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Danger, Food and Sex - Creating Visual Communications that Engage

by Deborah Scott on February 10, 2015

Can I eat it?  Can I have sex with it?  Will it kill me?

Great visual communications are designed to get attention first.  Only then can they convey a relevant message.  So what does it take to get attention?  Perhaps the more relevant question should be... What does it take to get valuable attention for my brand or business? 

RainMaker Signs specializes in visual communications.   We can tell you with confidence that these things grab attention above and beyond anything else:

1.  Images of food, sex or danger

2.  Images of humans - even better if they are looking directly at you

3.  Things that move - blinking, video, physical motion etc.

4.  Stories - connecting rational and emotional ideas

5.  Images of animals  (in truth, they fall into the danger category)

6.  Images of babies - they may require our help for survival

This is not based on our experience or judgment.  It is a function of how the human brain functions and what it compels us to attend to.  We're not advocating that your signs, graphics and displays all contain food, sex and danger, despite their proven ability to garner attention.  Thanks to our understanding of the human brain we see that there are high order levels of thinking and reasoning involved.  So, despite our deep desire to create attention (as a means to leads and sales), we must use care in choosing what we ultimately want to associate with our brands, products, services and organizations. 

A Super Short Lesson in Three Types of Brain Function

1.  The Reptilian Brain

The reptilian brain controls the body's vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance. Our reptilian brain includes the main structures found in a reptile's brain: the brain stem and the cerebellum. The reptilian brain is reliable but tends to be somewhat rigid and compulsive.

That compulsive response to attend to danger, food and sex is driven by the reptilian brain.  It ensures our survival as a species.   Without food you'll die, without sex the species won't survive, and if you're killed the other two questions don't matter.  So our reptilian brain has us constantly scanning our environments and attending to things that answer these three primal questions - Can I eat it?  Can I have sex with it?  Will it kill me?  

2.  The Limbic Brain

The limbic brain can record memories of behaviors that produced agreeable and disagreeable experiences. It is responsible for emotions. The main structures of the limbic brain are the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the hypothalamus. The limbic brain is where value judgments are formed.  These value judgements exert a super strong influence on our behavior.  They also keep the compulsiveness of our reptilian brain in check.

We create positive associations when we see images that we associate with pleasant memories.  Many of these emotions were formed through out our childhoods - making nostalgic associations particularly appealing when connected with a relevant message.  This is also where powerful judgements are made about what is right or wrong about the use of certain types of imagery.

3.  The Neocortex

The neocortex is comprised of two large cerebral hemispheres that play a dominant role in humans. These hemispheres have been responsible for the development of human language, abstract thought, imagination, and consciousness. The neocortex is flexible and has almost infinite learning abilities. The neocortex is also what has enabled human cultures to develop.

So the neocortex is the place in our brain where we decode text and evaluate an image for relevant context  - not just an emotional or primal response.  Great visual communications and signage need to activate and satisfy the neocortex to create a meaningful call to action or relevant positive associations with a brand.  

The neocortex is the part of the brain that tells us those sexy girls in the Go Daddy Super Bowl commercials are there to get attention, but have nothing to do with the unsexy process of purchasing or managing a domain name.  We could feel duped or tricked (our neocortex) into paying attention, or we could feel that this is inappropriate (our limbic brain) or we could just look because we can't help ourselves (our reptilian brain).  Tactics like this are risky.  Some would say it paid off.  Others are turned off by these attention seeking tactics.  The neocortexes of your target audience cannot be ignored in the final evaluation of such a strategy.

What Go Daddy did recognize is that the path to the critically thinking neocortex is through the other two brains.  You may have a very compelling proposition to convey - but if you're all text and bullet points, you will never grab the attention you desire. 

Earn Attention by Putting those Brains To Work For You

1.  It may not always be appropriate to use images of food, sex or danger in your visual communications, but if you do they'll get a lot of attention.


Display_slider_image2.  Use images of human faces.
Show human interaction and delight with your services and products.  People are compelled to look at images of other humans.  We need to know if they represent danger or opportunity for community. If your business has a relevant connection to this type of imagery take advantage of it in your signs and displays.  Here is an example of our trade show display for our signs graphics and displays business.  It is not loaded with text or bullet points. It is not a brochure.  It is designed to get attention and draw people in.  


3.  Use stories as much as you can, even for factual information.  See Goldilocks and the Just Right Vehicle Graphics and see how a story can convey factual information.  A story built around facts unlocks our imagination, taps into personal memories, experiences and emotions, and engages the neocortex.  

RainMaker-Signs-Vehicle-Wraps-Bellevue-WAHere is an example of using a visual (physical object) to solicit a story.  We do professional vehicle wrap design, production and installations as part of our business.  We wrapped this pedal car and put it on display.  It evokes emotion and a personal story for customers of a certain age.  Once they see the car, they want to share their story.  Think about how you can connect your brand to a cherished personal story your customer already holds dear.  


4.  Use lights and motion
RainMaker-Signs-Illuminated-Digital-Displays-Bellevue-WAThe sign business has been in on this secret for a long time - think of flashing neon signs.  Today dynamic digital displays are a powerful merchandising and advertising tool.  These digital displays can be large scale to be seen as you drive by, designed for table top displays at trade shows or on the wall of retail stores to draw people in and merchandise an image, personality or specific product.   Even fast food franchises have moved to dynamic digital displays for their menu boards to push promotions and keep the menu and pricing up to date.  


5.  If you are in a business associated with food, sex or danger
Use great enticing, high quality images.  Those images will win attention every time.  

  10689768_658014867648791_8442221188041317671_n  Whoopie Pies by Bake My Day Seattle!  


Creating visual representation of brands and businesses is our specialty!  We would welcome the opportunity to help you build your brand by attracting business today that allows you to build your reputation for tomorrow.  RainMaker Signs specializes in architectural interior and exterior signs, graphics,  trade show displays and vehicle and fleet graphics.  We believe great visual communications make great things happen!  

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RainMaker Signs specializes in designing, fabricating and installing effective visual communications that get you noticed.  Consider us part of your brand execution team.  Give us a call at 425-903-3140 or  1-855-806-7446.  You can also email us at answers@RainMakerSigns.com or click the link below.  We look forward to working with you.

Topics: Branding, Marketing, Digital Display, Visual Communication

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