Save for the ones confined to radio ads, nearly every marketing program boasts some kind of visual component. Martin Lindstrom, author of Brand sense and Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, notes, in fact, that 83 percent of all commercial communication appeals only to the eyes. So you'd think that marketers have continually pushed the boundaries of sensory wonder with their sight-first programs, right?
Actually, no. Of all the programs that appeal to the five senses, those that are eyeball-exclusive innovate the least. Granted, there's a far, far greater volume of them than there are programs that include a touch component, but experts seem legitimately at a loss when asked to identify recent visual successes.
"I don't know what to tell you," says Mitchell, after a short pause. "Wasn't there a Super Bowl ad in 3-D?"
For legitimate innovation in the visual space, one has to track down a legitimate innovator. Enter Steven Schussler, the restaurant-retail entrepreneur who created the Rainforest Café and the dino-themed T-Rex. As much as his projects incorporate audio, scent and tactile elements, it is the visuals that consistently amaze. Among his self-imposed "21 commandments" for the Rainforest Café was, "Wherever there's a pond, there's also rain." Combined with twice-an-hour bursts of lightning and thunder, this amounted to a pretty nifty trick in an indoor setting.
For his newest venture - T-Rex, now open in Kansas City, Kan., and on Disney turf in Orlando, Fla., - Schussler and his team similarly stressed the visuals. The restaurants simulate a meteor shower multiple times a day. Each employs theatrical lighting rather than light bulbs. ("Our lighting is like jewelry," Schussler brags.)
Others stress the potential benefits of sight-based appeals in a specific environment - most notably, retail. Schickedanz suggests that chains and single-store boutiques alike should pay closer attention to their color schemes, lighting and use of space.
"There are lots of questions that most companies don't think about. How connected is your clientele to the physical space? How clean are the lines? How long do you want customers to stay in the store? It's not as simple as just deciding between Manhattan black-on-black or Connecticut brown-on-cinnamon," he explains. Schickedanz is quick to note, however, that there's no right way to do things, comparing the lucite-and-granite sheen of Chicago's Sony Store with a nearby Burberry store's visual rigidity.
Then there are those who believe visual marketing can only advance in conjunction with technology that's not yet ready for primetime. Drew Neisser, president and ceo of digital- and guerrilla-marketing specialists Renegade, sees potential in out-of-home programs that combine compelling visuals with lo-fi audio, or appeals to another sense or three.
"Expect a lot more digital out-of-home that can change video on a moment's notice, and perhaps even be customized for a particular passerby," he predicts. "This out-of-home will become increasingly robust, offering Wi-Fi audio and maybe even whiffs of the latest must-have fragrance."