<body> Public Ad Campaign: Thinking In Pictures-Temple Grandin
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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thinking In Pictures-Temple Grandin

"Thinking In Pictures" is an essay written by Temple Grandin about his ability to visualize his thoughts, largely believed to be a result of his mild Autism. He literally thinks in pictures. The article has little to do with public advertising, but one example which he gives to describe the associations he makes between words and images made me think about how we all have strong visual components attached to words and ideas. In this quote he writes about how he understands text not through the meaning of the words themselves but through the visual associations that the text triggers.

"The following sentence from a story in the February 21, 1994, issue of Time magazine, describing the Winter Olympics figure-skating championships, is a good example: 'All the elements are in place-the spotlights, the swelling waltzes and jazz tunes, the sequined sprites taking to the air.' In my imagination I see the skating rink and skaters. However, if I ponder to long on the word "elements," I will make the inappropriate association of a periodic table on the wall of my high school chemistry classroom. Pausing on the word "sprite" triggers an image of a Sprite can in my refrigerator instead of a pretty young skater."

In the last sentence he comments on how the word "sprite" triggers the image of a Sprite soda can in his mind instead of a pretty young skater. To some degree because of his autism, the image of a Sprite can is more readily available to him than what a sprite actually is, a small fairy or elf. In Temple's case the fact that visual associations are the only way he really processes the meaning of the word "sprite" makes this association all the more upsetting because he in many ways can't get back to the true meaning of the word. For someone without autism and the need to visually associate images with content, the word "sprite" should recall fairies, the actual meaning of the word. But when thinking of my own experience I sometimes find myself making similar associations. I too see the Sprite logo when I hear the word sprite or think of computers when I read apple. In fact, sometimes we don't even know the actual word but will know the brand, as in the case of "chevron" for me. I know they sell gas but wasn't aware that the word can mean "an ornament in this form, as on a molding."

The same happens in reverse. If I read Hershey's, I think chocolate. The two words are inextricably linked in my mind. As we let branding run loose in our heads and coerce its way deeper and deeper into our thoughts, I suggest we take a moment to think about how much this affects us.

At best advertising becomes unintentional thought manipulation every time we interact with it. If we must live with this fact, shouldn't we give ourselves the choice of how much of this commercial world we are forced to swallow? And is it absurd then to demand that these unimportant pieces of information not be forced on us in public where we have no choice but to insert them into our language and our very way of thinking?

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