Monday, October 21, 2013

another advertising graph

I feel conflicted when it comes to the use of graphs in advertising. I like it in theory. But in practice, I tend to be disappointed with what I see. Almost like the designers couldn't come up with anything better, so they threw in a graph. Perhaps it's just my nature, but also when I see a graph in an advertisement, I'm immediately skeptical - it's like I start with the hypothesis that the creator is trying to mislead me. I'm not sure what drives that. Obviously, I like the use of graphs to communicate information; what is it about graphs in advertising that gets under my skin?

Last month, I enjoyed reading your comments on the vacuum graph. Last week, I came across another advertising graph in a fashion magazine:

I can outline specific things I would change in the above visual. But beyond that, it's interesting to me that my first reaction to data in advertising like that depicted above is skepticism vs. improved understanding.

What is your reaction to the Neutrogena graph? Have you seen examples of data and data visuals used successfully in advertising? Leave a comment with your thoughts.


  1. That's an interesting question. Like any moderately informed consumer, I know that the only purpose for advertising is to get me to buy someone's product, and so the entire ad is therefore biased from the get-go, whether it uses a chart or not. Given that, I evaluate ads along two vectors: 1) are they well-done?, and 2) are they relevant to me?
    I increasingly rely on Big Brother (aka Google) to take care of the second one for me. :-) I, unlike some people, have no issue with divulging my online habits/preferences if that allows the ads that do reach me to be more relevant.
    So that leaves the first item, namely how well-done the ad is. Even if it's something I don't intend to buy, I'm drawn to ads that have good production value or are just creative. This applies to charts as well. Since anyone can throw a chart together, I tend to ignore the basic ones (they're just white noise), but am drawn to ones that are either really well done (i.e. exhibit the design principles I've been educating myself on) or grab me with a really compelling story (which, really, is just one facet of being well done, namely having a clear story).
    The Neutrogena graph falls into the white noise category. It's a basic bar graph that shows that the peddled product is superior to its competition. In other words, a non-story when you know that all ads set out to tell that story.


  2. I have the same skeptical reaction. When I see a chart I often skip right to the fine print. Who conducted the study? How many people were polled? What were the questions asked? How could the study or the questions be altered to produce the opposite result? In this case, could other questions have been asked that they're not printing the results for? I also look at the chart to see what tricks have been employed: is there a scale, is the scale meaningful, is it zero-based?

    That being said, maybe I'm the one being tricked. After all, while I'm not swayed by the chart, I am spending more time looking at this particular ad. Maybe that's all they need to get me picking out their brand next time I'm at the shops.

  3. Love the use of gradient to obscure the top of the competitor's vertical bar while not doing the same for their product. That wasn't intentional at all..wink wink.

  4. For a biased visualization, it's not terribly compelling. The results of a subjective assessment by 357 women after two weeks, illustrated in a rather underwhelming bar chart hardly leads one to conclude that Neutrogena "is PROVEN to cleanse more effectively" than its competitor.

    This chart might fly as part of a business presentation in the boardroom. But the standards are higher for advertisers, precisely because we know their goal is, by definition, to persuade. We expect more. An ad like this, with its focus on data, can be risky because the data must be bulletproof and the visuals should be almost instantly overwhelming.

    The Dyson Vacuum ad is different, in my opinion. Rather than relying on data to deliver its message (it almost encourages you to view the data as irrelevant), its visual impact - which speaks to suction power - is immediate and obvious.

  5. In this case I don't think the chart was necessary. The key takeaway is that product A is better then product B across those three areas by a specific %. Why not just use text effectively and highlight the % that product A is better then product B?

  6. I think in many areas, the first rule of being good is "don't be bad." And this isn't bad. The chart makes sense, doesn't visually exaggerate (by, say, scaling two dimensions instead of one). It loses a few "fairness" points for the gradient on the competitor product to de-emphasize it.

    With that said, it also isn't great, in the sense that all it says is "we're better than our competitor" and otherwise the chart is boring and probably unnecessary. C+.