Why videos can engage people where text and photos cannot

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In an era of ultimate convenience, where the next video is only a click away, it is all too easy to get immersed in the virtual world behind the screen. We live in an age where cat videos and laughing babies have become the go-to means of passing time while waiting in line at the grocery store. In fact, over the span of a single day, YouTube racks up billions of views and hundred millions of hours of viewing time. Every year, the number of hours viewed on YouTube per month increases by 50 percent. This level of video watching has only been achieved in the past 10 years since YouTube’s creation. If the current trend is any indication, might you be watching this article in another 10 years, rather than reading it?

It is evident, from YouTube as well as other sources, that video is able to engage people at a level that simple text or photos cannot. For example, people are more likely to comment, share and like a video rather than an online article, according to a survey done by Usurv of 1000 adults in the UK. Additionally, according to a study by Forrester Research, the likelihood of getting your site on a page one listing of Google increases by a factor of 53 when video is used.

The reason behind this intense attraction towards video, according to expert and “brain lady” Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., can be explained by analyzing the human psyche. There are four basic reasons as to why humans are attracted to moving media over other ways of presenting information:

1) There is a region in the brain called the fusiform face area. You can think of it as a more complex version of the facial recognition feature on you camera. This region becomes highly active when viewing human faces, enabling you to gather information about the person such as the emotions they are expressing and how believable they are.

2) Apart from additional visual information, video taps into another sensory experience that pictures or texts cannot provide – that is, auditory information expressed through voices. We have a very unique capability of converting human speech into meaningful information through detection of tone, pitch etc. Thus, speech in videos is able to provide additional context to a situation.

3) Videos appeal more strongly to our emotions. As much as we might try to downplay our emotions, humans have a basic inclination towards sharing and feeling emotions. For example, body language is one very powerful conveyor of emotions that becomes quite evident in video, and is able to make people feel a range of things.

4) Videos are characterized by motion, and we are hard-wired to detect the smallest of movements in our peripheral vision. From an evolutionary perspective, the ability to detect movement was crucial for detecting threats, and thus for survival. In our modern day, we no longer face the same threats, but our survival still seems to depend on video (albeit in a different, less dramatic way).

There is no doubt that consumers are exposed to hundreds of different images and information bits for the duration that they are online. Just scroll through your news feed on Facebook – need I say more? Because of this constant stream of information being thrown at consumers, people have developed mechanisms of being very selective about the information they take in and pay attention to. The result is that online consumers have very limited attention spans, and thus whatever can grab their attention immediately and most effectively will likely be what is clicked on or investigated further. Visual media, such as video, takes only 1/10th of a second to process and, for this reason, is much more likely to engage people and leave a lasting impression.

Additionally, due to its intrinsic features, video is much more likely to engage people of a much wider demographic. For instance, the primary way of reaching young children who cannot read or interpret photos as easily as adults is through video. Thus, TV shows and videos have become the chosen way to both entertain and teach young children about the world around them. If you don’t believe this, put a toddler in front of Sesame Street and they will be sitting there for hours. Hand them a storybook, and guaranteed, you will not achieve the same result. This also applies to the elderly who cannot read due to failing senses or people who are illiterate. The reason for this much wider engagement of demographics is because video, as a media form, is much truer to reality than other media. It can take a complicated message and present it with visuals, audio and motion. Thus, it can be understood and interpreted by a much wider audience.

Owing to all the advantages that video provides (as mentioned above), it can be used to engage people in situations where text and photos might not. For one thing, video might be the preferred source of marketing and communication for businesses. When attempting to sell a particular product or service, the key is to get the consumer interested or at least aware of the product’s existence. Another situation in which video might be most beneficial is when it comes to delivering a specific message, opinion or belief. For example, public service announcements, political announcements or opinion editorials might benefit from being produced in video format so as to have the message remembered. Essentially, if the goal is to make a lasting impression on the viewer, video is the way to go.


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