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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Art in Advertising Can Have Unintended Effect

mona-lisa-11082402 Credit: Mkoudis | Dreamstime.com

Tempted to go high-brow in your advertising and marketing? Be careful, experts warn. The use of fine art in advertising can backfire if it doesn't fit with what you're selling.

That's the finding of research by Henrik Hagtvedt of Boston College and Vanessa Patrick of the University of Houston, which looked at how consumers view art in advertising.  According to the research, the use of fine art in advertising campaigns can have a negative impact if consumers don't see a fit between the artwork and the brand.

"Art is valued for its own sake," Hagtvedt said. "If brands are associated with art in a tasteful way, consumers will accept and even appreciate it. But as soon as the artwork is viewed as a mere product-relevant illustration, it is demoted to the status of any other ordinary image."

This research was conducted by showing groups of consumers wine bottle labels, which were rated highly if the images on the labels were seen as being appropriate to the product, such as showing a luncheon. However, the same wine bottle was rated negatively when the label was changed to a different image seen as being out of place, such as featuring a child and mother playing.

The explanation for this is simple, Hagtvedt said, and can be an important lesson to businesses that need to reach customers.

"When people view an image as an artwork, it communicates as art and it doesn't matter whether the content fits," Hagtvedt said. "But when they start to focus on the content of the image, such as the people or their activities, then it becomes a product illustration and consumers begin to weigh whether it fits or not."

If the art does not fit, there can be negative repercussions for advertisers and businesses who choose to use it in their advertisements. 

"People have evolved to care about art," said Hagtvedt. "It is something we have appreciated in all societies known to man, throughout history and prehistory. It is also a magnificent tool for marketers who rely on its communicative power in a thoughtful and honest manner, but those who use it thoughtlessly are not likely to impress anyone."

The research will be published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.