The stopping power of advertising: Measures and effects of visual complexity

R. Pieters, M. Wedel, R. Batra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

331 Citations (Scopus)


Advertising needs to capture consumers' attention in likable ways, and the visual complexity of advertising plays a central role in this regard. Yet ideas about visual complexity effects conflict, and objective measures of complexity are rare. The authors distinguish two types of visual complexity, differentiate them from the difficulty of comprehending advertising, and propose objective measures for each. Advertisements are visually complex when they contain dense perceptual features (“feature complexity”) and/or when they have an elaborate creative design (“design complexity”). An analysis of 249 advertisements that were tested with eye-tracking shows that, as the authors hypothesize, feature complexity hurts attention to the brand and attitude toward the ad, whereas design complexity helps attention to both the pictorial and the advertisement as a whole, its comprehensibility, and attitude toward the ad. This is important because design complexity is under direct control of the advertiser. The proposed measures can be readily adopted to assess the visual complexity of advertising, and the findings can be used to improve the stopping power of advertisements.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-60
JournalJournal of Marketing
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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