How Do You Tell Your Story, With Copy or Art?

In marketing communications, especially in advertising, there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer to the question. Attempting to get noticed in a way that resonates with audiences is always the grail and is accomplished best by making a memorable impression. Sounds simple, no? Delivering the most compelling story about our clients’ brands, products, or services is what we do. But how?

Let’s take for example the simplest advertising tactic (or hardest, depending on who you talk to), the full-page ad. You’ve got a limited amount of space, but nearly endless ways of filling it. And the combinations of choices on how we do that boil down to two essential elements we communicate with, words and visuals. Usually the interplay of the two does the job. More rarely, and with interesting results, a copy-driven approach becomes the way to go—or—the execution relies on a picture that truly speaks a thousand words.

When words win

Consider the power of words, used to great effect in a recent humorous ad campaign for a Swiss do-it-yourself store. It’s a clever idea realized by stringing a few sentences together and then landing it with a tagline that really sold the story. Juxtaposing complex job descriptions we have all come to painfully relate to in our modern world, with the call-to-action scoffing at our 9-to-5 lives and eliciting nostalgic recollections of when we did things with our hands, this killer concept succeeds because the words work hard. They have to. Other than the brand’s logo and orange color field used as a backdrop, the copy carries the day. Again, a seemingly simple angle, but I’m willing to bet the copywriter went through numerous drafts to get that story told just right.

Art for art’s sake

Legend has it, world-renowned pop artist Andy Warhol, while interviewed at the height of his powers in the 1960s, was asked about the meaning of art. He replied, “Art, is a man’s name.”

That may be true, but what is unmistakable is the effect and command that visual arts have in our communication landscape. Whether graphic or illustrated or photographed, images can convey many things words cannot. When used for maximum effect, as environmental organization Robin Wood has in promoting nature conservation efforts, the results can sear our consciousness with their storytelling power. In this ad campaign, a series of motifs of endangered animals are starkly and photo-realistically illustrated, showing how the destruction of the environments and ecosystems on which they depend to survive are causing them to vanish. The message the ad conveys, “Destroying nature is destroying life,” is clear before the viewer even sees the tag.

So the next time you want to tell your story, think about the way you can tell it. There are verbal and visual symbols that we as humans relate to and connect to very closely. It’s our job here to make sure we’re using both of them, in concert together, or one taking a lead role, to tell your story in the strongest and most effective ways possible.

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