Monday, May 7, 2012

Like Demi and Mariah, your product does have a best side

1. Yogurt ad with spoon on right
Demi does. Mariah does. So does your product have a better side?  Both Demi Moore and Mariah Carey apparently prefer being photographed from their 'better side', and just like them, the way you showcase your product can impact its saleability.  So let's look into the behavioural economics of product orientation.

Imagine you are looking at a magazine ad for a luscious bowl of creamy vanilla yogurt.  Next to the bowl is a spoon.  

Now here's the interesting part. If the spoon is on the right, the ad will be significantly more effective than if the spoon is on the left. And further, an ad with a spoon will outperform one with no spoon at all. Welcome to the Visual Depiction Effect.

The Visual Depiction Effect is the influence the product's orientation has on the customer's propensity to buy, and according to the researchers*,  
"simply orienting a product toward one's dominant (vs. non-dominant hand) in a visual advertisement leads to increases in imagined product use". 

Example ads with spoon
Cool hey?   And of course it's not just yogurt.

Researchers Ryan Elder and Aradhna Krishna used images of yogurt, hamburgers, cake, soup and mugs to test how the orientation of the hand or spoon influences purchase intent, and found that when it matches with the consumer's handedness, intent is heightened.   

What this means for your product
This research has significant implications for how you chose to display your products in advertisements, on websites and even on the shelf.  As a rule of thumb, it suggests you should consider placement to appeal to the right hand side.

Now for left handers this might be hard news to hear but because you represent only around ten percent of the population, your purchase intent might not be the priority...unless of course it's an ad for specialty left handed products and it appears in a left-handed magazine. 

Visual Depiction is more than right or left
What's behind the Visual Depiction Effect?  Well, it's technically not whether the product is positioned to the right or left. What actually drives the reaction is how the depiction stimulates the brain of your customer, and because we tend to operate most of the time at an automatic response level, seeing something that is close to how you would really use it (ie spoon on right) is much easier to absorb than having to reinterpret what to do (ie spoon on left or no spoon at all).  

By extension, this means that if your product tends to be used in the left hand of a right-handed person (eg a fork), you would be better positioning it on the left.  Whilst it was not the subject of Elder and Krishna's research, I would be curious to know how the Visual Depiction Effect applies to products that are used in front of a mirror (eg toothbrush, hairdryer, cosmetics), where the dominant hand and visual memory may be at odds.

So the major take from this research is simple. Showcase your product as it would be used, reducing the amount of interpretation your customer has to do, and helping them imagine themselves interacting with your product.  Tasty.

Interested in finding out more?  Email me at for an obligation free chat about your business.

* R. Elder and A. Krishna, "The 'Visual Depiction Effect' in Advertising: Facilitating Embodied Mental Stimulation through Product Orientation", Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Research, (April 2012) 988-1003

Note, images of yogurt ads depicted in this articles were not those used in research.

1. Yogurt ad (spoon right)
2. Yogurt ad (spoon on left) 
3. Yogurt ad (no spoon)


  1. I just found your blog several weeks ago and I love it! I'm curious about the 2nd photo. If a person sat in front of the yogurt and they were left handed they would have to turn the spoon around so the handle was closer to them. If the person was right handed sitting in front of the yogurt they would have to put the spoon on the other side and still turn the spoon around so the handle was closer to them If a person sat behind the yogurt it would be correct for a right handed person but not a left handed person. It's like the photo is not optimal for either left handed or right handed people. (unless someone was eating the yogurt and you wanted to see their face and not the back of their head they would then be sitting behind the yogurt and the placement would be correct for right handed people)

    1. Hi Lisa, and thank you! You are spot on, i had a hard time finding images so that was the best to infer the spoon on left concept. If you are interested, email me at and I can send you the images used in the research. Thanks for getting in touch and taking the time to consider the application of the visual depiction effect.

      Kind regards, Bri

  2. Hi Bri, I will definitely send you an email this evening. I think we are in different time zones so it might be your morning or afternoon. Have a great day.