What brands can learn from THAT dress

dressThe internet has been split down the middle by a dress.

Fuelled by Twitter, offices and families all around the world have been arguing about whether it is white and gold, or blue and black. No matter how hard people try, they are unable to see it the same way as the person next to them.

There’s a relatively simple reason behind this.

The photo is poorly exposed, but there’s not enough contextual information around it to understand if it’s over or under exposed. The dress looks like it could be either white/gold material in cool lighting, or blue/black in warm yellow lighting.

When we look at the image, our brains do a lot of clever processing very quickly, trying to work out the lighting in order to remove it from our interpretation.

Screen shot 2015-02-27 at 14.07.55

The exact same principle is evidenced in this image of two dogs – one blue and one yellow. However, if you open up the image in Photoshop and check the hex codes, the two dogs are in fact identical.

With each dog, your brain tries to compensate for the environment they are in and removes the lighting from the situation, resulting in two identical dogs looking completely different.

This kind of visual processing is incredibly important to brands. A large part of creating a successful brand relies on ‘system 1’ thinking (otherwise known as the subconscious) and making it easy for audiences to build memory structures around key brand assets.

There is a psychological principle called ‘the mere exposure effect’ that demonstrates how the more familiar things are, the more we tend to like them – and the more trustworthy we believe they are.

Brands can capitalise on this low-level visual processing by creating sensory brand assets that do not require conscious processing to be committed to memory.

Screen shot 2015-02-27 at 14.07.44

This could be anything from the McDonald’s golden arches, to the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle, or Cadbury’s shade of purple. Using these assets frequently and in a consistent way will build what Byron Sharp terms ‘mental availability’ and, in turn, a stronger brand.

A great example of using this cleverly is the poster that McDonald’s made for the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics. The McDonald’s golden arches – a very familiar brand asset – were used, as shown, in a non-obvious way to highlight McDonald’s sponsorship of the event.

As we will be talking about at SXSW, brands need to get really intelligent in terms of how they use their brand heuristics to cut through in an overly complex world. Brands that aren’t smart enough to do this may be left black and blue.

Felix Morgan, innovator, HeyHuman

Image courtesy of Chris Conlon on reddit