How to influence perception and behaviour through image and media

6th June 2017 - 7 minutes read

‘Every day, we are in the practice of looking to make sense of the world’ – Marita Sturken.

The ability to harness the power of story to influence perception and shift behaviour requires a deeper understanding of the human system and the stories people carry about themselves – ‘belief systems’ – in relation to the product, service and/or issue. Shift their beliefs and the world literally changes for these people.

Therefore, shifting behaviour is more physical than psychological – understand what influences the audience’s state of mind (i.e. what shapes their story) and you begin to understand how to engage their nervous system to make change stick.

Our behaviours are shaped by our stories that we create from how we experience the world – consciously or not. All our senses are the receptors to stimulate our story-making abilities so that we can make sense of the world. One of which is sight.

We use sight to observe and understand the world around us; sight is the means by which we negotiate social relationship and meanings. Seeing is not only the process of learning through interpretations but it also possesses significant power to influence perceptions of reality – everything that we ‘see’ everyday shapes our story and our interaction with the world.

We live in a culture that is permeated by visual images that construct our fundamental understanding of the world around us through shaping our emotional responses; pleasure, desire, anger, curiosity, shock, confusion. Through these emotional responses we can start to understand the interplay between images and power.

A single image can serve a multitude of meanings unique to the observer, as Sturken said: ‘the power to conjure an absent person, the power to calm or incite to actions, the power to persuade or mystify’ . We use images to create meaning, to understand, to describe and to define the world as we see it.

We shape the world around us through the stories we create and images play a powerful role in shaping our perception of reality, including our identity.

Therefore, the meaning we give to an image becomes part of our story – our internal narrative – which  influences our behaviour when it is consistently repeated thereby conditioning our belief in the story. This becomes more profound when two or more of the sense are engaged in the experience of shaping the story.

Narratives carry power to stunt or shift behaviour because it hits our inner cortex within the limbic system, which is where higher mental functions and primitive emotions are combined into a single system often referred to as the ‘emotional nervous system’. This drives all behaviour. This is a route map to engage more effectively with audiences.

As the great novelist Joseph Conrad said: “Only in men’s imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art, as of life (sic).”

Call to Action: contact us to learn more about how we can harness the power of story for your organisation.

(Source: ‘Practices of Looking – Images, Power and Politics’ by Marita Sturken. Image credit: Joshua Earle).

Case study: Bike Adventures Oldham

This campaign was one of our most successful. Oldham Borough Council wanted to engage young people to cycle more having invested in a network of cycle paths following research that revealed Oldham has the lowest participation rate in cycling in the country.

We worked with a local arts charity – Peshkar Productions – to develop a campaign aimed at young people. We decided that for the very small budget the best approach was to co-create the campaign with young people from Oldham. The first stage was to conduct social insights to understand the type of language that the audience used in relation to their area and specifically in relation to cycling; the size and depth of the networks; and the strength of these conversations to assess levels of emotional intensity in relation to cycling and their community. We wanted to gauge how to tap into the audience’s emotions to drive behaviour.

We then held a day-long workshop with the target audience to design the campaign. The group wanted to create a competition in which the prize was a Go-Pro camera and the criteria should be images depicting various forms of cycling posted on a Facebook page. The person with the most ‘likes’ would be the winner. The campaign approach was about simplicity: one clear message and CTA (call-to-action), one platform for participation, and all focused on one topic – images about cycling.

The campaign generated significant interest as young people went about posting images on Facebook and encouraging their friends to ‘like’ their posts thereby increasing levels of engagement and reach. In four weeks the campaign engaged nearly 15,000 young people in Oldham on a budget of £2,000 for the entire campaign.

Bike Adventures Oldham created an image-led story that engaged people through the power of its visual message. It was easily scaled because it achieved four key things (1) it resonated on an emotional level with the target audience as the images depicted positive, exciting and fun activities which targets the emotional system; (2) the social nature increases the state of this emotional connection and reinforces the positive association thereby encouraging people to share; (3) the network effect enables the campaign to scale rapidly by utilising Facebook’s algorithm that seeks to connect people with similar interests within a geography i.e. ‘law of attraction’; and (4) using tech lowered the barrier to engagement thereby increasing audience participation and reach.

(Image credit: Adam Gray – winner of the ‘Bike Adventures Oldham’ cycling campaign competition).


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