Deal the bottom cards of the deck

It was during my years studying psychology at university that I first became familiar with the concept of Gestalt principles. A concept that, unbeknownst to me, constituted rules for how we as cognitive beings organize, perceive, and make sense of our environment and environment. This got me wondering if we can break down aspects of perceptual inputs (auditory, somatosensory, visual, etc.) so scientifically, how can these then be applied at a macro level when review of consumer behavior and media planning?

The principles of Gestalt were founded by a Czechoslovakian psychologist Max Wertheimer with contributions from Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffa. Simply put, it’s a set of principles that explain how we put things together. The principles then explain that we generally perceive complex things in their most basic form. I like to draw comparisons to Occam’s Razor philosophical reasoning tool. Not only in reasoning do we look for simple explanations, but also in perception. Gestalt principles also introduced the idea that our perceptions of the world around us depend not only on the stimuli themselves, but also on our motivations and behaviors. The 6 main principles of Gestalt are:

  • Prägnanz: This fundamental principle states that we naturally perceive things in their simplest form or organization.
  • Similarity: This Gestalt principle suggests that we naturally group similar things together based on things like color, size, or orientation.
  • Proximity: The proximity principle states that objects close together tend to be considered a group.
  • Continuity: According to this principle, we will perceive the elements laid out on a line or a curve as connected to each other, while the elements which are not on the line or the curve are seen as separate.
  • Closed: This suggests that elements that form a closed object will be perceived as a group. We’ll even fill in missing information to create closure and give meaning to an object.
  • Common Region/Common Destiny: This principle of Gestalt psychology states that we tend to group objects together if they are located in the same bounded area. (For example, objects inside a box tend to be considered a group.)

With an understanding of these principles and how they influence our perceptions, we can proactively use them to shape consumer behavior and sentiment. A practice I like to compare with dealing the bottom cards of the deck. That is, influencing a certain outcome by forced perception in a contextually relevant environment.

But what does this application look like in practice? The immediate thought is that for rules primarily based on visual perception, it makes sense to design brand logos with these principles in mind.


In a 2013 study by 4 Iowa State University students, Rodriguez and. al sought to determine the effect Gestalt principles had on potential travelers when examining the country’s tourist icon. A total of 154 logos were collected and evaluated based on their compliance with the Gestalt Principles criteria. Based on these scores, logos were assigned high, medium, or low gestalt attributes. It was found that logos with high to medium Gestalt attributes would elicit greater recognition for visiting that country compared to their low Gestalt attribute counterparts. That is to say, by forcing these rules of human perception into the design of the logo, these countries could influence a certain outcome which in this case was the intention to travel.

Returning to a more macro level, how can these principles be brought to the level of brand identity, beyond the point of visual perception.

In a TedX talk from marketing strategist Darcy McGilvery, McGilvery discusses how Gestalt principles can not only influence, but also predict marketing success. He wonders how we determine good marketing versus bad marketing. The answer? Gestalt principles. Now, of course, good versus bad is inherently subjective. There are many perfectly viable directions to take in marketing. When it comes to making the decision on which direction to take, marketers are sometimes guilty of being led down the garden path. However, by applying these rules of perception, we can formulate a basis in which we can predict the success of marketing campaigns to some extent.

McGilvery discusses the issue of politics in the hidden backend of marketing to develop a truly inspiring brand direction. Ultimately, consumers benefit when brands achieve a balance between Gestalt principles. An organized whole that is seen as more than the sum of its parts. Consumers don’t see the marketing backend, they see the positive outcome. In marketing, it is not enough to have a myriad of good ideas. The true skill of marketing for brands is nurturing these collective ideas into a holistic and successful outcome. This is where a Gestalten approach to media planning can make the difference between a good campaign and a successful one. What does your brand represent? How can you expose it through each campaign?

Consider a big brand with a consistent message across its marketing pillars, Nike. The Gestalt in the mind of the consumer that they have built is more than shoes. It’s more than pop-up marketing deals, apparel sales, or a swoosh. This is a broader message embedded in all of their marketing communications. Nike’s Gestalt can be simply broken down into 2 words: Innovation & Inspiration. Whether through their style, their performance or their community involvement; these principles are respected at all times. They rely on the principles of the Gestalt by keeping these 2 words at the heart of each campaign.

How can smaller brands achieve similar results?

Digital marketing in particular has grown exponentially over the past 20 years. Brands now have unlimited access to niche consumer audiences without the need for an endless budget. Thanks to the consistency of approach and marketing message, brands can now rely on the Gestalt by promoting a vision that is constantly presented to consumers. If a brand was a deck of cards, then by dealing with the bottom of the deck and forcing a congruent message across all of your campaigns, you can create commonality and recognition of your vision across campaigns. Proximity of the message to the consumer. Continuity of your brand message. Closure between the product/result and the brand. A common destiny between product and vision. Finally, relying on the Prägnanz rule, consumers will see your brand in its simplest form, its vision.

These are all great general statements that apply at the macro level of branding, but how do they apply to marketers’ day-to-day planning and strategy?

The answer lies in exactly that, the plan and the strategy. Consumer tracking days are fleeting. Although social platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Pinterest may have large user bases, they may claim to have numbers that rival those of Google or that the particular segment you plan to target indexes a practical amount. on their site, doesn’t it make sense with the vision and feeling of the brand to appear there? Will a consumer be able to convey a consistent brand message between your YouTube bumper ads and the OOH you’ve booked? As marketers, we should question the role of the channel in a deeper way than just “Is our audience on the platform”. If we want to move away from short-term ROI, we need to start thinking about long-term Gestalten planning. Should we leave it to chance which cards consumers get or should we distribute the cards we want consumers to get.

Harrison Smith, digital manager at PHD in Melbourne

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