In the manner that we make stories of our lives as we live each moment and day, we can likewise make sense of stories that unfold in the same way.

Stories can remind us of things that have already happened to us or that we would like to happen. They can awaken inner fears and desires in a style that flat description cannot approach.

Images can tell stories, even when they are static photographs or drawings. In fact many of the best pictures are great because of the stories they tell. A person looking out of a window with a dreamy expression tells a story of wishes or fond memories. A group of friends laughing over a beer reminds us of our own friends and how good they make us feel as we relax with them.

Beautiful people

Few adverts use pictures of ordinary people in ordinary clothing. We are constantly faced with 'shiny, happy people' who beautifully smile at us and always look great, whatever they are selling.

A reason for this is that when we see images of people, we may be pulled into the image or project ourselves into it or see it as a kind of mirror as we identify with the people there. We can only sustain this if we find that identification pleasant and harmonious, otherwise we push it away, distancing ourselves from the unpleasantness.

In this way, the most successful images are those of people who we think we would like or who we would like to be.

This only backfires if we feel that we are being manipulated or have such a poor self-image we cannot identify with the models used. This is one reason why adverts that use 'ordinary' people can effect a reversal that harmonizes with cynics, snagging them as they push away from more conventional images. Knowing your audience is the secret of success and not-beautiful people can work if this knowledge is used correctly.

There has been much criticism of the use of beauty in advertising in the way that it creates dissatisfaction and unhappiness where people believe they must be as attractive as the people shown (Richins 1991).

In response to this, more 'ordinary' people are seen now. This can be successful when viewers find it easier to associate with those who seem more like them than like their aspirations.

Facial attraction

No matter whether the person in the photo is beautiful or not, we are programmed to look at faces, scanning them for familiarity, threat or opportunity.

Faces hence have an attentive power all of their own. It is amazing what we can determine from a face, recognizing complex emotions and noticing how it responds to what we say and do.

The mathematics of attractive faces, defined by various ratios and dimensions, is quite precise. A 'wide-eyed' face, for example, can cause pleasure or repulsion, with only fractions separating the two.

The faces of babies and children are designed by nature to be attractive to adults, softening hearts and melting any aggression.

Pictures that are mostly face make us think about the person and their character. We hence easily relate to them. When more of the body is shown, the face becomes smaller and we look more at what they are wearing or doing, as well as the other things around them.

The power of eyes

Melanie Bateson and colleagues famously found in 2006 that putting a picture of a pair of eyes above a coffee pot in a university staff room significantly increased the takings in the honesty box. They tried different eyes and found that the most effective eyes were direct and staring.

Dan Ariely has noted that most of us cheat, just a bit, although we still like to think of ourselves as honest (and most certainly want others to think this). So when we believe we are being watched, we are more honest. The Bateson experiment highlights how this is so deeply ingrained we are even persuaded by a pair of eyes.

Historical people knew this too, and the 'evil eye' and protective eye symbols have been used for many, many years. Even the James Bond '007' moniker originated with the '00' as a pair of eyes, with the magical number 7 to protect them.

We also follow the gaze of people in pictures, wondering what they are looking at. Hence if a number of people are shown, looking at your product, then viewers will also end up staring at the product too.

Nice scenery

Another image that people often respond well to is the great outdoors. Pictures of trees, mountains, lakes and meadows make us feel good, which is why so many adverts use such images as backdrops, even when the product has nothing to do with it.

Nature can also be abstractly included with potted plants in inside scenes or even general green hues across a picture. The warm glow of the sun or sunsets can alternatively be portrayed with red or orange hues.

See also

Storytelling, Projective identification, Interpellation, The Meaning of Color


Richins, M.L. (1991). Social Comparison and the Idealized Images of Advertising. Journal of Consumer Research, 18, 1,71-83

Bateson, M., Nettle, D. and Roberts, G. (2006).Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting, Biology Letters, 22, 2, 3, 412–414.


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