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The Latest Neuromarketing Insights

Right to left isn’t right! The effect of motion direction on ad effectiveness.

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    European language orientation has created an expectation of left to right movement in European language users.
  • Application:
    Align motion in your ads with the expectation of consumers to increase ad effectiveness.
  • Let’s try an experiment. Close your eyes and imagine someone running through your field of vision.

    I’d bet your imaginary friend was running from left to right. How do I know? Because we are subconsciously conditioned to expect left to right movement. When our expectations aren’t met, this can create subconscious friction which in turn can affect our evaluations.

    Want to know more about this interesting phenomenon and how you can use it to your advantage? Keep reading.

    Left to right conditioning

    Decision-making in the brain and unconscious perception is not necessarily imprinted at birth. An example of this learning process is the use of left-right, top-bottom visual scans of media by European language users. Conditioning to this reading process also imprints an expectation of past-future relationships on the same linear path, like a timeline presented in a history book we expect things to start from the left and move towards the right.

    Is it possible that the same process is in place when viewing images? Neuroscience studies suggest it is. For many Europeans, the perceived motion of an image from right to left unconsciously feels wrong. Seeing such image motion can impact trust in a brand and subsequent reaction to materials presented in marketing and advertising media.

    In a test of this hypothesis, a grouping of four studies by Lisa Monahan and Marisabel Romero presented subjects with marketing materials for fictional products. Test subjects reported that media presentations “felt right” when the motion was perceived as running left to right, and the materials were found more trustworthy when presented in that manner. It is not coincidental that this is the same manner in which Euro language group users read the text.

    Increasing trust through direction

    The long-standing observation that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is well supported by research. 1999 and 2005 studies by Edward McQuarrie confirm that marketing messages and product benefit presentation are recalled and communicated most effectively by images rather than words. Most advertising messaging reflects this commonly accepted principle. Building on this foundation, research also shows that how imagery motion is presented can strongly impact how it is received.

    To test the effect direction of motion can have on ad evaluation, research scientists Monahan and Romero prepared printed media ads featuring images of a pleasure boat, a vehicle, or exercise footwear. Two differing image series of each were generated which showed motion from right to left and left to right respectively. Research subjects were shown one of the advertisements and asked to score their trust level in the brand featured. Results consistently showed study subjects expressing higher trust in brands featured in a left to right motion visual. The ad information in those L-R images was also considered to be more accurate in the view of subjects tested.

    Confirmation testing was conducted to verify the accuracy of the findings, and once again showed subjects displaying higher trust levels in brands presented with a left to right motion and reporting that the images “felt right” to them. Further research studies affirmed that subjects tended to prefer left to right motion images in proportion to their use of reading and writing language which is also organized and presented in that manner.

    Practical implications

    These findings can prove valuable to marketers trying to increase the effectiveness of ads and companies that seek to gain the trust of consumers.

    When designing ads, it should be kept in mind that consumers tend to prefer left to right motion. As a car company, you likely want to demonstrate your car driving on the road, a product being used is known to be an effective advertising strategy the evokes the imagination. However, you should make sure that the car is moving from left to right to align the motion in your ad with consumer preference.

    Are you designing an ad where people cross the road? Does your ad include scrolling text? Are you a sports brand that wants to advertise by showing sports fragments? If your advertisement contains any kind of motion make sure to align it with consumer preference – that is: from left to right – to gain maximum ad effectiveness.

    Take-Home Points

    • Consumers prefer left to right motion.
    • Consumers express more trust in brands that feature ads with a left to right motion.
    • Advertisements that show motion could benefit from left to right motion direction.
  • Right to left isn’t right! The effect of motion direction on ad effectiveness.
  • Reference:

    Monahan, L., & Romero, M. (2020). Heading the Right Way? The Influence of Motion Direction in Advertising on Brand Trust. Journal of Advertising, 49(3), 250–269. https://doi.org/10.1080/00913367.2020.1751010

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