Beauty is Memetic

I love airport magazine stands, or magazine stands for that matter. I love magazines. I love their glossy, superficial, ‘au courant’ feel. For me, the glossier, the better. I love the photography, the ads, the beautiful models.

Yesterday I was at New York Penn Station waiting for a train and picked up a new magazine to read as I munched on my Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut, the most beautiful of all doughnuts. The magazine was called Blackbook, and in it there was an article about Zac Efron I nearly dismissed, until I caught the following passage:

“What is the felt experience of cognition,” asks Elaine Scarry, Professor of Aesthetics at Harvard University, in her book On Beauty and Being Just, “at the moment one stands in the presence of a beautiful boy or flower or bird? Beauty seems to incite, even to inquire, the act of replication. This replication in the realm of sensation can be carried out by a single perceiver or can instead entail a brief act of perception distributed across many people.”

This rang profoundly true to me. Beauty – or more accurately, that which we recognize as symbolizing beauty during a given era – such as Botticelli’s Venus, the Mona Lisa in times past, or Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and perhaps even Zac Efron in today’s vernacular, is a meme. Something you want to repeat, endlessly. Beauty is indeed endlessly pleasurable to repeat.

I believe that in advertising, we under-utilize the power of beauty. A great ad should not only be a “truth well told,” it should, depending on the brand and its values, be something beautiful, that you want to look at, repeatedly. Just inducing a long, interested stare, or repeated glances, the way a beautiful person inspires one’s gaze, ensures that our audiences are spending more time taking in the message and connecting sub-consciously with the brand. Who wouldn’t want that?