Various eye-tracking studies have shown that users focus the majority of their energy and attention on images
From the first cave paintings some 40,000 years ago all the way to today’s camera phone, images and photos have always had the power to evoke emotion like few other visual stimuli.
And in the online world, the old Chinese proverb, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is all the more significant. While text was once the dominant form of communication on the web, it’s increasingly being eclipsed by the image.
Just look at the three fastest-growing social platforms: Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr. All of them are image-based. Sites like Buzzfeed are thriving on the backs of gifs and picture lists. Even Facebook has optimised its newsfeed to be image-centric. In today’s digital environment, images speak a lot louder than words.
It’s not surprising then that advertisers are increasingly eager to capitalise on the growth of the visual web. Various eye-tracking studies have shown that users focus the majority of their energy and attention on images. They are the first thing we look at and the content which usually provokes the biggest response.
Consumers are spoiled for choice and that means cutting through and grabbing somebody’s attention in a meaningful way is harder than ever
Research conducted by GumGum found 69% of marketers believe visual elements of day-to-day marketing campaigns were ‘very important’. Additionally, more than 70% selected custom video and custom photography as their visual media of choice.
The desire to grasp the opportunities of the visual web is clearly there, but challenges remain. The sheer amount of content is staggering – 2 billion images are uploaded across the web each day alone. Consumers are spoiled for choice and that means cutting through and grabbing somebody’s attention in a meaningful way is harder than ever.
The viewability debate
Added to this is the fact people, particularly those of the millennial generation, are increasingly savvy to the established forms of digital communications. Through experience they’ve become adept at tuning out marketing messages as they browse through editorial content.
For an industry still struggling to crack the viewability debate, serving a small, aesthetically pleasing advert over image content could be the answer marketers have been waiting for
All this means marketers must now consider new approaches and ones that reflect the rising importance of the visual web. The obvious answer is to bring ads in-image. For an industry still struggling to crack the viewability debate, serving a small, aesthetically pleasing advert over image content could be the answer marketers have been waiting for. After all, eye tracking studies back up the argument that in-image ads stand a much better chance of being seen and not lost amidst the content.
Equally, for struggling publishers bringing ads into image content opens up new premium inventory on their sites, giving them a lucrative channel to help them compete with Google and the other digital giants who command the bulk of online ad revenues.
However, while the opportunities are huge, there’s little point in using the visual web to create yet more noise for web users. Whether it be video ads that begin automatically or more standard pre-roll ads, people are growing increasingly frustrated over what they perceive to be obnoxious advertising that interrupt their customer experience. Ad blocking is becoming so prevalent for a reason… because people are increasingly fed up with opportunistic adverts peppered throughout their online experience.
Don't disrupt, contextualise
As such, it’s crucial that ads served over images complement the content and not disrupt it. They should be highly contextualised and able to connect with the content they’re served over, to become a truly native experience for the user. It’s why image recognition technology will have a pivotal role in unlocking the full marketing potential of the visual web.
The growth of the visual web is still young, but the trajectory is clear. When we asked about its importance for the future of digital marketing, nearly everyone surveyed (96 per cent) said it would be either somewhat important or very important.
Marketers in all sectors are waking up to the significance of the visual web and are beginning to understand that success in this new environment will be driven by a brand’s ability to speak the language of visuals. It will be the role of technology providers to help them drive the insights and tools that will allow them to do it.