Reinvent Your Marketing With Innovative Subtlety

There has been a strong trend over the last decade to employ increasingly bolder marketing tactics. This is especially true in online marketing where pop-up ads dominate your screen as soon as you land on many websites. Online marketing masters publish so called “heat maps” that tell website owners exactly where to place their ads to maximise the number of people who see them and (hopefully) get more clicks.

The original online banner ads started out as relatively low profile static graphics resting between content. However, as time went by, these unassuming static banner ads evolved into eye distracting animated graphics that visually “screamed out” at you. Now, they’ve evolved even further into full fledged intrusive videos that automatically load with sound blasting through your computer speakers, often at the most inopportune time!

And… as annoying as these pop-up ads and video banners are to most people, if you visit forums where people discuss online marketing in depth, the consensus seems to be that making marketing campaigns even more bolder is the next best step…

But… here’s the irony of this trend to escalate the boldness even more:

Bold “in your face marketing” is usually not the most effective type of marketing in terms of actual conversions, i.e. generating more sales and leads.

Equally important is the fact that going increasingly bold in your marketing strategies is not the most innovative way of getting your message across.

And… without innovation, what happens?

You tend to blend into the crowd! Although it may seem counter intuitive at first, going bolder in your marketing tactics can make you LESS noticed because you’re doing what almost everyone else is doing!

And… if you do manage to get noticed more with increasingly bolder marketing, what often happens?

You get noticed in a bad way… sometimes in a very bad way!

You actually get the opposite effect to what you are hoping for… you alienate your potential customers and sometimes even turn off your current customers!

So, if you want to be innovative, attract new customers, increase loyalty among existing customers, and significantly increase your sales and leads…. you might want to try going in the opposite direction from bold!

Try going SUBTLE in your marketing strategies to get BOLD results!

In this article, we are going to explore several ways you can reinvent your marketing strategies by using subtle innovative techniques that produce far better results, in terms of sales and lead generation, than bold in your face marketing ever could. Further, by going innovative and subtle, you’ll actually get noticed more even if your customers don’t really pick up on exactly why you are having this effect on them.

Take a Lesson From Psychology Experiments On Pupil Size

It’s an underappreciated fact that scientific research plays a critical role in many of the most successful marketing strategies. In fact, if you want to become really good at marketing, you should consider making a point of reading at least the titles and abstracts of the articles published in the leading professional psychology journals on a regular basis! The marketing insights provided in these journals are a never ending source of innovative SUBTLE ideas that work well. You may also want to pick up an undergraduate level psychology textbook from a college bookstore or library (or even take a course in psychology) and familiarise yourself with classic psychological studies. This will give you the basics you need to truly understand the psychology of human nature and how you can apply that to marketing.

As a prime example of this, we’re going to review psychology experiments on pupil size, including some classic ones, below. We will also offer suggestions on how you can apply the clear findings of these pupil size experiments to subtle yet highly effective marketing strategies!

The Classic Experiments Of Eckhard H. Hess and Others

In the early 1960s, Eckhard H. Hess pioneered the field of pupillometry, the study of how pupil size changes in response to psychological stimuli and how pupil size affects psychological responses. In his first study, published in the prestigious journal, “Science,” Hess showed male volunteers unaltered photographs of women. He also showed these men photographs of the same women with their pupil sizes slightly altered. In some of the modified photographs, the pupil size was slightly increased. In others, the pupil size was slightly decreased.

It is important to note that the changes made to pupil size in these early experiments were quite subtle and none of the male participants consciously noticed the change in pupil size.

However, when the men were asked questions about the women in the various photographs, it became abundantly clear that their subconscious mind responded to the slight differences in pupil size with dramatic psychological differences in how they responded to the women in the photographs.

So… SUBTLE changes produced PROFOUND results!

Photographs of women with a pupil size modified to be slightly larger were deemed more attractive, softer, more feminine, and more likable overall. On the other hand, photographs of the SAME women, where the pupil had been modified to be slightly smaller, were perceived as harsh, cold, selfish, and less attractive.

In later experiments, women were shown to have a similar response to men with altered pupil sizes. If the pupil size of photographed men was slightly increased, women responded to them in a more positive way. If the pupil size of photographed men was slightly decreased, women responded to them more negatively.

Other similar experiments explored the relationship of other psychological stimuli with pupil size. For example, the pupil size for both men and women, and more so for women, was found to enlarge when they were shown pictures of babies or woman interacting lovingly with babies. In another experiment, college students were presented with line drawings of faces lacking pupils.

Some of the faces were happy and some were angry. The students were asked to color in pupils on the faces. Forty-seven out of fifty of the students put larger pupils on the happy faces than the angry faces! In still other experiments, pupils were found to dilate when shown pictures of food, and more so when the person was extra hungry.

It was also found that responses to subtle pupil size differences is innate in humans, i.e. they occur from birth and are not a learned phenomenon. The pupils of babies dilate when they are shown new friendly human faces but do not dilate when shown unfamiliar inanimate objects. Moreover, the mother’s face makes a baby’s pupils dilate more than a stranger’s face.

It is important to note that researchers were very careful to control light in these types of pupillometry experiments since changes in light affects pupil size. In many experiments, before a volunteer was shown a stimulus slide, such as a photograph of a man or woman with his or her pupil size altered, he or she was shown a slide with the exact same light intensity for ten seconds so the pupil could adjust. Thus, the changes in pupil size, if any, after seeing the stimulus slide would be a purely a psychological response and not a response to light.

Hess’ experiments caused quite a stir in both the scientific community and in the popular press. They were repeated many times by other people and always yielded similar results. As these types of experiments were fine tuned, it became clear that pupil size affected much more than just how “attractive” or how “sexy” a person would be perceived.

Pupil size has been found repeatedly to be a very important form of communication, although it operates on the subconscious level! In other words, it causes psychological responses in people without them even knowing they have been so stimulated! For example, it has been found that enlarged pupil size can subconsciously cause a person to trust another person more. Similarly, a smaller pupil size can subconsciously cause a person to think another person may not be cooperative.

Professor Kret’s Pupil Size Study – A Trust Experiment

Professor Mariska Kret in Psychology Department at the University of Amsterdam led this study and the results were published in 2015 in the journal, “Psychological Science.” Sixty-one college age students at Leiden University in The Netherlands volunteered for this study.

In a closely controlled environment, each student participated in an investment game where they were asked to quickly decide whether or not to trust a partner after seeing an image of their eyes for only four seconds. If they trusted them, they could give them money which could then be turned into a sizable profit that would be shared (if the partner was honest about it). The students were shown some images with normal pupil sizes, some with slightly dilated pupils, and some with slightly constricted pupils.

The results of this study were very convincing. Pupil size very much affected the level of trust each student instantly felt with another human being. Generally, if the pupils were slightly larger, the person was trusted more. If the pupils were slightly smaller, the person was trusted less. It was also found that the observer’s pupils subconsciously responded to those they trusted by synchronising their pupil size.

Practical Ideas On How To Apply the Pupil Size Principle

– Reshoot Photos and Videos In Dimmer Light

Photographers and videographers, especially professional ones, tend to amp up the light when shooting indoors. Unfortunately, this has the effect of making the pupils artificially constrict.

During your next shoot, specifically request that photos and or videos are produced under lower light conditions. Then try replacing the photos and videos on your website and in your brochures shot in bright light with those shot in dimmer light. You may find that potential customers subconsciously trust you, your staff, and your customers giving testimonials when they are depicted in lower light situations and have more natural (larger) pupil sizes.

You can apply this same principle to outdoor photographs and videos. Instead of shooting in the bright sunshine, as many tend to do, shoot on overcast days or under indirect lighting where the pupil size will be larger. The subconscious effect on those who view them may be very profoundly different if you do.

– Enhance the Pupil Size In Customers Giving Testimonials

The idea here is to be ever so subtle in your enhancement so it affects only the subconscious mind! You do not want to go overboard or people will consciously notice and will therefore think the effect is artificial. You want to have your graphic designer ever so slightly retouch the pictures or videos of your customers giving testimonials about your products and or services in such a way as to increase the pupil size just enough for the subconscious mind to notice. This will make your testimonials more believable because there will be an subconscious rise in the viewer’s trust in the people giving the the testimonials. The viewers will never know why but they will find your testimonials more believable.

Note: there is no ethical problem here if the testimonials are actually genuine since the person is speaking the truth. You are just helping the viewer to believe it is true.

If you’re a nay sayer struggling to believe this could actually work, we encourage you to conduct an informal survey with your family and friends. Without telling them what change you have made, present them with two versions of the same photographs and or videos. As they view them, simply ask them which version is more believable. Slightly enlarge the pupil size in one and not the other. You could even frame the question as, “Which take is more believable?” This way they won’t be looking for what change you made as they’ll think they are viewing two different shoots and you just need their help to pick the most believable shoot.

To maximize the effectiveness of this subtle but very powerful strategy, try to include your product in the shoot as well as your happy customer. This way, the viewer will associate your customer’s statements (which they now trust more than they would have) more closely with your product. If you offer services, try to place your happy customer in a setting that depicts the service they are talking about in their testimonial.

– Don’t Forget That This Works With Animals Too!

Are you a purveyor of some type of pet supplies, perhaps pet toys, pet food, or pet snacks? Anyone who has an intimate association with cats or dogs will know, consciously or subconsciously, that their mood is reflected in their pupil size! A cat’s pupils will significantly dilate at the mere sight of their favorite toy or treat. As soon as the canine sniffer picks up the scent of their favorite snack, their pupils will respond immediately!

People love their pets, their “furbabies,” and they naturally want to make them happy. So, if they see a cat and or a dog in a marketing photo with dilated pupils, this will push those emotional triggers that motivate people to buy things. Therefore, having the pupils of the cats and dogs in your images and videos retouched could increase your sales almost instantly.

The same is true if you happen to work with animals in some other way. For example, if you are having artwork done for a wildlife fundraising campaign, consider retouching the pupils. If you run a lodge or rent out cabins, you may want to retouch the pupils of the family dogs shown in your marketing photos. If you’re a city planner or park manager, the same would work for the dogs depicted in your park photographs or illustrations.

More On Subtle Neuromarketing

– Further Refining Pupil Changes

Using the information gleaned from eye pupil experiments, there are ways you can further refine your marketing tactics involving pupil size.

First, if you combine slightly dilated pupils with happier faces, the positive results you get should be more significant.

Second, people seem to respond even better, at least on average, to slightly dilated pupil size if the person they are looking at comes from the same ethnic group. Therefore, if you want to build trust with a wider audience of potential customers, you may want to increase the ethnic diversity of the people you show in your testimonials, on your website, and in your brochures.

Third, pupil size shows up more clearly when the iris is lighter. Thus, the expectation would be that changing the pupil size in the photograph of a blue-eyed or green-eyed person may have a larger effect than creating exactly the same change in the photograph of a brown-eyed person. Likewise, you might notice a similar difference when you modify the photograph of a light brown-eyed person versus a dark brown-eyed person.

– Limbal Ring Studies

If you look closely at someone’s eye, you may see a dark ring around the iris. This dark ring is called the limbal ring. Precisely, it is the part of the eye that separates the iris from the sclera (the white part of the eye). In fact, “limbis” literally means edge or border.

Several experiments have shown that a thicker and more noticeable limbal ring is perceived as a sign of beauty. A study led by Darren Peshek and published in the journal, “Evolutionary Psychology,” in 2011, showed very conclusive results. Participants were shown a total of eighty images, with pairs of images differing only in how thick the limbal ring was. The larger the limbal ring, the more attractive both men and women were judged! People with larger limbal rings were also deemed to appear younger.

There are now cosmetic contact lenses that do nothing to correct vision but serve to enhance the beauty and give a more youthful appearance. The most popular of these include coloring that mimics a dark thick limbal ring. These limbal enhanced contact lenses are most popular in oriental countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China. In the United States, it is currently illegal to sell contact lenses for the sole purpose of cosmetics, but for those who need a prescription, contact lenses with a prominent limbal ring are the latest rage and it looks like they are quickly gaining popularity. These cosmetic contact lenses showing a more prominent limbal ring also usually give the appearance of a larger pupil.

So, how can you apply this to your marketing strategies — subtle changes that give you a big result? Just like with pupil size, you can have a graphic artist touch up and enhance the limbal rings in your photographs. This will improve the perceived beauty of your subjects and make them appear younger. Keep in mind, you are striving for subtle changes that affect the subconscious mind only, nothing so obvious it looks freakish!

Limbal ring touchups might work better in certain niches. For example, if you sell ebooks on natural health subjects, you may want to include an image of yourself and potentially your family. Enhancing your limbal ring(s) will give you a more youthful appearance which can be perceived as being more healthy. Likewise, if you sell products that are supposed to bring out the kid in all of use, say kites or frisbees, it might behoove you to touch up your limbal rings to appear a bit more youthful.

What’s Hiding In That Logo?

We’re going to switch gears now and discuss another form of highly effective subtle marketing. You may not realise it but many of the most successful companies have hidden messages lurking in their logos. Here are some examples:

– The Amazon Logo

This is a great one! Have you ever really paid attention to the arrow under the word Amazon in the logo? Go and look at it now! You’ll find it points from A to Z!!! This symbolises in a subtle way that Amazon offers a very wide variety of products, everything from A to Z.

– The FedEx Logo

This is another great one! Have you ever noticed the space between the letters in this logo? Specifically, go take a look at the space between the “E” and “X.” It forms a perfect arrow pointing to the right. This suggests a forward looking company known for delivering items exceptional fast! When those big FedEx delivery trucks zoom down the road, the arrow has an even greater eye appeal!

– The Bronx Zoo Logo

Google the Bronx Zoo and take a look at the negative space of the logo. What do you see? Hint: it is the skyline of a famous place the zoo obviously wants to strongly associate with.

– The Hershey’s Kisses Logo

The shape of a Hershey Kiss has become so iconic, it is often used as a reference. Have you ever heard someone make a statement like, “it looks like a big Hershey Kiss” or “it’s shaped like a Hershey Kiss.” People use it as a reference because it is so widely known. You may not realise this but this was most definitely intentional. You may also not realise that there is a HIDDEN HERSHEY KISS in the Hershey’s Kiss logo! Go check it out. Hint: look at the negative space to find it! Every time you see the logo, it reenforces the iconic shape of that delicious chocolate kiss!

– Hidden Images In Other Marketing Graphics

Companies often hide suggestive graphics in marketing images other than logos too. For example, KFC purposely hid a dollar bill graphic in the lettuce of an illustration promoting their new chicken snacker sandwich. This was intended to subtly signify the value of this sandwich without actually “screaming” cheap in the ad.

If you are creating a new logo or marketing graphic, you can take inspiration from these examples and look for others too in logos that may not be so well known. Sometimes a subtle symbol can have far more impact than any bold in your face marketing scheme you could come up with. Moreover, hidden or subtle inclusions in logos and other marketing graphics that work at the subconscious level rather than “shouting” at the conscious level can give an impression about your company that constantly reinforces all the other positive marketing efforts you make.

Consider the Full Ramifications Of Your Hidden Images

Often times, companies claim they didn’t know a hidden message was there. They even blame it on the artist! Sexual messages are common in these instances. For example, there was a a famous Coke ad campaign in Australia that included a hidden image of a woman giving fellatio in one of the ice cubes. Cigarette companies are also famous for sexual messages. What teenager hasn’t snickered at the naked man mysteriously embedded in the front left leg of the camel featured on a carton of Camel Cigarettes?!

While some young men may find the hidden image in the Coke ice cube ad appealing, what does it do for the mother of young children deciding on which soft drink to buy for a birthday party? When deciding what hidden message you want to include in your graphics, take into account the full ramifications of what you select. Make sure that what you hide in your logo or images won’t offend the very customers you are trying to attract.

Subliminal Messages In Marketing

Nothing is more subtle in advertising than a subliminal message inserted into an ad. A subliminal message is one which presents something that passes below the average ability of human perception but is picked up by the subconscious mind. So, for television commercials, if you have 25 frames per second, the idea is that you could slip in one marketing frame that would not be noticed by the conscious mind but picked up by the subconscious mind. Keep in mind that a few exceptional people are slightly better than this and might actually pick up that one frame in 25!

Many countries, such as the United Kingdom, outright ban subliminal advertising in television commercials. However, other countries, such as the United States, do not clearly define this as “illegal” per se. Theoretically, however, the FCC could revoke the licence to broadcast on a certain airwave if a subliminal message is found. This has created some controversial uses of subliminal advertising. For example, the Food Network included a single frame with a McDonald’s logo during their hit show, “Iron Chef.” They claimed it was an “accident” but many people do not believe this for obvious reasons.

The use of subliminal advertising in YouTube videos may be more prevalent than you think. It is certainly true that there are a lot of YouTube videos about how to create a subliminal message in a YouTube video. There is also special software available to make this easier. In fact, there are even patents such as this one ( that could improve the technology of creating subliminal messages in online videos.

Some of you reading this may be thinking you’ve hit the golden gate of marketing ideas…

You may be thinking I need to go find this software right now and slip some subliminal messages into the YouTube videos I use for marketing on site and off site.

However, before you decide whether or not to use a certain subliminal message in your YouTube videos, ask yourself this very important question:

If my subliminal message was discovered (i.e. you were “outed”), would it be a public relations benefit, a public relations disaster, or would it have a neutral effect?

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

– Senior Care Center

Suppose you run a senior care center and you have a website about that senior care center. On the website, you provide a YouTube video tour of the facility for prospective clients and their families.

You could insert a few frames of happy seniors at your center (making sure they have a pupil size that is not constricted due to artificial lighting!!). These could be frames showing happy seniors engaged in fun activities or frames showing your supportive staff hugging them. Subconsciously, this might give the viewers the feeling that your place would be a caring environment and they may be more inclined to choose your senior care center over others. If these extra frames were ever discovered, the effect might still be positive, and at worst, would likely be neutral.

However, suppose you inserted frames that showed words like “pick us” or “best place” or “affordable.” How would it be perceived if these frames were discovered? Suffice it to say that hidden frames of more explicit marketing hype may not be perceived as well as the pictures of happy seniors.

– Sexy Lingerie

Suppose you run a website selling different types of sexy lingerie. Let’s say you also feature videos of models wearing the lingerie.

You may decide to appeal to women, you want to slip in a few frames of women wearing the lingerie engaged in a romantic kiss with a handsome man. Subconsciously, this could give the impression that wearing this lingerie might improve a woman’s love life. If these frames were discovered, they’d likely have no negative effect on women or men because you kept it “PG” and romantic.

In another effort to appeal to men, you might decide to slip in hidden frames of a woman doing a strip tease for a horny guy. If these were discovered, it may not affect most men negatively, although it could alienate a few men who think that should be kept private. However, it would definitely run the risk of alienating a sizable portion of your potential female buyers, with the percentage of offended women likely dependent on how explicit the frames were.

Important Final Thoughts

Besides the examples we have given you, we encourage you to look for other ways you can use SUBTLE marketing tactics to get BOLD results!

Bucking the trend of going increasingly bolder in your marketing strategies can help you easily surpass your competition. Besides the increase in sales and or leads, another big advantage of these innovative subtle marketing techniques is that your competitors probably won’t be able to figure out how you’re doing so well! They’ll be looking for obvious marketing tactics on your website when it’s actually the subtle changes that you have made that are making the biggest difference. Thus, they won’t be able to copy cat you while you keep on tweaking your subtle marketing techniques to make them work even better!

A/B testing, also known as split testing, is an excellent way of testing the effectiveness of these subtle changes to your marketing strategies. This is where you randomly present two versions of your website or a single webpage and then gauge which one performs better. For example, you could present two versions of your home page and then determine which version results in more sign ups for your free ebook or newsletter. Another example would be to compare two versions of a testimonial page to see which one results in more clicks to a sales page (slightly enlarged pupils versus not). For a more complicated A/B test, you could determine which of two website versions results in more sales.

If you don’t have the programming skills to set up A/B testing yourself, you may need to have a programmer or internet marketer set this up for you. If possible, ask them to set it up in a way that you can test multiple versions without having to ask them to set it up new each time you want to test something different. This is much more simple to do if you are comparing two versions of only one webpage versus a whole website.

Keep this statement in mind too as you devise your subtle marketing strategies…

Become a pupil of the pupil and watch your sales rise!

Okay, sometimes a really good pun is just too hard to resist 🙂 But… to stress this point even further, perhaps the next time you are shooting pictures for your website, instead of saying “Smile for the camera,” you should say, “Remember to dilate those pupils!” Of course, no one except maybe the best professional actors can do that which is why increased pupil size probably works so well at building trust!

Good luck with reinventing your marketing with innovative subtlety and stay tuned for more effective strategies on how to reinvent your marketing.

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