"Brand identifiability is under the advertiser's control and is a key consideration in ad design," note the authors of a recent research report on the effectiveness of visual ads. But because of rising "media noise" due to competing advertisements and "active ad avoidance by consumers," it has become challenging for firms to grab attention, they note.

To clarify what's working these days, the study focused on two key areas affecting brand recognition:

  • Feature complexity was measured by noting an ad's jpeg file size, which is determined by the amount of detail and variation in the three basic visual features across an image—color, luminance and edges.
  • Design complexity focused on six general principles: quantity of objects, irregularity of objects, dissimilarity of objects, detail of objects, asymmetry of object arrangement and irregularity of object arrangement.

Here is the short version of what they found:

  • Feature complexity hurts brand attention and the viewer's attitude toward an ad.
  • Design complexity helps attention to the pictorial and to the advertisement as a whole, to ad comprehensibility and the attitude toward an ad.

The authors suggest that designers...

  1. Keep feature-based "visual clutter" to a minimum: White space is still important; brands still need to be showcased.
  2. Make design elements more complex: patterns on a shirt; one large object in front, smaller ones in back; objects with differing shapes, textures, colors—to keep things visually interesting.

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