Visual imagery aids brand recall

Over the last 40 years, researchers have looked extensively at whether including visual imagery in advertising or packaging aids in brand recall. For example, Paivio (1986) used multiple code theory to explain that “visual imagery creates multiple cues in human memory and multiple retrieval processes associated with these cues increase the probability of recall”. Most of the research examined the relationships between different types of images and the subsequent effects, i.e. attitudes towards the ad or brand or the intention to purchase.

These research results showed a positive correlation, i.e. the use of images resulted in higher brand recall and increased purchases; however, often this research was performed in a single market where members share similar cultural values.

Mikhailitchenko, Javalgi, Mikhailitchenko and Laroche (2008) looked at cultural influences in relation to visual imagery; their research compared brand recall abilities in the US vs. Russia using both familiar (local) and unfamiliar (imported) brands. They note that the main cultural factor that differentiates the two markets is cross-cultural media habits. US consumers watch more television and read more imagery-filled printed vehicles; in Russia, people watch less TV, read more books, and are less exposed to communication vehicles that contain ads.

Their research showed that high levels of visual imagery were more effective in aiding brand recall for the unfamiliar brands in both countries.

However, for familiar brands:

  • Russian consumers had higher recall responses for ads with elaborate textual information rather than visual images.
  • US consumers had higher recall responses for ads that relied on visual imagery.

Therefore, from a marketing management perspective, brands with little consumer equity should use more imagery-intensive messaging in both domestic and international markets. As the brands become more entrenched in the markets, there should be shifts, as necessary, to the visual/textual message mix that works best in that market.


Mikhailitchenko, A., Javalgi, R., Mikhailitchenko, G., Laroche, M. (2008). “Cross-cultural advertising communication: visual imagery, brand familiary, and brand recall”. Journal of Business Research, 62 (2009), pp. 931-938.

Paivio, A. (1986). Mental representations. New York, NY: Oxford University Press


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