Why is the screaming head such a durable image in advertising? Why is it such an eye catcher?
Seeing is more than absorbing raw visual data. It is sensory reasoning, distinguishing faces from the background, identifying features and expressions. Upwards of 30 percent of the brain is devoted to decoding the world around us. Despite all this computing power dedicated to processing the sensory input, researchers have found that special goggles used to reverse the tonal range of an image causes the brain to have trouble interpreting what it is seeing, even though the image is a simple reversal of black to white.
Other studies show when sight is established via surgery to formerly blind patients, the brain must learn to decode and understand what it sees.
Faces are a special part of visual processing. Most children develop the ability to tell their parents from strangers and to read expressions for emotional cues.
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Even dogs recognize their owners’ faces.
For some reason, faces hold a special interest level in our brains. Online mug shot galleries consistently get a lot of viewers.
It always fascinates me when a visual symbol becomes a durable sales tool over the years. The screaming head has been a staple of advertising symbology from the earliest years.
Our first example is from the San Luis Obispo Tribune, July 29, 1876. The store does not have a logo in the one-third-page ad, but perhaps the enterprise was named “Important,” a reference on the importing of trade goods via ship. The full ad tells us that they are in the brick building at the corner of Monterey and Morro streets across from the Post Office and have been open for almost a year.
Here is a sampling of the hyperbolic text, set in as many fonts as a ransom note:
IMPORTANTImportant ReductionsThere is Joy in Every Word.Sweeping ReductionS!AT THE “IMPORTANT,”Corner Monterey & Morro, Opposite Postoffice,THE ONE STORY BRICK,Now Crammed full of New Goods.A Terror to Monterey Street!!AND THEPeople’s Friend.
A screaming giant head atop a small body shouts to the world and holds a banner that the typesetter can fill. Trader Joe’s uses a similar etched drawing style in their mailers, trying to capture a funky American frontier.
The second example comes from the Sept. 2, 1923, Daily Telegram. Back then, $1,000 bought a top-of-the-line new car. The Chevrolet sedan was at the top of the price list with a roadster for $622.
Once again, the prices have been reduced to get the buyers into the shop. Once again, there is no company logo, no product image, only a screaming head now without a body telling us “That’s Great!”
Wonder if he says it like Tony the Frosted Flakes Tiger?
C.L. Day, owner-president of the Telegram, recognized early on that automobiles would be the next big thing. He printed every story and ferreted out every ad he could on the subject. It turned out to be a better long-run business strategy than Benjamin Brooks’ plan, which focused the Tribune’s attention on the railroad.