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    Using Human Faces in Your Digital Marketing: Is It The Right Move?

    Incorporating Human Faces: Effective for Digital Marketing?

    Marketing your product or service is all about connection. It is about connecting your business’s products or services with the needs of your current and potential customers. It is about connecting your customer’s practical and emotional components in a way that leads them to you. If your customers engage with you and your digital marketing efforts, it can form a deep connection between them and your brand or business.

    Although we tend to think the psychology of connection comes from…psychology, it is really found in marketing’s own backyard. For years, neuromarketing researchers worked to know what underlying processes make consumers feel more connected, attracted to, or engaged with one product and not another.

    Faces: The key to forming deep connections with your brand.

    Through time, researchers and psychologists in the field of personality took what had been discovered from the marketing sector and merged it with processes that join the study of the mind and emotions. According to the work of Judith Glaser, a Harvard University organizational psychologist and anthropologist, those are the areas that shape what we know today as the “psychology of deep connection.”

    Glaser has said, in many of her books and interviews, is that “we all have an internal voice that quickly tells us if something or someone may be significant to us” and that often starts with  the human face.

    Knowing this, how smart is it to use that psychology of connection in your digital marketing efforts? Let’s walk through it, so you can tie this information on your goals, objectives and strategies together with knowledge of your target audience and make a smart decision.

    Reasons to Market With a Human Face

    There are many things that a human face can bring to a business’s marketing strategy, including presenting an identifiable brand with whom people can connect.

    1. A sense of identity

    One of the things a human face brings is a sense of identity, especially if that face has character (or is a character). A face suggests humanity behind it. Faces have been shown to be more recognizable than names or even company logos.

    The presence of a human face, particularly one that possesses character or represents a character, plays a vital role in establishing identity.

    In a recent study, researchers found neurons in the human visual cortex that selectively respond to faces. According to Science Daily, the researchers showed “neurons in the visual cortex  responded much more strongly to faces than to city landscapes or objects. The results provide unique insights into human brain functioning at the cellular level during face processing.”

    2. Faces are memorable—more so than words or objects

    Researchers at Cedars-Sinai recently reported on how the area of the brain responsible for memory is triggered when the eyes come to rest on a face versus another object or image. Their findings, published in Science Advances, add to scientific understanding of how memory works.

    According to the research reported by Cedars-Sinai, investigators found that when the eyes land on a face, certain cells in the amygdala, a part of the brain that processes social information, react and trigger memory-making activity.

    “You could easily argue that faces are one of the most important objects we look at,” said Ueli Rutishauser, PhD, director of the Center for Neural Science and Medicine at Cedars-Sinai and senior author of the study. “We make a lot of highly significant decisions based on looking at faces, including whether we trust somebody, whether the other person is happy or angry, or whether we have seen this person before.”

    Ok, so faces are a win. Should they be caricatures or cartoons, or real human faces? Advocates of using cartoon characters in marketing exist, as cartoon characters’ memorability can be significant.

    Even though past research has shown consumers tend to remember animations and caricatures, be sure to consider the impression given off by a specific face.

    It wasn’t that long ago that many companies reconsidered how the faces of black characters were representing their brand. In the forefront of the face change was Quaker Oats Company parent company PepsiCo with Aunt Jemima brand (now the Pearl Milling Company name and logo) and Mars Incorporated with Uncle Ben’s Rice, which was renamed Ben’s Original. Both companies admitted the “face” of their brands was rooted in a racial stereotype.

    3. Faces can create emotion

    If you’re in the camp of people who believe universal emotions are delivered via facial expression, you are in good company. If you’re with those who believe facial movements during emotions vary too widely to be universal beacons of emotional meaning, you’re in good company.

    “Some experts maintain that people around the world make specific, recognizable faces that express certain emotions, such as smiling in happiness, scowling in anger and gasping with widened eyes in fear,” according to a recent Scientific American article. “They point to hundreds of studies that appear to demonstrate that smiles, frowns, and so on are universal facial expressions of emotion.”

    The debate regarding universal facial expressions and their connection to emotions has two distinct viewpoints.

    But those in other camps argue that “alleged universal expressions just represent cultural stereotypes.” According to the Scientific American article, both sides in the debate recognize that facial movements vary for given emotions (faces do show emotion!), but disagree on whether there is enough uniformity to detect what people feel across the board.

    When A Face Might Be the Wrong Approach

    1. That face is everywhere (aka overused stock photos)

    While faces can be effective in marketing, how they are used is important. For businesses embarking on their digital marketing strategy, stock images are often used which can pose a problem at times. Some images are so widely circulated that the same “smiling 40-something mom” that goes to your dentist in Phoenix might also visit your aunt’s chiropractor in Philadelphia.

    This lack of uniqueness may undermine the desired personal connection with the target audience.

    Ubiquitous images of the same—or even similar—faces can make your business seem more fabricated and less trustworthy or authentic.

    2. Cute and sexy don’t always work

    The attractiveness of the subject might create a stumbling block, too. Using an adorable baby or animal to draw potential customers into your ad might get their initial attention, but will it lead them to engage with your products? On average, digital content shown on mobile devices is given less than two seconds of attention.

    Simply relying on visual appeal alone may not lead to desired customer engagement.

    An attractive baby often will take up most of the attention, unless a clear connection with the product is established quickly, such as with the Gerber baby. (To that, we offer a fun lesson on the weird history of babies in advertising.) It’s the same for sex. You hear that sex sells. And you hear that sex sells again. But unless that sexy person is relevant to your products (swimsuits, maybe?) you have just wasted everyone’s time and eyeballs, including your own.

    3. Humans are judge-y creatures

    The judgmental nature of humans is also a reason using a face in your digital marketing might let you down. Regardless of how hard some may try to embrace inclusiveness, people have always judged each other for a variety of reasons. Think about who your target audience is (which you should be doing all the time anyway!) and how your audience might interpret the faces in your digital marketing campaign.

    Human beings possess a tendency to make judgments, which can potentially affect the effectiveness of using faces in digital marketing.

    Whatever your strategy, connection is the goal, not  alienation.  Choosing the face that says what you as a company want to say and still says what your customers want to hear can be a tough call.  and some businesses opt for less controversial options, such as landscapes, product photos, or more neutral illustrations.

    4.Images alone rarely convey all the information

    Adobe, in its blog “About Face: Why You Should Stop Showing Faces in Your Ads,” suggests you should knock it off with all the faces. (But does offer alternatives.)

    Among the reasons cited are the judgmental nature of humans, but the blog author also drew from years of ad testing experience, writing, “I discovered that ads with people almost always depressed reader or viewer response. Without fail, ads with no photography or a more neutral environmental use of photography outperformed ones that relied primarily on human faces.”

    RELATED: The How and Why of Inclusive Marketing

    Is using a face worth it for your digital marketing efforts? As with so many things in marketing, you must know your audience, your marketing and business goals and have a plan. If that plan has a face, you may do well. If you do use a face, remember that the words behind it matter, too. Make sure that there is a personality and quality product behind that face that customers can embrace and support. Even (and especially) when the face you choose to use is your own.


    Why is connection important in marketing?

    Connection is vital in marketing because it helps customers relate to and engage with your brand, forming a deep connection between them and your business.

    How can a human face benefit marketing efforts?

    A human face brings a sense of identity, improves memorability, and can create emotional connections with customers.

    Are cartoon characters or real human faces better for marketing?

    Both can be effective, but consider the impression and authenticity conveyed by a specific face to align with your brand values.

    Can facial expressions universally convey emotions?

    There is debate on this topic, with some experts claiming universal facial expressions, while others argue for cultural variations in emotional expressions.

    When can using a face in marketing be ineffective?

    Overused stock photos, distracting cuteness or sexiness without relevance, and potential misinterpretation by the audience are factors to consider.

    Are images alone sufficient for conveying information in marketing?

    Adobe suggests that ads with more neutral photography or alternative visuals often outperform those relying solely on human faces.

    Is using a face worth it for digital marketing?

    It depends on your audience, goals, and strategy. If used thoughtfully and backed by a quality product, a face can enhance connection with customers.

    What other options can be considered if a face doesn’t fit the marketing approach?

    Landscape images, product photos, or neutral illustrations are alternative choices that may convey information effectively.

    How should words complement the use of a face in marketing?

    The words behind the face should reflect a compelling personality and quality product, enhancing the overall brand image customers can embrace and support.

    About The Author

    Elton Mayfield

    Elton's career spans media, production, digital and building industry expertise. His diverse experience makes him nimble, innovative, and curious – always pushing the envelope to create extraordinary work that delivers real results for our clients.

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