Are there nonverbal cues in advertising? Yes! Advertising and marketing is all about nonverbal and body language cues because you have to put your brand and messaging into every aspect of your promotion.

Let’s look at a few studies about nonverbal behavior and advertising to see how you can use body language to increase your income, influence and impact.

Nonverbal in Advertising

1. Show People Where to Look

Usually in an advertisement there is a central focus–an action step, like “Click Here” or a product, and this is where a customer’s attention should ideally be. There is actually a nonverbal trick to getting your customer to focus on your target: Have someone in the advertisement looking at the target. Humans instinctively want to look at what someone else is looking at, so if you have a “Buy Now” button on an advertisement or a shoe in a commercial, you want to have a model looking right at that target or main message. Here is an example:


body language, advertising

Your eyes want to follow where his eyes are looking…towards a logo, slogan or call-to-action.

2. Eyes As Cues

Having a picture like this in your ads or website is a great way to control the gaze direction of your customer. Look at this picture of an eye map. This is where most people look when seeing a picture for the first time. As you can see we typically look at people’s eyes, so if their eyes are pointed somewhere else, we tend to follow.

How the eyes view the face

Take a look at how marketing and advertising guru Seth Godin uses this principle on his website. He wants you to take action so he is looking at the sidebar panel with all of the cool areas of his website.

seth godin

3. Pointing

You will also notice the picture above has the woman gesturing or pointing up. Pointing is another nonverbal way to get your customer to look or focus where you want them to pay attention. This is why stock image photos of people looking, gesturing or pointing in every direction are so popular.

This is a great way to get people to focus on your product or action button. Here is an example in a print add of someone in the ad gesturing towards their main message. This automatically makes you look up towards the message.

4. Happy Faces

We have mirror neurons that encourage us to mimic or mirror the person we are looking at. We do this to feel empathy. When we make a face we tend to feel the emotion. This is called the Facial Feedback Hypothesis–where the face you make also makes you feel that emotion. In your ads it is a good idea to use happy faces. If we see a confused or frustrated face in an ad, we tend to copy the face and therefore feel more confused or frustrated ourselves. Hopefully, your product or service is solving a pain point, so show the end emotion of success not the frustrated starting place.

5. Babies

Our brains love looking at babies. So, if your product could have a baby in the ad, include it! See this iconic ad from Cola:

baby, body language advertising, nonverbal studies

Babies engage a different area of our brains–especially for women. It instantly puts us in a warm, caring, compassionate mood. And this of course, makes us want to buy more.

6. Dilate Pupils

Back in the 1870’s Charles Darwin found that when we feel fear, our pupils expand to help us take in more of our surroundings–this helps with fight or flight response. When we can see more, we are more likely to survive. Interestingly, our pupils also expand when we see something we like. In 1965 a psychologist named Eckhard Hess performed an experiment where he showed his research assistant, James Polt, a series of photographs while tracking the diameter of Polt’s pupil size. When Hess showed Polt a picture of a nude woman, his pupils enlarged immediately. Further experimentation found that, in fact, our pupils do dilate when aroused–to take in more of the pleasant surroundings. Additionally, researchers found that people also find faces with dilated pupils as more attractive. If you really want to up the attractiveness of your product and your ad, try increasing the pupil size with photoshop. When you look closely, you will notice most major advertisers already do this.

7. Use Color Psychology

Research has found that colors can greatly affect our moods and perceptions. Here is an interesting guide to how advertisers can use color psychology.

Want more on color psychology? Check out our Color Psychology 101 guide!

8. Money!

If you use dollar amounts in your advertisements there are two nonverbal ways to increase sales:

  • Researchers have found that removing the $ sign in front of numbers helps take the sting off of the price for customers.
  • If possible, prime with a higher number before listing your price. For example, there is a reason infomercials always say, “Most products like these cost thousands of dollars, we are only offering this today for 199!” They are priming you to think that thousands is high, so $199 isn’t high comparatively.

9. Trust Action, Not Focus Groups

Many people put together focus groups or ask friends or family what they think of their ads. This is actually not a good idea. Our logical brain often makes different decisions than our emotional brain–and our emotional brain is what dictates our buying behavior. Take this study for example: Researchers had 30 smokers who were trying to quit watch television commercials from three advertising campaigns, which all ended by showing the phone number of the National Cancer Institute’s smoking-cessation hotline. They had to choose which campaign, “A”  “B” or “C” would be the best. The smokers chose A and B as the best and C as the least effective. The researchers also asked experts in the anti-smoking field which ads would work and which wouldn’t. They also thought A and B were the best with C in last place.

Then the researchers had the smokers watch the ads in fMRI machines and saw that the medial prefrontal cortex had higher activity during advertising campaign C than it did during A and B. It turns out their brain knew which ad was best, even if their logic didn’t. When the ads aired, the C campaign caused a thirty-fold increase in call volume while A and B had less than half of that. So, don’t ask people what they think, ask a small group of your target demo to actually take action.

10. Position for Readiness

Nonverbally, you want your advertisement to signal “readiness.” What I mean is that if you have a picture of a food product you want that product to look like it is easy to pick up and eat. This triggers to the brain that it is about to have a snack–hence increasing cravings. For example, which ad do you think will perform better:


yogurt good, body language advertising, nonverbal studies


yogurt bad, body language advertising, nonverbal studies

If you guessed A, you would be right. This is called the Visual Depiction Effect. Nonverbally this signals to a customer that it is ready to buy or eat simply by changing the product’s orientation. Researchers have found that if you orient a product toward a person’s dominant hand in a visual campaign, it increases the imagined product use. 

Researchers Ryan Elder and Aradhna Krishna experimented with images of bowls, cups, sandwiches, coffee and yogurt to test how nonverbal orientation could change purchasing and product desirability. They found that it is best to appeal to the right hand side (sorry lefties!).

Remember that the nonverbal messaging in your advertisements can greatly increase your sales and impact. Don’t forget about body language, orientation and color messaging!


  • R. Elder and A. Krishna, “The ‘Visual Depiction Effect’ in Advertising: Facilitating Embodied Mental Stimulation through Product Orientation”, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Research, (April 2012) 988-1003
  • Andresassi, John L. “Psychophysiology: human behavior and physiological responses.” Psychology Press. 2000. (Jan. 31, 2012)
  • Caryl, Peter G. “Women’s preference for male pupil size: Effects of conception risk, sociosexuality and relationship status.” Personality and Individual Differences. March 2009. (Jan. 31, 2012)
  • Gowin, Joshua. “Beauty Is in the Eye.” Psychology Today. July 08, 2010. (Jan. 31, 2012)
  • Merriam-Webster. “Pupil.” The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories. Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1991. (Jan. 31, 2012)
  • Miller, Allan S. and Kanazawa, Satoshi. “Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature.” Psychology Today. July 01, 2007. (Jan. 31, 2012)
  • Murphy, Cheryl. “Learning the Look of Love: In Your Eyes, the Light the Heat.” Scientific American. Nov. 01, 2011. (Jan. 31, 2012)
  • Stern, Robert Morris; Ray, William J.; and Quigley, Karen S. “Psychophysiological Recording.” Oxford University Press. 2001. (Jan. 31, 2012)
  • Swaminathan, Nikhil. “How did they find the chemical that dilates your pupils?” Scientific American. Feb. 25, 2008. (Jan. 31, 2012)
  • Tombs, Selena and Silverman, Irwin. “Pupillometry: A sexual selection approach.” Evolution and Human Behavior. April 23, 2004. (Jan. 31, 2012)
  • How to Manipulate Colors in Advertising.” Written By Justin Miles Wednesday, 05 October 2011.
  • The Language of Advertising. Unite 13: Colors and Advertising.” Peter Sells and Sierra Gonzalez
  • Liu, David and Lisa Westmoreland (2002). “Language of Advertising” class project: Be Afraid… Be Very Afraid: Fear/Problem Magazine Advertisements.
  • Gonzalez, Sierra, Sarah Oh and Wesley Williamson. (2002) “Language of Advertising” class project: Smooth Advertising: The Language of Alcohol Advertisement

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