Explainer videos and infographics are unquestionable examples of the inherent power of images. Messages which, because of their complexity would be hard to digest or simply boring, become accesible, absorbing and memorable when transmitted with the aid of simple, direct and iconic images. For sure you’ll have heard many, many times: A picture is worth 1,000 words. The use of the number 1,000 is, obviously, arbitrary. It is, however, a rhetorical support that refers with brutal clarity to the power of pictures over words. In what follows we will explain the why and wherefore of the power of pictures. Here’s some advance information; it’s the fault of (or thanks to) our brain.
Images are instananeous
Scientific studies have shown that it takes us no more than 150 miliseconds to process an image. This is because our brain decodes all the elements of an image simultaneously, whereas verbal language is decoded in a linear, sequential manner as one item after another is processed. Nobody taught us how to see. We are born with this ability. A baby is able to see and recognise things long before it learns how to speak because language is a tool we have to learn to use. This means that the decodification of written or spoken language requires more effort, even though we may not be conscious of this. That is why, for exemple, it is much easier to show a square than describe one.
Words are processed in our short term memory. This can only retain more or less 7 bits of information per memory unit (which is why telephone numbers have 7 digits). Images, on the other hand, go straight to our long term memory, where they stick and remain indefinately (Visual Literacy, Dr. Burmark, Lynell).
Try it for yourself. Read this:
This short description will, undoubtedly, have brought to mind an image stored since… how long ago? And there it is, you see it clearly, as fresh as the day you first saw it. Images like this one, and so many others that we have in our brains, stick to and stay in our memory.
A picture, a feeling
Images provoke a reaction that is faster and stronger than that of words. This is because visual memory is codified in the medial temporal lobe, which is also where emotions are processed. The brain is programmed so that visual stimuli and emotional responses are very closely related.
How do you react to this photo?
If we were to describe this picture in words you can take it as given that your emotional reaction would not be as strong or as quick.
Definitively, unlike words which go in one ear and exit via the other without having made any impact whatsoever on their way through, concepts and ideas are related to images. In the 2.0 web, in order to stand out, make an impact and be recalled in a universe of thousands of simultaneous inputs, it is more vital than ever to be extremely visual and employ the power of images. This is exactly what explainer videos, infographics and other content marketing tools do. It is this that explains their popularity and success. We’ll leave you with another explainer video which is an excellent example of what we’ve been talking about: