Seeing is (way more than) believing.

In the wake of the recent developments with the Ray Rice video-gone-viral situation, it’s become very clear that, as a nation of content consumers, seeing is way more potent and far more powerful than believing.

The politics and passion surrounding what happened in that elevator aside, (reprehensible behavior that should never be tolerated, even under intense provocation,) the basic truth of the matter is this: we all KNEW what Ray Rice did to his then-fiancee Janay Palmer in that elevator. We KNEW there was an assault that was egregious enough to knock her unconscious. But SEEING it cemented it in our minds, and suddenly made others take different and more severe action as a result.

The Baltimore Ravens Football Club KNEW what Ray Rice did as far back as February. The team even stepped up and defended Mr. Rice, including making statements about his character and willingness to rehabilitate himself.

But something about SEEING the incident on video has changed everything. It changed his punishment, it changed his employment status and it has impacted his future and his ability to earn a living as a professional athlete.

And there are many other cases, some very recent, that follow this same path: we KNOW what happens, either by reading about it, or hearing about it, but something about seeing it takes our understanding of the concept to a whole new level. In terms of online videos alone, think the gruesome ISIS beheading of James Foley, the chaos in the moments following the Boston Marathon bombing, and (pardon the sudden shift in gears,) even the Miley Cyrus twerking debacle at the 2013 MTV VMAs.

But why?

There seems to be something deeply embedded in our psychology when it comes to seeing moving pictures, (they’re even more potent than static images,) that takes our understanding – and our belief – to an entirely new level. A big reason is that what we consider perception is far more than a simple functional process. Indeed, perception is influenced and even altered by emotional factors, by our personal histories and by our psychological predispositions. You can go further into this topic, and look up subjects like unconscious interference and the Gestalt Laws of Organization to see how the human mind does a lot more than just process visual information.

There’s no wonder, then, that when television came along as a serious medium with enough reach (think early 1960’s,) that it decimated radio and print and quickly became the primary carrier of advertising. Same reasons apply: it was one thing to hear things, and read them, (and some practitioners wrote and read spectacular copy in that regard,) and an even better thing to see beautiful static images. But gazing at a shiny new Cadillac glide across the screen? Watching a puff of Lucky Strike smoke waft into the air? Seeing those four moptops bounce around on the Ed Sullivan show? That’s what pushed us over the edge. That’s what made us believe and then some.

Marketing is not about selling stuff. That may be an outcome, but marketing is really about managing perceptions. (Knowing that perception is more than just a simple function of understanding.)  And if you want to do that?  Show, don’t tell.

Sure, there will always be an arena for print and radio advertising, but there’s a reason TV and web advertising comprise over $100 billion in advertising spend. Seeing – and watching – are believing. If you don’t believe me, just ask Ray Rice.

7 thoughts on “Seeing is (way more than) believing.

  1. Anonymous September 10, 2014 / 2:51 pm

    Insightful. Makes a world of sense. Before video: “We are doing everything we can to bring these perpetrators to justice.” After video: “We’ll follow you to the gates of Hell!”


    • Nader Ashway September 10, 2014 / 3:11 pm

      Yes, Anonymous, that seems to be the chronology.


  2. markkolier September 10, 2014 / 5:50 pm

    Terrific and timely post Nader. You are right to point out that the facts of the case have not been altered in any way since February. Only our collective perceptions have been altered after seeing the new footage.


  3. Anonymous September 10, 2014 / 10:26 pm


    I find it highly offensive that you have used a case of domestic violence to teach a marketing lesson. The statistics around domestic violence are staggering, and reducing this “reprehensible and egregious” act to basic marketing points reduces the severity of the act, and works to further dehumanize the millions of victims.

    Since data is a huge part of marketing, I thought I would add in some data points that you can use for future marketing lessons:

    Approximately 42.4 million women in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

    1 in 3 women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner.

    30.3% of women in the United States have been slapped, pushed, or shoved by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

    3.2 million women have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

    Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.

    19% of intimate partner violence involves a weapon.

    94% of the victims of murder-suicide by intimate partners are female.

    Of course, data is only one part of a marketing plan, right? Another important part is supplying a call to action. So, if you or anyone you know is (or might be) a victim of domestic violence, you can contact the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.


    • Nader Ashway September 11, 2014 / 12:29 pm

      I apologize to anyone who finds this post offensive, due to the subject matter being referred to. But to be clear, I wasn’t attempting to use domestic violence as a marketing lesson. I simply pointed out that the act that took place seven months ago is now a national news story primarily because of the medium in which it was carried, and the manner in which it galvanized opinions.

      If you want to take offense with someone, I would also send this note to ESPN, who continues to air the video, and even in slow motion, frame-by-frame re-airings. That seems to me offensive and patronizing, and for very wrong reasons.

      To your point, perhaps it’s a step in the right direction to be discussing these data points.

      If you also find terrorism and filmed beheadings offensive, or you know someone who is a victim of such an outrage, apologies as well — especially on this particular day when we remember the outrageous and horrific crimes of 13 years ago.


  4. David Adelman September 11, 2014 / 12:49 am

    This is so true. I recall that video played a huge role in turning public perceptions against the war in Vietnam in the 60’s as daily news reports were beamed into every household and everyone could finally see the true horrors of war.


    • Nader Ashway September 11, 2014 / 12:36 pm

      You’re right, David. It was the first time that any such pictures were televised, and it influenced public opinion in very strong ways. Perhaps it’s time to galvanize the nation again, but for more upright reasons?


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