How Neuromarketing Impacts Creative

When you give your design team a creative brief- what exactly does it say? 

There are typically some instructions on things like:

  • The goal of the campaign

  • Messaging points that need to be conveyed

  • Maybe some fun creative constraints (aka compliance)

  • How the creative should make people think and feel is hinted at

At the end of the day, it's not a true playbook to help the creative get the reaction you’ve asked them to get. It relies on intuition and personal biases. “Just be creative”- isn't good enough in today's data enriched world. 

But what if you knew exactly what to put into your creative? It's hard. It would be like going to an art gallery and being able to pick the right painting.  

Personality science provides a more informed lens to approach this task. Overall there are some trends in image preference that have been proven to delight: 

  • People generally prefer colder colors over warm colors

  • Higher levels of image saturation vs. low levels of saturation. 

  • Tend to favor symmetrical compositions 

  • Low to intermediate image complexity. 

    • (Baurely & Liu, 2088; Jacobsen & Hofel, 2002)

Using advancements from the above research and data modeling capabilities, scientists have built a number of models focusing on traits like color, lighting, scene type, level of detail (to name a few) that offer up a probabilistic approach to delivering a more appealing image. 

  • Datta, Joshi, Li, & Wang, 2006; Ciesielski, Barile, & Trist, 2013; Datta et al., 2006; Dhar, Ordonez, & Berg, 2011; Khosla, Das Sarma, & Hamid, 2014; Machajdik & Hanbury, 2010; Murray, Marchesotti, & Perronnin, 2012; Redi & Povoa, 2013

Models have proven you can drive image preferences out of demographic groupings like gender and age as well. Fun fact, men have been shown to prefer saturated colors more than women. (Palmer & Schloss, 2011)

These tools are great but they quickly hit their limit as you’re hoping to personalize your campaigns. Obviously, not every woman wants a low saturation image. Especially if people generally prefer a more saturated image. This same thinking has driven how we've treated marketing personas.

Personality shows some promise for image preference. Early experiments have shown that extraversion correlates with image preferences that score highly for contrasts in hue and saturation (textural properties) as well as images that showed people and faces (content properties). 

The fact that extroverts like pictures of people shouldn't surprise you, but the early research lacked the ability to make it actionable because we didn't have the tools to target those individuals.

Personality is key to breaking down this image personalization barrier. Sandra Matz Ph.D., a cognitive social scientist at Columbia University, proved in some research this year that you could provide more specific image preference targeting by utilizing personality. Below we dive into just some of her findings.

For starters, by targeting these traits you can increase predictable image appeal between 31% and 56%.

  • Generally, people in this study preferred stimulating images that:

    • were highly saturated

    • were associated with emotions of dominance or arousal.

    • showed more natural scenes with fewer people over artificial scenes with a group of people

      • Positive correlation with natural scenery

      • Negative correlation with the number of people

Taking almost 40K image ratings from ~750 participants, Matz was able to provide us with a rubric to understand image preference as it relates to personality traits. We will cover her findings across the Big Five, then break down how this can be utilized within our more actionable Sorter Segments.

Big 5 Image Preference


Overall: Open-minded people favor images with no people and images with rather cold colors over images with warm colors and images that feature people and faces.

  • Color Preferences: Blue and black, as well as brightness wavelets

  • Color Dislikes: Brown, orange, and pink

  • Content Dislikes: Areas of the body and number of people

  • Other Notes: Findings are in line with the previously studied links between openness and art (specifically abstract art).


Overall: Highly conscientious people prefer images that capture their attention with positive and warm colors and wider textures, such as wide and homogeneous backgrounds or buildings with windows. The negative correlation with natural imagery additionally proposes that highly conscientious people favor non-natural images.

  • Color Preferences: Red

  • Color Dislikes: Black

  • Dislike Natural Scenery 

  • Texture Preferences: Coarseness

  • Preferences for "Rule of Thirds" in imagery

  • Content Preferences: At least one person.


Overall: Extroverted people prefer simple images and images that feature people. The correlations with low depth of field, image busyness, and natural scenery suggest that this preference could be particularly pronounced for portraits. The links between extraversion and people-related features are in line with extraverts’ general tendency to favor social situations and the company of other people (McCrae & John, 1992). 

The correlations with computer graphics features, textures and busyness further suggest that extraverts might favor non-natural, processed (maybe even “photoshopped”) images. A potential explanation for this relationship is that extroverts attach greater importance to how one looks (Kvalem, von Soest, Roald, & Skolleborg, 2006). The flawless nature of processed images appears to be egosyntonic for extraverts- it falls in line with an acceptable view of themselves.

  • Color Preference: Pink

  • Prefer Simpler Images 

  • Hue Preference: Low Hue

  • Saturation Preference: High Saturation

  • Brightness Preference: High Brightness

  • Prefer images with a strong depth of field

  • Texture Preferences: Tamura Coarseness and Directionality

  • Content Preferences: Number of people, people related features, computer graphics


  • Like detail and edges (texture qualities)

  • Natural Imagery 

  • Enjoyed image busy-ness more than other segments


Overview: Highly agreeable people prefer images with warm colors and images with people. This fits with the general description of the Agreeableness trait which characterizes agreeable people as warm and caring and highlights their preference for close and harmonious relationships with other people (McCrae & John, 1992).

  • Prefer color variance

  • Color Preferences: Brown, green, pink, purple, red, and yellow

  • Texture Preference: Coarseness

  • Content Preference: Face pose angle, number of people, computer graphic features.

  • Color Dislikes: Black, 

  • Dislike: Natural Scenery

Neuroticism and Introversion 

Overview: People high in Neuroticism prefer natural images and images with no people. This preference for calm and minimally stimulating scenes without people is in line with the general attributes of Neuroticism, including envy, loneliness, anxiety, and fear (McCrae & John, 1992). 

  • Preference for higher image size to its aspect ratio 

  • Content Preference: Natural Scenery and Cats 

  • Color Dislike: brown

  • Texture Dislike: Tamura Coarseness

Sorter Segment Image Guide

Let’s translate this image preference information for our Four Sorter Segments. Below is a high-level guide that you'll see reflected in your Sorter Creative Briefs as a Sorter customer.



We should always strive to pull emotions from our audience. Dominance and arousal are the most effective emotional triggers. 

This is because each speaks to the two main families of personality traits. Those with more pronounced stability traits are attracted to the feeling of dominance because they seek control of their surroundings as they look to protect and maintain stability. Meanwhile, those dominant in plasticity traits are attracted to the feeling of arousal because they are likely to seek excitement and change.

Don’t be "stock". The artificial feel will trigger the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and your message will receive unneeded scrutiny.


Goals of Imagery

  • Drive the individual

  • Keep them focused on the task


  • Product/Service

    • On own or in use (the key is the focus on product)

  • Focus less on natural scenery


  • Rich saturations

  • Use of colors should not create busy visual

  • Try to avoid cooler hues

  • Increase the brightness


  • Keep it clean (reduce busyness)

  • Use coarse textures (coffee beans > sand)

    • Ex. If you’re selling rice- zoom in to show the texture vs. a finer textured image from a zoom out

  • Clean divides

  • Offer directionality

    • Guide viewers eyes to CTA



  • Inspire the individual

  • Get them to abstract what is possible (day dream)


  • People are optional

    • People speak to the extraverted + agreeableness nature of this segment.

    • Does not necessarily speak to their openness trait which is dominant for this segment

  • Aspirational imagery settings 
    • Answer what someone might accomplish
  • Abstractions work well 

  • Natural Scenery is effective here 


  • High Brightness

  • Rich Saturations work well

  • Blues and Blacks will play well


  • Freedom to play with structure, coarseness, directionality because of higher openness score




  • Establish security they seek from others

  • Create a human connection with the brand


  • People, Faces, Pets

    • Not direct eye contact. Ensure the user is an observer

  • Community focused activity


  • Warm colors

  • Clean divides


  • Coarse textures

  • Clean divides



  • Inspire confidence in the quality

  • Err on the side of clarity

    • What is the product and how does it work

    • Concrete details


  • Go with fewer people

    • Potentially one person working on the task at hand

  • Focus on the product

    • Technical aspects of the product > the product in action

      • The individual is already thinking about the situations where it will be used

      • They want assurance they can trust the product


  • High saturation

  • Rich blues and reds


  • Texture is important for thinkers.

    • They want more organization within the image

  • Coarse textures work well

  • The rule of thirds is well received