Outbrain describes itself as the “world’s largest and most trusted content discovery platform”. You’ll have seen its grids of advertisements underneath the main content on web pages.
What can be interesting about these grids of adverts is that they’re honed to appeal to our basest instincts. The Awl calls these grids “chumboxes“, and:
“An effective chumbox clearly plays on reflex and the subconscious. The chumbox aesthetic broadcasts our most basic, libidinal, electrical desires back at us. And gets us to click.”
Take a second look at the Julianne Moore photo at the top of this page. It’s from a chumbox on a Daily Express web page. It caught my attention because there’s something odd about the face on the right of the photo. It seems to me that Outbrain have pasted Julianne Moore’s face onto her daughter, to promote an advert-laden gag.buzz web page about “10 Celebrity Kids Who Look Exactly Like Their Parents!!”.
I’ll leave it to you to come up with a psychological theory around why we’d want to click on a photo featuring two identical celebrity faces of differing sizes. I just thought it was worth noting this example of how things can get pretty weird at the intersection of human behaviour, content and the web.
What is clear, to paraphrase Paul Feldwick, is that there’s more to effective messaging than the “rational information-based persuasion model”.
Update – 2016
It’s now 2016 and “face swapping” apps have become popular, prompting the publication of various explanatory theories that are relevant to this blog post.
E.g. “when you see your aunt’s face swapped with her cat’s or your boss’ face on your own… it screws with your in-built facial recognition — an area of the brain called the fusiform face area. It’s why the face swaps featuring people we know are so spectacularly weird.”
“Sigmund Freud defined encountering the unfamiliar in a familiar setting as the ‘uncanny’ — a ‘thrilling state of arousal’.” – Lore Oxford.