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Marketing Momentum: Picture Your Ads With Photos, Illustrations and Images

Marketing Momentum: Picture Your Ads With Photos, Illustrations and Images

By Katrina Olson

Last week we talked about using color in advertising. But that’s just one of the “big three” tools in the graphic designer’s toolbox. Another is visuals.

A picture in a print layout captures more than twice as many readers as a headline does. And the bigger the image, the more attention the message grabs. Further, visuals draw more readers into the body copy than just a headline does—and people remember layouts with pictures more readily than those with mostly type. 
What about digital content? Following are a few facts based on research conducted by MDG Advertising:

  • Digital/social content with compelling images attracts 94% more total views on average than content without.
  • 67% of consumers consider clear, detailed images to be very important and carry even more weight than the product information, full description, and customer ratings.
  • When Facebook posts include photographs, they see a 37% increase in engagement.

In short, visuals help create more attention-getting, interesting, memorable and believable marketing messages. Here’s how.
Visuals grab attention.
Advertisers use many different types of imagery to get attention. Sometimes it’s as simple as a product shot, especially when the audience is actively seeking information. Other times, they have to work a little harder and use babies, children, animals, celebrities, cultural icons (e.g. Washington Monument) or distorted images (e.g. oversized heads).

This highly “visual” billboard appeared on the Marina City Towers building in Chicago in 2008 to advertise Allstate’s accident forgiveness policy. 

The ad was part of a campaign that also included magazine and TV ads showing a car plunging into the Chicago River.
You don’t have to hang a car off a building to get attention. But you can dramatize a feature or benefit of your brand to get attention. If your product saves time, focus on a watch or clock, for example.

Visuals enhance memory of the ad.
Think about every TV ad you’ve seen for Target. The red and white logo is always a focal point, helping you remember the brand. When you see a UPS ad, the color brown and images of their trucks are usually prominently featured.

Since this ad in 1980, Absolut Vodka has consistently included a picture, shape or otherwise “adapted” image of the bottle in their ads. For more, go to http://www.buzzfeed.com/copyranter/the-best-of-the-great-absolut-ads.

To get the most bang for your buck, use a similar style of imagery in all your marketing. For example, don’t switch back and forth between illustrations and photos, or product shots and people. The key is consistency—maintaining a familiar look and feel.

Visuals communicate quickly.
Research by 3M Corporation concluded that we process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Think about it. When you’re hustling through an airport to catch a flight, but you need a restroom break, what do you look for? Most people look for these symbols:

Okay, maybe something similar. What images do people instantly associate with your brand? Is it the product, a building or a local landmark? What visuals can you capitalize on appropriate (borrow) to signify your brand?

Visuals can reinforce the written message.
Sometimes words aren’t enough. But when used with images, they’re more powerful. The combination of visuals and words make messages easier to comprehend and remember than text alone, according to Robert Horn, Stanford University scholar.

If you’ve fallen recently and you’re over 30, you might remember this one:

Try to visually demonstrate a benefit for the customer in addition to telling them. As much as we all hated the Life Call/Life Alert, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercials of the late 1980s, they’re still parodied today.

Visuals can demonstrate abstract concepts.
How do you demonstrate the effectiveness of an antiperspirant/deodorant? It’s not easy…because if the product works, you don’t notice.

Sure used the image of people raising their hands to illustrate the confidence felt by people who used its product.

How can you demonstrate trust, loyalty, dependability, selection, expertise or whatever unique and important (to the customer) benefit your brand offers?

Visuals can anchor brand associations.
To stand out in a crowded marketplace of “me too” products, connect your product to a lifestyle, image or type of user. For over 15 years, Gatorade has associated its brand with intense, highly competitive athletes like Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, Dwayne Wade and Peyton Manning.

Can’t afford to hire professional athletes? You can still associate your brand with hard-working electricians, savvy contractors or family business owners. Or you can associate it with concepts like trust, reliability or partnership; then use images and copy in your marketing materials to support that association.

Visuals can tell stories.
Remember this 2015 Super Bowl commercial? The only words were the lyrics from a cover of The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).” The visuals told the story.


What’s your story? Is it about how you solved a problem for a customer? Or how you saved the day by making a special delivery to a job site? Try your hand at visual storytelling—a trendy, new buzzword that’s the modern-day equivalent of prehistoric cave drawings. Only now we do it with pictures and video.

Images make marketing more interesting.
This Nationwide Insurance uses an oversized baby to represent a car. It’s interesting…and a little creepy.

What comparisons, analogies or associations can you make to add interest to your marketing pieces? (Make sure they’re images your customers can relate to.)

When and where to use visuals.

When? Anytime! Where? Everywhere! Don’t limit your use of visuals to your ads, website and Facebook page. Use visuals in your blog posts, newsletters, fliers, slide presentations, sales literature, tweets, LinkedIn posts and anywhere you communicate with customers.

Olson is a veteran marketing and public relations consultant. She has written for tED magazine’s print edition since 2005, judged tED magazine’s Best of the Best Competition since 2006, and emceed the Best of the Best Awards ceremony for a total of seven years. Reach her at katrina@olsonmarketing.net.


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