The consequences of ‘Figure & Ground’ reversal in Advertising.

I’ve probably seen this TV Ad a few times. All I can remember from the times I’ve seen this commercial is how nasty the wife was. A part of me is even glad the husband is gone to wherever; far away from the lady! Imagine living with a self-centred spouse!

Okay, so what’s the point?

Policy Bazaar via the Ad wants to impress on me the importance of taking a term insurance plan. Ironically on my part I am thinking, what a horrid lady! Now that’s perception gone all wrong. The reason it’s happened can be traced to the principles of perception formation. Of the three stages of perception formation, namely, stimuli selection, organisation, and interpretation, this one faults at the ‘organisation’ stage. The three elements that make up perceptual organisation are, ‘figure and ground, ‘grouping’ and ‘closure’. What’s happened with this Ad (specifically for me) is a reversal of ‘figure and ground’.

Let me explain. When people select stimuli to respond to, they organise it so as to be able to interpret it leading to perception formation. Now organisation is done by first selectively focusing on certain elements in the stimuli (termed as ‘figure’), whilst pushing the rest to the back (termed as ‘ground’). In the case of this Ad the lack of term insurance was supposed to be the ‘figure’. The rest of the story was supposed to get pushed back as the ‘ground’. What I did was reverse it. I pushed the insurance part to the back, focusing totally on the lady’s nasty behaviour. Thus my interpretation of the Ad went completely off target from what Policy Bazaar intended. Meaning, I formed a perception starkly different from what was supposed to be formed.

A reversal of ‘figure and ground’ is dangerous in that it mars ‘right’ perception formation. Remember, it’s not that perceptions aren’t formed, it’s that they are completely off track from what is intended. The final outcome of course is that the brand in question achieves none of what it intended to, via the communique.

Now that’s wasted Ad dollars.

NB. – I am not claiming a figure and ground reversal for all who may have seen the Ad. I am only saying it happened to me. 


Couldnt agree with you more. The lady just seems like a nag, thus probably repelling viewers rather than anything else! The difficulties associated with financial products and marketing are hard enough, this acts as a further push.
Having said that, insurance has always been seen as a product which people only buy through force, rather than anything else. Would consumer education on its importance be a better way of doing so, in a gentler manner?
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