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Day After Digest: Winning the First Glance

By July 24, 2015 Day After Digest

50% of our brain’s cortex is dedicating to processing vision. Is there a way to be one, or even five, steps ahead of this process to ensure that people spot your marketing?

On Thursday morning, AdFed hosted a breakfast program, “Seconds Count… Predict Them,” where Kelly Canavan from 3M explained the software that is changing the game.

It all starts with understanding and predicting human vision. Visual Attention Software (VAS) is a web-based software tool developed by 3M that analyzes creative work—be it websites, videos, packaging, or exterior signing—and identifies what areas of interest (AOIs) catch the viewer’s attention. The tool simulates pre-attentive processing (or the 3-5 seconds when you first glance at something) which occurs before you even know what you’re looking at.


1. Broken down, here’s how VAS works:

  • First, upload an image to the software (i.e. a screenshot from a website homepage).
  • Choose the viewer’s perspective (i.e. web page).
  • Drag boxes around or outline your ideal areas of interest (i.e. “buy now” button, store locator).
  • VAS analyzes the image and, among other features, produces a heat map (example below) of what AOIs the viewer’s eyes are drawn to the most. It also gives a percentage score to each area based on the likelihood that it will immediately gain attention in the pre-attentive phase.

VAS Heat Maps

2. The top five visual elements that attract our attention are faces, edges, intensity, red-green contrast, and blue-yellow contrast. Canavan demonstrated that, in a key frame from a McDonald’s commercial, the viewer is drawn to people’s faces before the actual product. In this case, it was not a bad thing as the goal of the ad was for people to associate the brand with happy people. So when someone focuses on those faces, it bolsters the ad’s intended message.

3. Brands impact our sensory experience. Canavan told us about a study where participants were given soda without knowing what kind they were drinking. Once they were told it was branded, their brain activity changed. (Voilà! Neurological proof of the impact of marketing and advertising.)

Ultimately, it is vital for marketers and advertisers to set visual priorities by selectively choosing areas of interest. VAS simplifies this by revealing, with 92% accuracy, those attention-getting areas in your creative work. As Canavan said, VAS should not change what you do or create, but rather, serve as a checking tool of sorts.

We loved learning about the cutting-edge features of this tool by 3M (full disclosure: they are a rockstar client of FRWD!). Check out AdFed’s event calendar for more upcoming programs.

Thomas Bergen also contributed to this post.