Leveraging the visual around big events
Published 1st August 2014
It's no secret that a picture is worth a thousand words. But when you have a story to tell your audience, and you want to convey your message clearly and effectively, sometimes it takes more than just a couple of images to get the message across.
Throughout my career I’ve battled the problem of trying to make information accessible, relevant and easy to understand. Audiences are exposed to millions of images every day – from the media, advertisers, and the world around them – and I’ve spent the last eight years trying to fi nd ways to make messages stand out and get noticed amid the barrage of content we see every day.
That was the driving inspiration behind founding our infographic design agency. In developing and constantly trying to improve our infographics, we’ve had some big wins, but it took time for the media community to catch on to our method for distributing information.
Recently, however, we’ve received multiple requests from journalists asking to use our infographics in various publications. It’s a gratifying feeling – a sign from the outside world that the work my team and I have dedicated ourselves to is valuable beyond the confines of our humble studio.
Why the sudden interest?
I wanted to find a way to explain this sudden interest in our work from the media, so I set about researching the way the human brain understands and interprets the content from infographics – in the hope that it would allow my team and I to better understand the work we do and to incorporate these discoveries into our systems. It has.
My research led me to the Triune Brain Theory, first proposed by the American neuroscientist Paul D MacLean in the 1960s. This theory essentially suggests that humans have not one, but three ‘brains’:
- The reptilian brain, which transmits our basic desires, such as hunger, fight-or-flight responses, and keeping safe
- The limbic system, which registers more complex concepts like mood, memory and hormone control
- The neomammalian brain, which allows us primates to do things our reptilian and older mammal friends cannot, such register social cues, analyse nformation, adhere to reason and think consciously
So what has this got to do with infographics?
The way we – and our audiences – react to content depends on these three ‘brains’ (see Figure 2).
- Reptilian content is the lowest-commondenominator- type stuff you see in the Daily Mail and other tabloids. But for brands to compete with this they need big budgets – and even then they risk harming their image.
- Limbic content forms the basis of sites such as BuzzFeed and Upworthy. Humans are hardwired to respond to emotional stimuli – think pictures of starving children or cute puppies. This is the kind of content publishers know audiences are looking for.
- The neomammalian brain responds to the same stimuli as the first two categories but is able to interpret and make meaning of information at a higher cognitive level. This means that the information has to be factually correct and coherent.
Infographics use a human-oriented approach to give publishers just what they want – limbic content that provides the emotional focus their audiences crave – but with the high-quality, neomammalian level of scrutiny, complexity and analysis that passes the brain’s test of what makes sense and what doesn’t. This latter part appeals directly to journalists and bloggers, the ‘gatekeepers’. That is a good thing if we want to secure the best editorial placements and access the audiences they involve.
What does this mean for big events and our affiliates?
The goal of our infographics is to encourage human interaction with visual information. This means keeping the information concise and relevant. It means a high level of research to provide concrete evidence and make complex things easy to understand. And it means using emotional hooks that engage a wider ‘limbic’ audience.
Big events – such as the World Cup, which draws hundreds of millions of viewers around the globe – are perfect opportunities for affiliates to present their target audiences with infographics. Our World Cup vs. Life infographic, which compares the top football players’ salaries to the gross national incomes per capita of their home countries, was subsequently placed online across many news and media sources, from the International Business Times to Mashable, and has been shared thousands of times via Facebook and Twitter.
An event such as the World Cup gives a platform for the distribution of clever, engaging infographics that appeal to a wide and varied audience, and this visual/content approach can work for any market, no matter how big or small.