2022 journal article
Simplicity is not key: Understanding firm-generated social media images and consumer liking
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN MARKETING, 39(3), 639–655.
Social media platforms are becoming increasingly important marketing channels, and recently these channels are becoming dominated by content that is not textual, but visual in nature. In this paper, we explore the relationship between the visual complexity of firm-generated imagery (FGI) and consumer liking on social media. We use previously validated image mining methods, to automatically extract interpretable visual complexity measures from images. We construct a set of six interpretable measures that are categorized as either (1) feature complexity measures (i.e., unstructured pixel-level variation; color, luminance, and edges) or (2) design complexity measures (i.e., structured design-level variation; number of objects, irregularity of object arrangement, and asymmetry of object arrangement). These measures and their interpretability are validated using a human subject experiment. Subsequently, we relate these visual complexity measures to the number of likes. The results show an inverted u-shape between feature complexity and consumer liking and a regular u-shape relationship between design complexity and consumer liking. In addition, we demonstrate that using the six individual measures that constitute feature- and design complexity provides a more nuanced view of the relationship between the unique aspects of visual complexity and consumer liking of FGI on social media than observed in previous studies that used a more aggregated measure. Overall, the automated framework presented in this paper opens up a wide range of possibilities for studying the role of visual complexity in online content.