I drive along the expressways of Chicago most mornings. Although these expressways are lined with billboard after billboard I couldn’t name three of them off the top-of-my-head for you.
Like most people who drive to work in the mornings I’m on autopilot. I mean I’m physically behind the wheel, I am alert for break lights and lane changes, but I’m not that alert. This mental form of autopilot is actually pretty normal.
We know our brains often go into “autopilot” mode to conserve mental energy during routine tasks like drives to and from work. So you can’t really blame me for not actively looking at all of the billboards as I drive. Plus they’re billboards. I’ve seen thousands in my life time. Big whoop.
However, recently while driving I spotted a billboard along I-290W in Chicago that grabs my attention every single day. Given my background in neuroscience and marketing I quickly noticed the design of this billboard. This ad (and campaign) are noticeably influenced by science. Let’s take a look at what makes this advertisement special:
- The oversized, detailed McMuffin quickly draws consumer attention. Market research studies using neuroscience have shown that consumers better emotionally respond to more detailed foods they’re familiar with.
- The left placement of the McMuffin on the billboard actually helps our brains better perceive the image faster. Objects placed on the left side of our field of view are better processed using the right side of our brains and vice versa. This is because our optic nerves criss cross when they enter our brain. The right side of our brain is better at perceiving images. The left side of our brain is better at processing numbers and writing. The image placement and writing in this ad are placed in the best spots possible for our brains to process this information effectively and efficiently.
- The text is in lowercase font making it uniform. Visually, this is preferred because the brain likes consistency. Because of how we read when a text is properly capitalized we’re prompted to look for more semantic meaning like if we were reading a textbook.
- The message is simple. Perhaps the most difficult thing in marketing and business development is making a concise, influential statement. This billboard speaks to a very common buying focus of consumers when it comes to food – calories and nutrition. In just four words you are now aware a McMuffin is only 300 calories. Remember the principle of cognitive fluency – the easier it is to think about something the easier it is to act upon something.
- The design is contrasting. It may seem like common sense but the brain loves clear contrast. The human brain is extremely visual, so the fact that the image and font pop off the background are more helpful to perception.
Pretty crazy that I can sit here and breakdown a very simple billboard and pull the science behind its design and messaging out of it. The beauty of neuroscience and perception is that it doesn’t have to be complex to be effective.
We live in the most over-communicated time ever in human history. Every company has an advertisement to catch our attention, but because we’re so perceptually bombarded, nearly all of the advertisements turn into white noise that we end up ignoring. My advice to companies is to evolve to something more engaging.
The goal for companies should not be to simply catch our attention with advertising and marketing, but to have the consumer genuinely interact with your message. The billboard above stands out for so many reasons. Right now, in this over-communicated world, simple design is going to win out because everything else is cluttered, and ultimately our brains better respond to simple rather than complex.
Got a presentation coming up to a group of people or a customer. Let this billboard remind you that simple is always better.