Everywhere we go we see things. We are surrounded by hundreds of images every day. We encounter them either in 2D, in 3D or even via our own imagery. The visual is a central characteristic in every aspect of our society. It is embedded in advertising, the internet, television, newspapers, billboards, magazines, buildings, t-shirts, shopping cards, social media platforms, etc. It is embodied in each object we make and the same object is made over and over again in innumerable types of different designs. Never before has there been such an explosion of visual content. We live in a thoroughly visual information culture (Schroeder, 2002). Although we are aware of this, it is hard to grasp its full meaning. In this way, visual perception is a black box which is often hard to disentangle. Visual perception occurs automatically as well as in controlled circumstances, sometimes it is biased, sometimes it is not. It impacts what we feel, what we think and even what we do. The aim of this dissertation is to catch a glimpse of what is inside this black box.
In the introductory chapter, we try to provide an overall framework in which we connect the three chapters ‘I. The presence of the visual in food advertising; II. The visual as a supporting cue; III. The visual as a deceitful cue’. For this we use the typology of Raghubir (2010, 2012) describing the different models of visual perception situated on a continuum of controlled to automatic processing. That is: pre-conscious processing, non-conscious processing, heuristic processing, systematic-controlled processing, and hard-wired processing. In line with this typology, Raghubir shows that visual perception in all of these models can be biased. On top of that, she provides guidelines in situations where debiasing strategies can be helpful. We situate the core concepts discussed in the three following chapters along this continuum and elaborate on whether there is a need and/or opportunity to debias the potential visual perceptions at play in this dissertation.
Chapter I ‘The presence of the visual in food advertising’ encompasses a content analysis of the presence of transformational (i.e., mainly visual) versus informational (i.e., mainly verbal) appeals in advertising for healthy and unhealthy food. The results show that unhealthy food advertisements mainly adopt a transformational strategy whereas healthy food advertisements are more likely to sustain an informational strategy. As the segment of consumers which is most
precarious – people low-involved with healthy food – are mainly attracted by transformational appeals, we suggest healthy food advertisers do adopt a more transformational approach.
Chapter II ‘The visual as a supporting cue’ considers the height of the horizon in a panoramic picture as a visual cue and investigates whether the height of the horizon in a panoramic picture can influence processing style. We provide evidence that a low horizon evokes a more abstract processing via a mental simulation of looking up and increased perceived distance, whereas a high horizon evokes a more concrete processing via a mental simulation of looking down and decreased perceived distance. In addition, this chapter shows that when both visual (i.e., horizon height) and verbal (i.e., temporal benefit) advertising elements induce the same level of construal, advertising effectiveness increases. This effect is mediated by an increase in processing fluency. A change of horizon height can engender a fit in construal which enhances processing fluency resulting in increased ad effectiveness. In this chapter, the visual aspect clearly functions as a supporting cue.
Chapter III ‘the visual as a deceitful cue’ differs from previous chapters in the fact that it focuses on ‘packaging or product presentation’ instead of on advertising. More specifically, this chapter shows that for tempting foods the effect of food granularity on consumption amount depends on its mode of operationalization: Food granules can be either partitioned in small or large morsels or grouped in small or large portions. In the latter case, the size of the morsels is the same but they are grouped either in multiple small packages or in few larger packages. The results of this chapter show that in the case of partitioning consumers intent to consume more of few larger morsels than of multiple smaller morsels. This is because multiple smaller morsels evoke a self-control dilemma by the large number of morsels, which activates self-control strategies and reduces consumption. In case of grouping, consumers eat more of multiple smaller packages than of fewer larger packages. They see the small package size as an external monitor of their food consumption amount and as such do not feel the need to self-monitor their food intake. Since no self-control dilemma arises because of these external monitor food consumption increases. In addition, this chapter shows that (un)restrained eating is an additional moderator of the interaction. The effect of partitioning is mainly present when people are restrained, whereas especially restrained eaters are sensitive for the effect of grouping. As such, depending on whether consumers are restrained or not and on whether or not a self-control dilemma is evoked, the operationalization mode of food granularity (i.e., partitioning vs. grouping) can either be deceitful or not.
Finally, in the last chapter we employ the results of each chapter to a higher level and show how this dissertation implies three main theoretical contributions and four main practical contributions. We add on to the previous literature on visual marketing appeals by 1) by gaining innovative insights in the mediating and moderating factors determining the effects of certain visual appeals on consumer behavior; 2) by focusing on manners in which visual appeals and verbal appeals support each other, whereas previous research mainly opposed them in regard of their effectiveness; 3) by connecting visual appeals with cognitive responses other than recognition and memory. In addition, for marketing practitioners we distinguish four takeaways from this dissertation. That is: 1) When visual processing is at hand bias can always be at play (i.e., perception ≠ reality); 2) Make sure the visual is where it is most needed; 3) The visual can be supporting; 4) The visual can be deceitful. Lastly, we discuss some general limitations of this dissertation and discuss further research ideas.