Look Here! How Ads Control Your Eyes…

Sneaky adverts have an almost hypnotic power to not just grab  attention, but to control it…

One big secret lies in the strategic control of  eye movements.

Each element within an advertisement is meticulously placed to guide how  eyes move across the content. In this article, I’ll delve into the fascinating world of advertising psychology, uncovering the methods that advertisers use to lead  eye movements and consequently, influence where you look, you order you look in, and the way they influence you.

The study of eye movements, known as oculomotor behavior, has long been a subject of great interest for both psychologists and advertisers.

Our eyes are in constant motion, even when we are fixated on a particular object.

Research in this field has revealed that our eyes tend to follow specific paths when presented with visual stimuli, and advertisers have capitalized on this knowledge to craft compelling adverts that capture and retain attention, and then influence you to act.

Eye tracking technology has been instrumental in mapping out the intricate movements of the human eye. By monitoring the gaze patterns of individuals as they view advertisements, researchers can identify areas of focus, dwell time, and the sequence in which different elements are observed.

We (us sneaky marketers) also use mouse-tracking software for the same kind of reason, creating “heat maps” of where you look and where you place  mouse, where you click, even where you blink a lot!

This data serves as a blueprint for advertisers to strategically position content within our adverts, testing and experimenting to find maximum visibility and impact.

Once we find what works we do it over and over again, relentlessly!

No mercy, no shame, no art nor creativity – it’s purely to make you spend more money.

Eye Movement: It’s Psychology!

The human brain is wired to prioritize certain visual stimuli over others, a phenomenon known as visual salience.

This innate tendency to focus on specific elements within our field of vision is deeply rooted in evolutionary biology and has significant implications for advertising. Advertisers leverage this psychological predisposition by employing techniques that exploit the brain’s natural inclination to allocate attention to certain visual cues.

Visual attention is influenced by a myriad of factors, including

  • Color
  • Contrast
  • Novelty
  • Symbols
  • Lines, especially converging lines
  • Motion (inc frozen motion in photos)
  • Unexpectedness
  • Sexual Allure
  • Other Instincts, such as to protect babies, aversion to snake-like shapes etc.

You get the idea! We’re hard-wired to respond to certain visual stimuli. We can’t help it.

These elements can effectively capture and sustain attention, guiding the viewer’s gaze towards key focal points within an advertisement.

Every element within a professional advert, whether it’s a headline, image, or call-to-action, plays a strategic role in directing the viewer’s gaze.

Advertisers carefully orchestrate the placement and design of these elements to guide the viewer’s eye movements in a predetermined sequence, ensuring that the most critical information is seen and processed first, leading on to the final desire to act and to “buy now!”

Let’s look at some of the techniques…

Techniques Used to Control Your Eye Movements

The art of controlling eye movements in advertising encompasses a diverse array of techniques, too many to list all of them, but everyone loves the number 7, right? So let’s look at the top 7…

The Hook (also known as the Anchor)

One commonly used technique is the implementation of visual anchors; elements to attract immediate attention and serve as starting points for eye movement trajectories.

That’s a fancy way of saying things that really GRAB your attention!

What do an angry face, an embarrassed face and a slapped face all have in common with a ripe apple?

Bright red, the color of blood.

If anything screams “Emergency! Look at me!” more than bright red, it’s bright flashing red

Another classic anchor, used so much it’s borderline embarrassing, is an attractive model looking straight at the camera – who can resist his or her gaze?

We also need to keep an eye out for predators, and as all predators have front-facing eyes for binocular distance-ranging vision, they all have two symmetrical eyes…

But it’s not just actual eyes that can be use to trigger our instinct to spot eyes watching us.

Any 2 dots, circles or twin symbols can have the same effect.

Consider the brand name OXO – you’ll never see the company spell it like this: “Oxo”, because that loses the twin O effect, while the most popular online video call service is no longer Skype, it’s Zoom.

When I’m crafting headlines for a client I’ll often consider perhaps the most classical of all the twin OO words – LOOK.

Yes, I used it for the headline of this article, heck, even my own logo shows 2 credit cards as eyes, though one is cut in such a way as to be “winking”, cut by the smile, which if you look closely is a machete. Yes that’s a nod to the fact I now live on the tropical island of Borneo, but I digress…

Well since we’re talking of the color red, eyes and the jungle, here’s a red-eyed jungle frog:

So you get the point; anchors or hooks are to grab your initial attention.

Once a marketer like me has got your attention the next thing we do is to LEAD your eye towards whatever we consider the most important thing (MIT).

So what IS the most important thing (MIT)?

That varies drastically from one product to the next. For fashionable clothing it may simply be the brand. For a carton of eggs it may be the price that’s important, or that they’re organic. Whatevers!

For this article we’re just looking at how your eyes are led to whatever the MIT is…

Sometimes it’s as blindingly obvious as a red arrow pointing at the MIT!

Other times, we may return to the subject of eyes, but instead of the eyes watching you, they’re looking at the MIT the marketer wants you to look at.

How does that work? Again basic ancestral survival traits; if someone is looking at something it may be something good, such as food or a shady spot, or something bad, such as a predator or an approaching storm.

Either way, we’re adapted to follow their gaze and see what they’re looking at. If there’s something on the page or screen we do the same thing; we look – straight at the MIT!

Lining You Up For The Sale…

Another effective, though less common method is to use lines, either making use of real perspective or just creating entirely artificial lines and graphics.

Camouflage colors, shadows or other things can trick our eyes, even when we’re looking straight at something., So we’ve developed a fast and efficient way to scan an area…

First we scan the horizon, then scan vertical tree trunks for anything peeping at us and then our eyes will slide along any other straight or smooth lines. It’s just a natural instinct we don’t even notice (unless looking at eye-tracking results).

More sneaky than an arrow, they perform the same task of sliding your eyes along to the MIT, or perhaps the Second Most Important Thing (SMIT).

For example if you peep at the pic below, can you possibly resist letting your eyes rise up the bridge, and turn to the left?

Good photographers know how lines can lead your eye towards the subject, especially when 2 or more lines converge. Marketers and advertisers use the same technique.

Here’s another bridge – but see how the lines force us to look at the woman?


Every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end. For the journey through an advert, the happy ending is the ‘CTA’ or ‘Call to Action’.

This will typically be an ‘Add to Cart’ button or simply ‘Buy Now’, or a form to sign up with your email address or whatever. The point is, it’s the primary action the advertiser wants you to take.

Not every advert will have a CTA, and not every advert will have more than that initial visual hook, but the point is (the better) adverts will:

  1. Grab your attention first – can’t do anything without that!
  2. Direct your eye to the MIT
  3. Re-direct your eye towards the CTA

It’s a mini journey or story, and it’s more powerful than you think…

How This Impacts Your Behavior

The ability to control eye movements within advertising holds profound implications for your behavior, primarily because your brain thinks it’s in control, while it’s actually being guided around like a puppy

So when you follow that pretty model’s eyes to current 50% off sale blurb you feel YOU spotted that discount, you sharp-eyed shopper you!

And then YOU chose to look straight at that “Add to cart” button, didn’t you?  But you didn’t.

Your eyes were directed there, fooling your subconscious into thinking it decided to buy the item., because it followed the guidance and is now staring at the bright orange button.

By the time your conscious brain catches up, the subconscious – which is incredibly powerful – has already made the decision for you, so it feels really easy to just go along with that buying decision, as it ‘just feels right’.

Until your credit card bill comes due, then it feels a whole lot wronger!