Pictures and words. Words and pictures. Which matter most?
When you first pick up a book, first begin learning to read – or earlier even, when you first start being read to – pictures are integral to the experience. “A is for apple” is a lot easier to absorb when you know what an apple is; and the best way to connect the word to the object is by looking at one.
As literacy develops, the emphasis shifts. We can read about apples, and know what they are without having an image of an apple in front of us. Words take on the heavy-lifting.
For those of us who read for pleasure, there is no pleasure greater than losing yourself in the written word. A well-crafted historical novel, say – or perhaps a reasoned treatise on the links between business strategies and the game of chess, as written by advertising photographer and CGI artist Joe Lenton, my friend and associate whose pictures adorn this page – is a joy.
Elsewhere, words provide context. If you visit an art exhibition, you’re there to see what’s on show; though you’ll get a much more rounded experience if at the same time you’re able to learn about what you’re looking at: when, and in what circumstances, the work was created. Hence the catalogue.
In both the above examples, an investment is required: of money, possibly; of time, certainly. Since most people don’t involuntarily start reading novels or visiting art galleries, we can take that investment as a given.
But how do we snag someone’s attention when that attention is focused elsewhere? When they’re time-poor, or busy doing something else? How do we peddle our wares to a less receptive audience – who may not even know what those wares are, still less why they should buy them?
That’s where advertising, or promotional material, comes in – and where the marriage of impactful images and well-chosen words is absolutely key.
There are three rules of thumb to bear in mind when deciding how to promote what it is you do. Bear in mind: what follow are all generalisations…
First, do you provide a product, or a service?
If the former, let the pictures do the work. If the latter, it’s more likely to be about the words.
For example (admittedly an extreme one), if you’re selling sexy sports cars, the imagery should convey 90% of your message. All the words have to do is name the make and model, with maybe a pithy, aspirational, phrase tacked on. “The ultimate driving machine”, for instance. While if you’re selling funeral plans, or insurance services, it’s harder to get the message across pictorially. There’s a place for carefully chosen images, for sure; but it’s down to the text to persuade.
Second, consider what you’re selling, and who you’re selling to.
For many start-ups this is easy: “We want to sell to everyone! All the time! For the highest-possible profit margin!” But as your business matures it may well become more nuanced.
And even long-established businesses need to keep in mind what business they’re in. For example, Bic and Scheaffer both make writing implements; but only one sells pens. The other sells gifts. Your choice of media, and the tone of your promotional material, should be appropriate to the market you’re trying to address.
Third – and finally – keep it as simple as possible. Not your advertising – that can be as complex, as ‘high-concept’, as you like (remember the Benson & Hedges ads of yesteryear?) – but your aim. Which is, and should always be, to trigger a positive response in your target audience and, at the very least, make them want to know more.
Which is why the combination of words and pictures, when you’ve got the balance right, is so effective. People’s response is primal. Owning a sports car – looks like fun! That insurance package – saves me a headache. That biro – something convenient to write with.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – so says the old aphorism. The same could, and should, hold true for successful advertising.
This is an apple. A juicy, rosy-red apple; doesn’t it look scrummy? Crunchy, zingy, healthy and full of flavour; doesn’t that sound great?
Words and pictures. Pictures and words. Fine on their own; but so much stronger working together.
Tempted? You should be.
All images © Joe Lenton