How To's

How Best to Use Imagery to Drive Ad Campaigns

Something catch your eye? Imagery is central to ensuring your ad campaign reaches who it needs to.

Due to the sheer amount of competition in the beauty industry, it can be tough to stand out. Competing brands use a variety of tactics, but for all the most successful campaigns, there is a well thought-out visual element.

What are the best display ads examples you can think of, and what makes them special? Typically, the most memorable ads will be ones that hit the right colour tones, directional cues, placement and composition.

Creativity and being on-brand matter too, but when it comes to imagery there are a few simple rules that can help immensely. Keep reading to see some of our favourite image advertising examples, and to discover our top design tips.

Use the Direct Gaze

The direct gaze is an advertisement method that has been used for over a century: it’s easy to make a connection with someone if you stare right at them. However – a biggie here – it is much more successful when there’s a noteworthy or famous personality central to your campaign.

Can the direct gaze work with ordinary models? In short, yes – but the shot has to be confident. It’s easy for your audience to pick up on even slight indications of discomfort or fear in a model if they’re staring head-on. So, if you go down this route, make sure your imagery is spot-on.

If you are lucky enough to be working with a great model, the direct gaze is the easiest option to send your message across, particularly for fashion and cosmetics brands.

It’s easy to play around with gaze, too: models can stare at products or slogans so viewers can implicitly follow their gaze to specific brand imagery.

Make an Association

Your ad should associate with a principle or emotion that you’re trying to push across, with the effect of the image linking to your brand’s message and ethos.

This effect is magnified if a brand uses someone of high fame or value in the ad, as it associates that person’s achievements with the brand.

Association in beauty advertising is everywhere: Maybelline predominantly use supermodels, like Gigi Hadid, in their advertising and create associations with high fashion;  Dove take an alternate approach by featuring ‘real women, never models’ to better align with the concept of natural beauty.

The association doesn’t even need to be explicitly linked to your target audience. Back to Maybelline, and the brand has also launched the ‘Brave Together’ initiative. A departure from their cosmetics-focused marketing, the campaign aims to “de-stigmatise anxiety and depression, provide critical one-on-one support and help everyone, everywhere bravely take on their world.”

It’s ever more popular for brands to mix up their messaging this way, and engage with relevant social issues – even if it means a departure from traditional product marketing.

Keep it Simple

In marketing, it’s easy to get preoccupied with adding things rather than opting to streamline or take away. The majority of great advertising campaigns have kept it simple. After all, having a convoluted, messy message is the exact opposite of what you want.

If you think about the most iconic beauty brands, their logos and campaigns attempt to keep it as simple as possible. L’Oréal, Estée Lauder and LUSH all use plain, textual logos that are recognisable and easy to read. Nivea does too, adding the instantly familiar blue circle.

Brand imagery is at its best when it can put shape, symbolism, colour and purpose together in a simple design. It’s not reserved for the big boys, either. Dollar Shave Club, for example, shook men’s grooming titans like Gillette to the core with its simple message, excellent service and, of course, simple branding.

The Rule of Thirds

Unsure what the rule of thirds is? Basically, it is a technique that divides an image vertically and horizontally into a grid. If you’ve got a smartphone, you’ve probably got an option to put this grid on when you take photos – neat, right? Now you can take compositionally perfect selfies forever!

In ads, the grid equates to the need to put important information at the intersection of these lines. This, typically, is where potential clients’ and customers’ gazes will fall, so putting all the important information here will up the chances of it being taken notice of.

Take luxury skincare brand Noble Panacea’s partnership with actress Jodie Comer. The image on the left takes full advantage of the rule of thirds – the eye is drawn first to Comer’s eyes, in the centre, then immediately down to her hand in the left third. The brand has placed their product here, making it unmissable. With the arch of Comer’s shoulder and back stretching across the final third of the image, you take this in last.

Action Stations

A strong call to action is perhaps the most important element of an advertisement’s image. Several beauty brands have cashed in with succinct yet successful calls to action. To name but one example, L’Oréal Paris has been using its tagline “Because You’re Worth It” since 1971 when it was introduced to try and poach sales from competitor Clairol. These days, the slogan is synonymous with the brand and has been translated into 40 languages, for use in countless global campaigns.

What “Because You’re Worth It” represents is the power call to actions have as part of an advertisement’s imagery. In some ways, a strong call to action can excuse pitfalls elsewhere in the campaign.

Put Ad Imagery Front and Centre

Imagery in all realms of marketing is a powerful tool when used in the right way. The majority of people, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, are affected by images every day. Following the steps above will help your ad stand out, whether it’s destined for Google, social media, e-mail advertising or the high street. Want to know more advertising and paid media magic from our marketing spell book? Then read more of our insights on the Foundation blog.

How To's

How to Show Up, Stand Out and Steal from your Competitors

In a revolutionary piece of research, Google has uncovered how digital has completely changed our buying habits. In this research there are a number of important considerations (too many for one blog post!) that are particularly relevant for the beauty industry. One of those is the power of showing up at the right time to tempt customers from your competitor to your brand. 

The ‘Messy Middle’ Marketing Model

Whilst it’s worth reading the entire research paper, at 98 pages it’s a bit of a slog. So I’ll try to save you some time and quickly introduce the concept of the ‘Messy Middle’ marketing model:

In an extremely simple nutshell, this new model shows us that rather than move through a traditional Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action (AIDA) purchase funnel, today’s digital first consumers go back and forth in an information loop before purchasing. Quite handily, there are 4 important E’s to consider:


The first element isn’t necessarily a step in the journey, but rather an overall awareness of brands. Exposure may come from many different things – a magazine review, a mention from an influencer in a social media post or a YouTube advert. Whilst it’s difficult to say how much exposure causes or influences a trigger moment, the importance of brand recognition is already well documented, especially in beauty.

Exploration and Evaluation

This is why the model is described as the messy middle. The research showed that across many categories, after a trigger (or triggers) users flitted back and forth between discovering brands, products or services (Exploration). They then started narrowing down their options by searching for more in depth information that will make them comfortable with a decision (Evaluation).

What’s important to consider here is the change from the ‘normal’ AIDA purchase funnel that many marketers and business owners have become so familiar with. Rather than neatly move from stage to stage, users often perform a loop until they’re comfortable with making a purchase. Think about it – how many times have you browsed whilst commuting or travelling, look into a few brands and then make the exact same searches again a short time later?


A customer’s experience after purchase plays a dual role here. Firstly, their experience with a product will impact both their perception of the brand and can influence future trigger moments. For example, if a customer loves your foundation then they may be inspired to explore products in other categories. Secondly (and extremely relevant to beauty), it can positively or negatively impact other people’s exposure due to their own social media posts, reviews and videos. 

So of course, the question here is how do you get someone out of the loop when they’re looking at your product or brand?

Show Up

In the many tests that Google conducted in over 300,000 purchase simulations, one of the most important was the power of showing up at the right time. In a wide range of categories, they asked consumers to state a first choice brand preference. They then introduced a second brand and asked them again to state their preference. 

Just by simply showing up at the right time and giving the user an option, a number of people changed their purchase decision. The figures presented below show the percentage of shoppers who swapped their preference to the second brand from the first, after being introduced to them whilst evaluating.

  • Shampoo – 25%
  • Face Moisturiser – 31%
  • Makeup – 34%

When compared with other categories, beauty brands sat more in the middle to less likely to change group. However, the effect is still a substantial opportunity for beauty brands.

Stand Out

In an industry experiencing rapid growth and a DTC uprising against ‘older’ beauty companies, the term ‘Standing Out’ is a challenge we hear again and again when talking to beauty brands. So showing up is the easy bit – standing out is the thing that will help you create a much bigger impact.

To help us understand what it means to stand out, Google studied 6 cognitive biases to measure how important they are in swaying a customer away from one brand to another.

‘Cognitive biases’ is a huge topic itself, so I’ll take the short descriptions of each bias directly from Google’s Research:

  1. Category heuristics: Short descriptions of key product specifications can simplify purchase decisions.
  2. Power of now: The longer you have to wait for a product, the weaker the proposition becomes.
  3. Social proof: Recommendations and reviews from others can be very persuasive.
  4. Scarcity bias: As stock or availability of a product decreases, the more desirable it becomes.
  5. Authority bias: Being swayed by an expert or trusted source.
  6. Power of free: A free gift with a purchase, even if unrelated, can be a powerful motivator.

These biases were tested individually across all categories. Again, it would take far too long to discuss each one in detail but the main results are:

  • Social Proof (tested by displaying 3 and 5 star reviews) was clearly the strongest bias out of all 6. So encouraging reviews and comments are extremely worthwhile.
  • Category heuristics are obviously important, but their importance is impacted by displaying the information that consumers most associate with the product.
  • Authority bias is less impactful than social bias, however it can be more effective when the consumer feels less knowledgeable about a particular topic. Endorsements or features from independent sources are also more convincing than industry specific sources.
  • Scarcity bias was the least effective bias and can actually cause negative reactions to brands.
  • The ‘Power of Free’ (BOGOF deals, free upgrades etc.) was the third most effective bias and proved particularly effective with FMCG goods.
  • The ‘Power of Now’ demonstrated by rapid delivery wasn’t as effective as otter biases but again proved powerful for FMCG products.

Introducing these biases when showing up resulted in more people switching from their initial preferred brand to the second brand. Each bias had different effects in different categories, but what happens if you introduce strong expressions in ALL biases at once?

Supercharging Your Brand

Google tested this and called it ‘Supercharging’. One of the published results is with the Shampoo category, and the results are impressive:

Supercharging the second brand lead to incredible results – increasing second choice adoption by 65% to a massive 90% switch rate. These results were consistent across all categories and importantly all price points. So supercharging can work as well for a high ticket purchase as it does for a low cost everyday item like shampoo.

For Face Moisturiser supercharging improved the percentage of product switch to 75% (originally 31%) and Make Up to a huge 89% (34% without supercharge).

The Good News for Independents and New Brands

To further test the power of standing out using cognitive biases, Google introduced a realistic looking fictional brand and supercharged their messaging when introducing them at the right time. This of course is pertinent to new brands and independent brands who are looking to gain new customers and take on more established brands. 

Even when someone had no previous exposure to the brand, supercharging was still effective in making people switch from their initial first choice. In the beauty categories tested, the percentage of people who changed were:

  • Face Moisturiser – 50%
  • Shampoo – 63%
  • Make Up – 71%

Whilst this is all good news for independent and newer brands, this perhaps isn’t so welcome for more established beauty brands. It means they can’t be complacent and rely on their brand name alone. They have to be active, agile and transparent, just as the newer brands are.

How Can I Apply This To My Brand?

There is obviously a lot of information here (although cut down from the original research!) and there is often a tendency with research like this to enjoy it, but find it difficult to apply. Luckily, that’s what we’re here for! Here are just a few ways we’ve applied this research to our clients – 

Use Audience Targeting to Reach The Right Audience at the Right Time

The wealth of targeting options we have on paid digital media allows us to spend marketing budgets wisely and advertise to only the most relevant audiences. Utilising interest, affinity and custom intent audience targeting we can advertise to people who have a clear interest in beauty and beauty products. We can layer that on top of demographic information to make highly targeted audiences.

To show up at the right time, we can use In-Market audiences. These are audiences that Google have determined are in the buying phase based on the keywords they are using to search, and their browsing behaviour. Along with keyword targeting, this helps us show up in that important evaluation phase. 

There are several relevant In-Market audience targeting options available:

  • Bath & Body Products
  • Hair Care Products
  • Makeup & Cosmetics
  • Skin Care Products
  • Tanning & Sun Care Products
Brand Advertising Clearly Has An Impact in Sales

Whilst I mentioned previously that supercharging fictional brands was effective, less people switched from an unfamiliar brand compared to brands they were familiar with. This shows that brand familiarity and trust certainly has an impact on sales and needs to be a core part of your strategy. 

Again, audience targeting can be utilised to make sure you’re appearing to relevant users across search, social, shopping, display and YouTube. 

Audit Your Messaging

Applying cognitive biases clearly has a large impact on brand choice and conversion. Think about how you can apply these biases across your:

It’s important to use cognitive biases carefully and not overload a potential customer. Richard Thaler (the Nobel Prize winning Economist credited with the birth of Behavioural Economics) has written about “nudges” which are discrete points in a direction rather than a full on assault  of information (which he calls a sludge).

To work out what language and biases work for your brand, split test adverts and pages and use the performance data to continually improve your messaging. And to make sure you don’t overload your target audience and switch them off your brand, make use of frequency capping and ad rotations!

Take advantage of the Messy Middle

Whilst the Messy Middle model is a change from what we’ve known and can be intimidating, the findings from Google’s research show an opportunity for beauty brands to better connect with their current customers and target audiences. In such a competitive environment, every competitive edge counts and matching this knowledge with advanced digital marketing techniques can result in gorgeous growth. 

Want to see how we’ve done that for other beauty brands?

Get Access

To download the white paper, please enter your email address:

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Get Access

To download the white paper, please enter your email address:

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Get Access

To download the white paper, please enter your email address:

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Get Access

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

To download the white paper, please enter your email address:

Get Access

To download the white paper, please enter your email address:

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Get Access

To download the white paper, please enter your email address:

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Get Access

To download the white paper, please enter your email address:

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Get Access

To download the white paper, please enter your email address:

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.