Outdoor Advertising and Human Biology

July 10, 2013

Outdoor advertising’s goal is simple: attract people to one product or service over another. To that end, we’ve all seen a wide variety of colorful signs, commercials, and other ads our entire lives. In fact, it’s very nearly impossible to exist on this planet without intaking numerous advertisements on any given day.

So, there’s a huge amount of info that we filter through every day. But why, exactly, is everything so colorful? It seems like a ridiculous question at first: well, obviously the eye is drawn to bright colors!

Ok, but why?

Why to color, and, for that matter, to movement? The underlying reasons are intriguing.

Like most everything in advertising, it all goes back to motivation. In the end, billboard design is not particularly different from human biology. What will motivate a potential customer to hold their gaze on a particular sign for a few seconds more? What will, in turn, motivate that same person to choose one product from two, three, or more essentially identical products?

To pare down this insight, we have to consider the base causes of motivation. Every person is a product of both genetics and environment; in fact, this reality is what eventually drives business, politics, and culture. A simple comparison would be to the growth of a single apple. Start by imagining 50 identical apple seeds, which are planted randomly all over the world, and are identically cared for and cultivated by 50 individual people.

Obviously, some of these trees will grow taller, stronger, and lusher than their counterparts; this may be due to factors such as soil acidity, annual rainfall, or endemic pests. Some may have stronger root structures; some may photosynthesize more efficiently within their leaf structures. Perhaps one caretaker or the other uses better techniques in his or her stewardship. Now take in to account annual sunlight, wind, and other elements, and imagine how each individual apple might grow.

For the purpose of the argument, assume each tree yields 50 apples at harvest. We now have potentially 2,500 apples, each one different in some way from the next. Yes, they all started as genetic coding in 50 identical seeds; but due to environment, we now have extraordinary diversity.

And this ties directly into advertising. Since humans are, indeed, not apples (we have brains, jobs, hopes, fears, etc), we have concrete motivations. These are the product of generations of adaptation, survival, progress, and setbacks; we are, in fact, products of life itself. The trick with advertising in this regard is targeting those specific people you want to become customers. To do that, you need to find the motivating factors that drive their decision-making.

Stay tuned! Next time, we'll dig deeper into the science of advertising, and try to fix a hypothetical billboard that doesn't take human biology into account...

Last Modified: 07-10-2013-16:02:50