Picture PERFECT !

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The primer on advertisement positioning strategies; as you would have never thought it to be! Read on...

In the 60s, there was one product that people loved discussing. It was a product whose story was as charming and heart warming as the tale of the “Ugly Duckling”. This was a product, which was discussed by office goers and college kids alike. It was a product that became a cult in America. It became as famous as the band with whom it shared its name. Yes, it was the Volkswagen car: Beetle. The advertisements that Doyle Dane Bernbach produced for Volkswagen in the 60s and 70s changed the face of advertising. They were so honest and simple and charming that they made a German car, which looked like an orthopedic boot, into America’s most loved car. The Bug, as it was popularly called, taught advertising men important lessons. It changed the rules. It changed the culture of advertising. Without a doubt, it was the most admired and influential campaign of early 1960s. The ad campaign proved one simple truth – “A picture is worth a thousand words”. In advertising language, we call it “importance of visuals”. The Beetle was advertised using simple visuals, with catchy slogans. The ads looked clean and uncluttered. The car entered the American market when America was in love with long – rather very long – cars. It was the year when Americans loved chrome, streamlining, annual model changes and horsepower. Here was a car that had none of these – no frills, no glamour. DDB, the ad agency, decided to be honest about it and put it in their ads. It worked! The honest ads made Volkswagen the “honest car”.

If Volkswagen happened to America in the 60s, then a similar thing happened to India at the same time. It was the summer of 1967 when a hoarding of a product went up in Bombay. It was a traffic-stopper, literally. Crowds gathered around it to read it. They loved it. It became the topic of conversation in every social circle. The girl featured in the hording had taken Indians by storm. She was the round eyed, chubby, cute, moppet of Amul butter. The ads, like the product, turned out to be utterly-butterly delicious. Sylvester da Cunha had created magic and shown what a simple picture was capable of doing.

Smart visuals could also turn a Swedish medicine bottle of the 18th and 19th centuries into a craze. Today, it’s marketed in 126 countries and is the third largest brand of spirits in the world. And the name is “Absolut Vodka”. It’s famous world over because of its long running advertising campaign. The theme of the campaign has been the shape of the bottle. This campaign too showcases the importance of using visuals to capture the attention of the audience. Once again, it is simplicity that is the strongest selling point. Almost all the ads are a combination of two words and one image. These together sell you not just vodka, but also a lifestyle. Today, the ads are considered more as pieces of art to be framed and displayed.

Visuals form a very important part of an advertisement. Pictures have the power to communicate instantly. A good picture saves you the efforts of writing reams and reams of text. Images are very important in shaping our perception of things. No one uses the power of images better than politicians. It is said that the World War II images shown to the public were always heroic, and indirectly helped reinforce popular support for the war. Everyday, we are exposed to hundreds of images. A handful of them stay with us and help us form our perceptions of events, situations and things around us. Those are talented advertising men who use images to communicate an idea. The use of words is reduced to merely drive the point home with a final punch.

If you have the space, always use a photograph or an illustration in your advertisement. Pictures are hugely important to explain an idea. A research done by Bandler and Grinder, the founders of NLP, has shown that around two-thirds of human beings primarily understand the world around them through images. What it means is, if these people don’t see what you say, they will not believe you, however eloquent you may be. Pictures provide them the visual clues to comprehend the information. So whenever possible, use illustrations in your advertisements.

Simple rules that work

1. Have an idea
Yes, it sounds so basic, but it is the most important aspect of making good illustrations. An illustration is not about great photographs. It’s about fitting photos into a winning idea. Once you have a theme, photos can be worked into it. So don’t start with a great photograph, but with a comprehensively great idea.

2. Make them curious
The photograph should make people stop. Remember, you have about 15 seconds to stop the reader from turning the page. So grab his attention in that time. Use a photograph, or an illustration, which makes him want to hold on for a second and gets him thinking. The advertisement for “Hathaway Shirts” did just that. While almost all advertisements of shirts used a handsome man to sell their brand, Hathaway used a man with an eye-patch! He was not exactly handsome, but he looked rich and arrogant. The question that crossed everyone’s mind was why did he have an eye-patch? That’s what gave a twist to the tale. It made you curious to stop and read. It added the “story appeal” to the picture.

3. Keep it simple
Do not clutter your advertisement. Use one strong idea to sell your product and do it as simply as possible. This way, the impact is much more and chances of people remembering the message are higher.

4. Show “before – and – after”
Research has proved time and time again that showing illustrations of “before using the product” and “after using the product” always work. They help build the confidence of the reader, for he sees the results for himself. So, whenever possible, show the benefits of using the product. It will always catch the attention of the audience. So many slimming centers and cosmetic surgeons have used them. The two ‘before’ & ‘after’ visuals are more powerful than lines of testimonials by satisfied customers, or lines of text describing the goodness of the product. They work. Use them!

5. The headline & illustration should work together
If you can do this, you can charm your audience. The illustration and the words should complement each other. There are advertisements where, if you read the headline separately, it means one thing; and if you see the illustration separately, it portrays something different. However, when they are combined, there is a third meaning that comes out. Those who can do this, understand the power of print advertising. You need to follow a simple rule: “Never say everything, never show everything.” If you show it, don’t say it; and if you say it, don’t show it. So when you put them both together, it’s explosive. All great campaigns have been cases of a perfect fit between headline and illustration.

Oliviero Toscani believed in the power of the visual. He used four words and one photograph to promote his brand and give it an iconic status. The words were the same all through the campaign; the photograph however kept changing. Sometimes, he showed multi-colored dead leaves floating on the surface of an oil spill; and some other times, he showed ethnically varied faces. A black child sleeping among a pile of white teddy bears; a little black hand on a big white hand; all these pictures played with colours – sometimes just black and white, and sometimes more. And the words Oliver used? As you must have guessed – “United Colors of Benetton”. The words and the visuals together gave a different message, which said: all colors are equal, just as all men are. It is this clever use of pictures, which changed the context of the brand name. United Colors of Benetton didn’t just represent a line of clothing, it now stood for universal brotherhood, for solidarity, for peace. Suddenly it was a brand with a mission. This was more fun than just showing fashion photographs. This was new, it was simple, it was understood by all and it worked! Once again in the 80s, people talked and discussed Benetton ads. Once again the cash registers started ringing, as another brand was successfully launched by a creative ad campaign.

“Just do it”. On its own, this line could have different connotations; yet on a Nike ad, they take on a completely different meaning. On similar lines is their next ad, “Test your faith daily”. On its own, these words would mean different things to different people. In combination with the photograph, the interpretations change. These ads involve you and make you think. They are a perfect blend of text and visual.

Wills cigarettes used an intelligent punch line, which gave their campaign longevity. The “Made for each other” tag line combined perfectly with the visual of a couple perfectly matched for each other. It was the perfect marriage of picture and words. No wonder the campaign ran unchanged for so many years. The theme was always the same; all that changed was the photograph of the perfect couple. It kept pace with changing times. If you can strike this balance, you strike gold.

All these successful campaigns had one thing in common – that is, a great idea – which was capable of being expressed in so many different ways. No wonder the campaigns sustained for so long. As in the real world, so too in the advertising world, a perfect marriage is difficult to find. However, that is what is the secret of happiness and success. Try these methods, and you could be sporting a smile, which would be picture perfect!