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Simple trick for ad success: add art

Feb. 13, 2008
Courtesy University of Georgia
and World Science staff

Ad­ver­tis­ers try­ing to boost their prod­ucts’ ap­peal may need to look no far­ther than the near­est art mu­se­um. New stud­ies sug­gest throw­ing the im­age of a paint­ing—al­most any paint­ing—onto a prod­uct, or into a prod­uct pitch, con­sist­ently makes view­ers rate the items as more lux­u­ri­ous.

Café Ter­race at Night (c. 1888) by Vin­cent van Gogh was found to make view­ers rate sil­ver­ware more pos­i­tive­ly in a stu­dy, but re­search­ers say al­most any paint­ing would work.


“Art has con­nota­t­ions of ex­cel­lence, lux­u­ry and so­phis­tica­t­ion that spill over” on­to goods with which it’s as­so­ci­at­ed, said the Va­nes­sa M. Pat­rick, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Un­ivers­ity of Geor­gia’s busi­ness col­lege, who co-authored the re­search. 

This so-called “art in­fu­sion ef­fect” seems to work for eve­ry­thing from sil­ver­ware to soap dis­pensers, she added.

The re­search­ers said they were pleas­antly sur­prised to find that even in to­day’s crass, loud me­dia en­vi­ron­men­t—where ad­ver­tis­ers rely on sex, celebr­i­ties and ne­on col­ors to cut through the din—some­thing rep­re­sent­ing class and tra­di­tion still gets at­ten­tion.

But the con­tent of the paint­ing was­n’t im­por­tant to the “art in­fu­sion ef­fec­t,” the re­search­ers said, sug­gesting con­sumers might not ap­pre­ci­ate the spe­cif­ic art­works them­selves. 

It’s the “gen­eral con­nota­t­ions of art it­self” that seem to mat­ter, Pat­rick said. 

Sound­ing a some­what more op­ti­mis­tic note, study co-author Hen­rik Hagtvedt said the ef­fect re­sults be­cause even con­sumers who don’t both­er to exa­mine a spe­cif­ic pic­ture still ad­mire the gen­er­al “quest for ex­cel­lence” that art rep­re­sents.

Peo­ple nat­u­rally “rec­og­nize the cre­ati­vity and skill in­volved,” he said. “It’s a un­iver­sal phe­nom­e­non, and it stands out.” Hagt­vedt, him­self a paint­er from Nor­way, added that “vi­sual art has his­tor­ic­ally been used as a tool for per­sua­sion... It has been used to sell eve­ry­thing from re­li­gion to pol­i­tics to spa­ghet­ti sauce to the artist’s im­age.”

Even a paint­ing of a burn­ing build­ing en­hanced product ap­peal, in­vest­i­gators found. Above, The Burn­ing of the House of Parl­ia­ment by J.M.W. Tur­ner, 1834.


Hagtvedt and Patrick con­ducted three stud­ies. First, they posed as wait­ers at a res­tau­rant and showed 100 pa­trons sets of sil­ver­ware in boxes. The top of the box had ei­ther a print of Vin­cent Van Gogh’s Café Ter­race at Night or a pho­to of a si­m­i­lar scene. 

Even af­ter a brief sight of one of the im­ages, din­ers rat­ed the sil­ver­ware in the box with art as more lux­u­ri­ous, they found.

A sec­ond stu­dy, they said, found that a rel­a­tively un­known art­work can suc­cess­fully vie with a famed celebr­ity in con­vey­ing lux­u­ry. The third found the pic­ture’s con­tent is­n’t as im­por­tant as art’s gen­er­al con­nota­t­ions: in­deed, even a paint­ing of a burn­ing build­ing on a soap dis­pens­er re­sulted in the ob­ject be­ing seen as lux­u­ri­ous. 

The find­ings are to ap­pear in the Jour­nal of Mar­ket­ing Re­search.

The “art in­fu­sion ef­fect” may even beat oth­er ad­ver­tis­ing tools in some ways, the re­search­ers ar­gued. Celebr­ity en­dorse­ments might ap­peal to only cer­tain groups of peo­ple, and for lim­it­ed times, but art is un­iver­sally and al­ways rec­og­nized. Its ef­fect works for all kinds of prod­ucts, not just lux­u­ry goods, Pat­rick added; the prod­ucts in the stud­ies were rath­er “or­di­nary items such as sil­ver­ware, soap dis­pensers and bath­room fix­tures.” 


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Advertisers trying to boost their products’ appeal need to look no farther than the nearest art museum, researchers say. New studies suggest including an image of a painting—almost any painting—on a product or in a product pitch consistently makes viewers rate the item as more luxurious. “Art has connotations of excellence, luxury and sophistication that spill over” onto goods with which it’s associated, said the Vanessa M. Patrick, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia’s business college who co-authored the research. This so-called “art infusion effect” seems to work for everything from silverware to soap dispensers, she added. The researchers said they were pleasantly surprised to find that even in today’s notoriously crass, loud media environment—where advertisers rely on sex, celebrities and neon colors to cut through the din—something representing class and tradition still gets attention. But the content of the painting wasn’t important to the “art infusion effect,” the researchers said, suggesting consumers might not appreciate the specific artworks themselves. It’s the “general connotations of art itself” that seem to matter, Patrick said. Sounding a somewhat more optimistic note, study co-author Henrik Hagtvedt said the effect results because even consumers who don’t bother to evaluate a specific picture still admire the general “quest for excellence” that art represents. People naturally “recognize the creativity and skill involved,” he said. “It’s a universal phenomenon, and it stands out.” “Visual art has historically been used as a tool for persuasion,” added Hagtvedt, himself a painter from Norway. “It has been used to sell everything from religion to politics to spaghetti sauce to the artist’s image.” The pair conducted three studies. First, they posed as waiters at a restaurant and showed 100 patrons sets of silverware in black velvet boxes. The top of the box had either a print of Vincent Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night or a photograph of a similar scene. Even after a brief sight of one of the images, diners rated the silverware in the box with art as more luxurious, they found. A second study, they said, found that a relatively unknown artwork can successfully vie with a famed celebrity in conveying luxury. The third study found the picture’s content isn’t as important as art’s general connotations: indeed, even a painting of a burning building on a soap dispenser resulted in the object being seen as luxurious. The findings are to appear in the Journal of Marketing Research. The “art infusion effect” may even beat other advertising tools in some ways, the researchers argued. Celebrity endorsements might appeal to only certain groups of people, and for limited times, but art is universally and always recognized. Its effect works for all kinds of products, not just luxury goods, Patrick added; the products in the studies were rather “ordinary items such as silverware, soap dispensers and bathroom fixtures.”