Putting the Spotlight on Consumers

It never ceases to amaze me how little we know about the world (but also, how much we know more than, say, 50 years ago). We are still at the point where the more we know, the less we really know….


…and what we can see…

central vision makes up a mere 0.000001127% of all the energy and matter in the universe

A couple of years ago, scientists managed to capture the first light of the universe 380 000 years after the Big Bang by means of a spacecraft called WMAP . The problem is that if you reverse engineer the data that was captured, then it seems that only 4.9% of all matter  in the universe is visible matter. In other words, 95.1% of all matter in the universe science cannot explain (made up of dark matter and dark energy). Scientists have, however, known for many years that all all matter radiate different wavelengths of light (a.k.a. electromagnetism), which make up, for example, X-rays, Ultraviolet rays (e.g. from the sun), microwaves, radio waves etc. that they put on a spectrum, known as the electromagnetic spectrum. On a (logarithmic) scale of frequency, visible light is  just 2.3% of the whole electromagnetic spectrum. The image below from Wikipedia explains it quite nicely (click to enlarge):

Electromagnetic NMASA

Source: Wikipedia














Given that central vision is of the eye is 1/1000th of the whole visual field, is evident that we see very little. Then, at any given time, your central vision makes up a mere 0.000001127% of all the energy and matter in the universe!

In a previous article, I mentioned the ‘invisible gorilla’ experiment, where a person in a gorilla suit walks past basketball players in plain sight. Only a couple of participants who saw the video noticed the change – when they should all have noticed the change.


As consumers wonder around isles in retails stores or browse websites for something to buy, they will not see everything on a web page – not even the objects they look at! Central vision is more focused on high light conditions, whereas peripheral vision is better at picking up movement on the periphery (this is why flickering banner ads on websites are so distracting) and very low light conditions. If an error message flashes on the top of a screen while a user is busy filling out a form, the user will probably not notice, unless the page plays an audible sound or the message shakes visibly, or changes colour. Central/peripheral vision is good for a few things, but not everything all at once!

We are not only ‘blind’ physically, but can also be psychologically blind. Bandwidth is the term psychologists use to describe the availability of mental resources a person has at a given time. When something is scarce such as income, you become preoccupied with it, rather than focus on other things such as your health or your children that might require more attention. Eldar Sharif and  Sendhil Mullainathan, the two psychologist who studies this phenomenon of how scarcity influences how people make decisions,  also wrote a brilliant book about their findings. Their research has far-reaching implications for marketing.

Retail stores should make it easier for the low-income  customer segment to decide which products to buy by promoting, for example, bundled purchases (e.g. chopped mixed veggies for a stir fry), or ready-to-cook dinners with a starch, veg and meat in a single packet. In this way the focus is taken away from unhealthy foods and attention can be focused on other priorities.

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