Monday, April 28, 2008

May 08 - Picture this

I was recently asked to give a presentation to students studying professional writing for their degree at Melbourne University. The topic was copywriting for digital media.

I’ve held many roles in the advertising industry, but copywriting is where I started, and it’s still something I love to do.

Now, as any half decent copywriter will tell you, there’s a lot more to the job than simply writing copy. Ideas, concepts, problem solving; these are all part and parcel of the copywriters role.

So rather simply than focus on writing for my student talk, I developed a presentation using great examples of visual thinking. I wanted to show them there was more to advertising online than bloody banner ads.

My talk about copywriting ended up featuring lots of video, great use of emotion and humour, plenty of great writing and yet very few words. I suspect this was because the rapid growth of high speed broadband, use of Flash technology and the popularity of sites such as YouTube, have changed the web from a primarily text based medium.

Recently in the USA, Gary Schenk, CEO of image library Corbis, made a pronouncement that images will eventually supplant text in the online media.

Given that Schenk is head of an image library, his viewpoint is probably biased, which is why Jim Morris took him to task on his blog, Advertising for Peanuts.

“I find this both silly and scary,” wrote Jim, “a real hackle-raiser. Mr. Schenk articulates an across-the-board dismissal of language as some old school artifact or vestige of a bygone era.”

He went on to say, “It's one thing to point out the obvious, that the web is becoming and will continue to become more visually interesting. But it’s an entirely different thing to proclaim, as Mr. Schenk does, that imagery alone can send a powerful message.”

Like Jim Morris, I also think Schenk got a bit carried away. Images are important, there’s no denying that, but the power of language could never be replaced by a collection of pictures.

“The stock images and footage that Mr. Schenk hawks,” argues Morris, “regardless of how rich, compelling, provocative, beautiful, true or cool they may be, must always, by their nature, be relegated to the role of handmaiden to language.”

Morris closes his blog post with this insightful summation; “As visually oriented as advertising communication may become, it is only via language that it can be made to convey, not just some meaning, but the very specific meaning intended by the advertiser.”

The Dove campaign for real beauty is a great example of the kind of thinking that Jim Morris is talking about. The images used in the campaign would be little more than nice photos of women without the concept of ‘real beauty’ to give the images a context.

The agency behind the Dove campaign is Ogilvy. Which brings me to a great example of the power of words and language in advertising that I discovered on the blog Brentter - an old house ad for Ogilvy.

“It is definitely something that you don’t see too often these days, especially in long-form copy.” wrote Brent Terrazas from Brentter, “Pearls of wisdom from some of advertising’s best.”

The ad in question is definitely something of a rarity these days. It’s all copy, with not a single picture to be seen. If it ran in this magazine today, the headline would still prove hard to ignore; How to create that advertising that sells.

Over the course of a whopping 1,909 words the ad goes through a selections of ways to improve the effectiveness of your advertising, all of them, of course, used and recommended by Ogilvy.

Here’s one gem that I think is worth considering, given Gary Schenk’s comment on the death of copy; “Story appeal. The more of it you inject into your visual, the more people will look at your advertisement.”

Even though the Ogilvy ad recognises the importance of the visual, it doesn’t do it at the expense of copy, proudly declaring, “People read copy.”

What the writer, yes writer, of the Ogilvy ad recognises though, is the one thing that Gary Schenk has overlooked in his simplistic argument – the power of the idea.

“Unless your advertising is built on a big idea it will pass like a ship in the night. It takes a big idea to jolt the consumer out of indifference. To get noticed.”

The ad goes on to say, “ Big ideas are usually simple ideas. But big simple ideas are not easy to come by. They require genius and midnight oil.”

Libraries and bookshops are filled with evidence of this genius. Somehow I don’t think they, or the internet, are going to be replaced with a collection of stock photography any time soon.


Advertising for Peanuts


1 comment:

Marcy said...

Intersting post. As a photographer and a writer-I believe there is strong place in the world for both images and words. It is when they are combined sucessfully that the story is best told...