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Should models look at the camera?

An article appeared in the 2021-02-23 edition of our WSJ with the title, Should Models in Ads Look Directly at The Camera? Research Has an Answer: A new study says that it depends on the intended message.

Narrative Transportation Theory

The WSJ article talks about

...social psychology's narrative transportation
theory, which suggests that when people get lost
in a visual narrative, that story can shape their
attitudes. Marketing researchers have established
that when observers feel transported while viewing
ads, they tend to respond to those ads favorably.
Until now, according to Dr. Patrick, no research
had been conducted to determine what affect an ad
model's gaze has on whether viewers feel transported.

Abstract of the original article

The WSJ article draws on an article in the Journal of Consumer Research entitled How the Eyes Connect to the Heart: The Influence of Eye Gaze Direction on Advertising Effectiveness by Rita Ngoc To and Vanessa M Patrick. (Journal of Consumer Research, ucaa063, https://doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucaa063). Published 22 February 2021.

This article finds evidence that a subject looking directly at the camera will be more persuasive than an averted gaze when trying to inform the viewer of something.

OTOH, the averted gaze is more effective in drawing the viewer into narrative.

A model’s eyes are a powerful and ubiquitous
visual feature in virtually any advertisement
depicting a person. But does where the ad model’s
eyes look matter? Integrating insights from social
psychology and performance and visual art theory,
we demonstrate that when the ad model’s gaze is
averted (looking away from the viewer), the viewer
is more readily transported into the ad narrative
and responds more favorably to the ad than when
the ad model’s gaze is direct (looking directly at
the viewer). Five multi-method experiments (field
and lab studies) illustrate that averted gaze
(direct gaze) enhances narrative transportation
(spokesperson credibility) to boost the
effectiveness of emotional (informative) ads.
Study 1 is a Facebook field study that
demonstrates the effect of averted (vs. direct)
gaze direction on advertising effectiveness using
a real brand. Studies 2a and 2b implicate enhanced
narrative transportation as the underlying process
mechanism by measuring (study 2a) and manipulating
(study 2b) narrative transportation. Studies 3a
and 3b examine ad contexts in which direct gaze
can enhance ad effectiveness: when the ad has
informational (vs. emotional) appeal (study 3a),
and when the viewer prefers not to identify with
the negative emotional content of the ad (study 3b).

keywords: eye gaze, advertising effectiveness, emotional (informative) ad appeals, narrative transportation

The article itself is paywalled.

direct gaze averted gaze
informational -
narrative -

photography psychology

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