While flipping through the newspaper the other day in search of a movie to see, I spotted an ad for “The Eye.’” It’s a thriller about a corneal transplant recipient who sees disturbing images in the mirror that send her on a quest to find out what happened to the eye's previous owner.

The image in the ad caught my attention. It shows a young woman with deeply set, nearly invisible eyes that appear to be leaking blood. It’s horrifying, but in a Hollywood way that tempers the horror with a touch of glamour and intrigue. Even if bloody eyes aren’t your cup of tea—unless you’re an ophthalmologist—the image still compels you to look, even for a moment.

I glanced across the page and spotted an ad for a movie called “Atonement,” which is adaptated from Ian McEwan’s novel about suffering lovers in World War II-era England. Although it’s an entirely different type of movie, the ad also features a pair of eyes. In this case they are a girl’s eyes shown wide open in a tight close-up. It’s an equally compelling image that makes us want to stare back.
These two recent ads remind us that the sight of an eye or a pair of eyes looking directly at us can have a powerful, visceral effect that’s almost impossible to ignore. I suppose it’s instinctual to meet someone’s gaze with ours, if only to gauge whether the other person—or animal—is friend or foe.

By using eyes to sell a movie, book or other product, the marketer is acknowledging the power of the eyes and their importance in our everyday lives. It seems reasonable, then, to ask those who use images of eyes for commercial purposes to make a donation to organizations dedicated to preserving or restoring sight. By putting their money where their eyes are, so to speak, they would be making a truly compelling statement.

    —Andrew Karp