Why this works: Visual Narratives


I have always been struck by how often I find myself gazing at content like the above screen shots. Not only do they captivate me, but these are the types of posts that constantly perform well on Tumblr. Obviously, I am not the only one who “stops and stares”.

My guess, if I can make one, would be that these visuals are striking because they play to our desire to forecast our future.

Psychologists call this phenomenon affective forecasting. We often find ourselves visualizing and trying to predict how future events will ultimately make us feel. When products are involved we visualize how consumption will improve our well-being. Most importantly (and what makes these effective), these visuals allow us to craft post-consumption narratives. How will I feel? Will I become like this person? What will happen? Will I get the girl? 

Often we believe that these events will have a much bigger impact on our happiness than they actually do. This is called impact bias. We can lessen this bias by envisioning what will actually populate our world during that time. This grounds us in the reality that not much will change.

My theory is that these visuals are effective, because they narrow our focus to specific cues (or consumption actions, or the product). Thus, we leave more room for impact bias.  In my examples above, these cues come in the form of specific visuals that craft a narrative, or include individuals of similar likeness. To lesson our error in affective forecasting, and we do this naturally, we can envision our life after we buy a certain product.  Similarly, we can find a person who has also bought the product and view how they now feel. In fact, research tells us that we actually assign (or believe we will experience) more happiness to an “event” when we are shown people we perceive to be like us engaging in that same “event”. So, when I say that these visuals force us to narrow our focus, I mean that they force us to engage in both of these exercises.

This practice places a much heavier emphasis on user-generated content. In a sense, the exhibition of consumption practices become much more valuable and identity defining for a brand on similar platforms.



Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 1.53.04 PM


Perhaps, the value in these visual narratives is that they provide an instruction manual for others to follow?


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