Show a hand touching your product
Product attitudes and sales increase when you show a hand touching your product from the viewer’s point of view (e.g. photo of a hand holding a coffee, or a VR ‘hand’ interacting with a phone).
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We’ve seen in the past that you can make ads more effective by showing people using your product.
But what if we take it to the next level.
And give the feeling that it’s the viewer that’s touching or using the product?
P.S.: This is by far the most robust study I have analyzed on Ariyh (out of 122 research papers to date).
These relentless researchers (listed in the ‘Researchers’ section) ran 15 different experiments.
Just a few of the things they did: coded and analyzed 4,535 Instagram posts, built a VR store, tested people’s heartbeats, and tried anything they could think of to make the effect disappear (e.g. by telling people that hands are yucky and full of germs).
Think of how much work went into this. Take a moment to let that sink in.
Thank you scientists. Long live science.
Show a first-person hand touching your product to increase how much people value it
Impacted metrics: Customer acquisition
Channels: Ecommerce | Website | Ads | Social media | VR
For: B2C. Can be tested for B2B
Research date: February 2022
Show a hand (real or a digital lookalike) touching your product from the viewer’s point of view - suggesting a feeling that they are touching the product themselves.
People will be more likely to buy your product.
Use it in images, videos, and VR experiences.
A hand touching a product in an image, video, or VR experience increases how much people:
Like the product
Are likely to buy it
Are willing to pay for it
For the effect to work, the hand:
Must be seen from a first-person point of view, giving the feeling it’s the person’s own hand
Must touch the product, ideally in a relevant way (e.g. feel a shirt’s texture or hold it, not punch it)
Doesn’t have to look like the viewer's hand. It can be a real hand of any skin tone or gender, and can even be a digital recreation of a hand (e.g. a stylized hand, an alien’s ‘hand’ in a video game)
For example, in experiments, people:
Who saw a GIF of a hand touching (vs laying next to) a sweater, liked the sweater 9.4% more, were 16.3% more likely to buy it, and were willing to pay 14% more for it. It didn’t matter if the hand was human-like or a floating blue digital hand
In a VR store were willing to pay 32.5% more for a shirt ($9.75 vs $7.36) when their virtual hand touched the product compared to when it didn’t
Instagram posts of companies like Samsung or Starbucks had more likes when a hand was touching their products.
🧠 Why it works
Seeing someone else’s hand or a virtual hand touch the product increases our feeling that the hand is ours.
In turn, that increases our psychological feeling of ownership of the product.
This improves how we value the product itself.
In the VR experience in the study, people could not control their virtual hands as if they were their own (they could only watch a recording). The effect would likely be stronger if this were the case, and even stronger with a handheld VR controller that could transmit a sensation of touch. This was not tested.
It’s unclear how abstract a non-human virtual hand can be before the effect disappears. For example, is the hand icon in which your mouse cursor turns into when you move over links enough? (e.g. try it with this link to Ariyh’s homepage)
We don’t know whether a hand using a non-physical product, such as software (e.g. on an iPad), could activate this effect for the product.
🏢 Companies using this
This technique seems quite common in social media images. It’s less common in ads, websites, and VR experiences.
An analysis of 4,535 Instagram posts of Caribou Coffee, Samsung, Starbucks, and We Are Knitters found that 43.2% showed a first-person hand touching one of their products.
YouTube unboxing videos of products often use a first-person point of view.
VR experiences don’t usually use virtual hands in interaction with or selection of products. They instead rely on a cursor, missing out on this effect.
An example of how to activate this effect, from Starbucks’s Instagram page.
⚡ Steps to implement
Include a first-person hand in your image or video creatives. The hand should be touching the product in a meaningful and relevant way (e.g. using it, feeling it).
Use it in ads, product pages, social media posts, product demos, or in almost any of your marketing assets.
Apply this as a priority if you are in the VR or metaverse space.
🔍 Study type
Lab and online experiments and market observation (analysis of 4,535 Instagram posts from 4 companies)
Observing Product Touch: The Vicarious Haptic Effect in Digital Marketing and Virtual Reality. Journal of Marketing Research (February 2022).
Andrea Webb Luangrath. Tippie College of Business, University of Iowa
Joann Peck. University of Wisconsin–Madison
William Hedgcock. University of Minnesota
Yixiang Xu. University of California, Berkeley
Remember: This is a new scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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