Getting Noticed on the Web

web-design-historyWebsite Engagement Techniques: The Caricature Effect

Marketing is all about getting noticed, getting remembered, and motivating people to action. Whether it’s a website, display ad, or video, it must first grab people’s attention, it must stop the viewer from going onto the next website, turning the magazine page, or clicking the stop button. In order to accomplish that increasingly difficult task, you must understand the Caricature Effect.

The Caricature Effect

The Caricature Effect simply stated says that what we notice is variation from the norm. Caricature artists exaggerate reality because that is how we visually distinguish one person from another. Human beings are preprogrammed to look for patterns and variations in those patterns, it’s how we recognize who people are, and it is a basic survival mechanism that helps us recognize danger and distinguish friend from foe.

By distorting an individual’s prominent facial features the caricature artist mimics the human brain’s way of remembering who’s who. Our brains are not cameras that take pictures and file them away for future reference. Our memories are malleable, they change and alter over time and experience, and as a result the things we remember best are the things that stand out, things like Bob Hope’s ski-jump nose or Albert Einstein’s wild white hair. The reason caricatures are so effective is because they emphasize the distinguishing differences that we recognize and remember. So how do we use this fundamental, hard-wired human characteristic to further marketing agendas?

What We Notice Is Variation From The Norm

Getting noticed is job-one of any marketing vehicle, so in order to get people to stop, look, and listen we need to use all the available communication elements at our disposal.

When developing a video campaign we use concepts that demand the mental processing of information by shocking, stimulating, puzzling, or tickling the funny bone of the viewer. These techniques force the audience to think, process, and decode the message, and by generating this mental activity we embed our client’s message in the audience’s consciousness. Depending on the brand and/or product, implementation can range from subtle to obvious with the trick being to make people sit-up and take notice by forcing them to think.

Pattern Recognition – The Same But Different

Human beings have evolved to watch for patterns and when an audience recognizes a familiar scenario they leap to a conclusion. It’s a way of making quick decisive decisions that can either help or hurt communication. Properly used pattern recognition can lead your audience where you want to take them, but if the pattern is too obvious or hackneyed, it can lead to viewers dismissing your message.

Let’s face-it, consumers have become increasingly jaded by too many ads that yell at them like a Billy Mays commercial, or promise improbable results like so many diet schemes, or scare the hell out of people with legal disclaimers warning of everything from headaches to heart attacks like most prescription drug ads. These feeble attempts to standout like a pair of John Daley golf slacks only succeed in reminding the audience how completely desperate, or disengaged the advertiser really is.

If you want people to remember your message you have to alter the pattern by varying from the norm so that it forces people to mentally process your information. It’s as simple as a story with a twist like how a comedian sets-up a punch line, or how a magician sets-up an illusion.

In other articles I’ve written extensively about techniques for using video but here let’s discuss something even more universal – photography. It is one of the most economical ways to create the kind of mental stimulation that makes people remember your site and your message.

Photo-Visual Engagement Techniques

Most every website has photography of some sort on it, but like most video implementations, it is rarely used to its full potential. Obviously, do-it-yourself snapshots reek of amateurism but even professional royalty-free images can be as innocuous as DIY snaps are unprofessional, and as we have stated, bland, featureless images are just not going to stimulate anyone’s memory.


Cinegraphs are photographs that move. They are created by combining a series of still images into a gif animation. The best cinegraphs use subtle movement like hair or clothing blowing in the wind to cause the audience to take a second look. What appears at first to be a regular photograph creates a “Did I just see it move?” reaction, and that’s the kind of subtle yet powerful feature that can get people to remember your site, your product, and your brand.

Like any technique you have to know how and when to use it in order to enhance your presentation and reinforce your message. Just parachuting in a technique for technique’s sake is no better than a meaningless royalty free image used as filler.

Sequence Images

A sequence image is a still image that combines a series of images into one photo. Unlike cinegraphs, the image doesn’t move but it does provide a kinetic quality by showing a series of varying poses all combined into one photograph. This kind of image can be very striking and powerful and can cause your viewer to take a moment to decode the story it tells.

Selective Color

Color is another area that often gets forgotten. Different colors have different psychological effects depending on the context in which they are used. In addition to the color choice, using color as a consistent marketing communication element helps enhance and embed your identity and brand image. Many Internet entrepreneurs pay little or no attention to color imaging and it is really unfortunate as it is often an inexpensive but effective way of making a profound impression.

Photographs today are generally full color images but if you’re not controlling the color in your images then you’re missing a great opportunity to make a memorable impression. Of course lack of color (black and white photography) can be just as powerful if used properly. Jack Daniel’s is a brand that uses black and white and selective color extensively in its marketing.

There are several ways to use selective color in your photographic imaging. Jack Daniel’s uses a lot of black backgrounds or B&W photos and copy combined with color product shots of the bottle that has a B&W label but is filled with the golden elixir.

Another effective implementation of selective color is a B&W photograph that has been adjusted so that part of it is in color. For example, a clothing designer might want a black and white photograph of a model but with the dress she is wearing in color so that the garment stands out and not the model.

Illustrated Photos

Combining a photograph with a drawing can be a very effective way to make a unique impression on your website visitors. British film director Alfred Hitchcock used a similar technique for the introduction to his 1950’s television show, where he’d walk on set to lineup with a simple background drawing of his unique and readily recognizable profile. It is a classic example of the Caricature Effect that combines an actual caricature with a photo thereby creating a clever signature style. The image of Hitchcock lining up with his caricature outline is an enduring image of the director that is still recognized more than a half a century later.

It’s The Differences That People Remember

These examples are only a few of the ways Internet entrepreneurs can use the Caricature Effect to enhance their image and embed their brand in the minds of their audience. Whether it’s a display ad, video, a website, or even the design of the product itself, the thing to keep in mind is that it’s the differences that people remember.

Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design and marketing firm that specializes in Web-video Marketing Campaigns and Video Websites. Visit http://www.mrpwebmedia.com, http://www.136words.com, and http://www.sonicpersonality.com. Contact at info@mrpwebmedia.com or telephone (905) 764-1246.

About the author


Jerry Bader

People ask, "What do you do?" You could say we inform, enlighten, innovate, and create; you could also say we deliver our clients' marketing messages in memorable ways using video, audio, webmedia campaigns and websites; all created in-house from concept to implementation, from graphic and motion design to Web-design, from script writing to post-production, from music composition to signature sound design.

What do we do? We motivate action by speaking to your audience's real needs. We tell your story so your brand, your message, embeds in the minds of your clients.

We are MRPwebmedia.
And we are corporate storytellers.


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  • The world wide web has revolutionized the way businesses are conducted nowadays, and online visibility has become critical for the success of your business. People, while doing online searches, may assume you don’t exist, because a lot of times they use different keywords to seach for the same thing. It is rare that people look for information by directly typing the company name into the search engline; they usually do so by typing the location, or the service, or the feature.

  • The changing face of the web and great show of ingenuity by major online companies primarily Google, Facebook and Twitter has made it possible for anyone to capitalize the internet for marketing his goods and services.

  • Great article and much of this can be put to use in developing landing pages for PPC too. We have found so much success rides on the ‘getting noticed’ factor.

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