The importance of imagery

We are visual beings. We love pictures. It is why since caveman banksy daubed an antelope on a cave wall, art has been such a success… and Instagram, come to think of it. Over 95 million photos are uploaded each day to the gram (as the cool kids call it) [source] and humanity takes more photos than ever existed in total 150 years ago in 2 minutes [source]. 

What is behind the monumental success of the image? For one we process them quicker. 60,000 times quicker than words [source]. Images also have better recall than words, as pictures create concrete, rather than abstract, memories so we remember images better. Pictures also conjure up emotions and emotions are key. Especially in advertising and the formation of brands. 

Generating emotion

Branding and advertising at its barest bones often comes down to creating and attaching an emotion to an inanimate object or abstract concept like a product or a company. Imagery is obviously vital in this. 

As a route 1 example let’s take the fine people of Pepsi and Coca Cola. People actually prefer the taste of Pepsi. It performs better in blind taste tests (remember the Pepsi challenge anyone?) but is massively outsold by both Coca Cola and Diet Coke. “Is Pepsi ok?”… apparently not.

So what’s the reason why Coca Cola has hands down won the fizzy pop (as my Nan always called it) wars. It is because we have a better emotional connection to coke. Their advertising focuses on friendship, family, Christmas and bears whereas Pepsi has focused on celebrity endorsements and challenger stunts. Coke’s victory is one of emotion and advertising rather than flavour [source]

Taste the difference – Coke and Pepsi’s 2019 Xmas print ads

Imagery tells your story

The composition of your imagery can tell your story at a glance. If we take the above Xmas ads from Coca Cola and Pepsi as an example just the colours used show the differences between the brands. 

The Coca Cola ad uses washed out colours and a retro patterning which implies the company’s history and longevity whereas the dark (and slightly twinkly) background of the Pepsi ad implies a more modern brand by not adhering to the christmas conventions. 

It is a famous fact that Father Christmas’ (or Santy Claws) look was invented by Coca Cola but the interesting thing about the above is the use of a person in the ad by Coca Cola and none from Pepsi. The use of a person (even a fictional one) generates a more emotional response than one without. 

The composition of the Coca Cola image makes the image seem magical and charming. The use of a painted Santa figure is more endearing and charming than a straight photo and the use of a profile shot shows that the moment is one glimpse that maybe we shouldn’t which gives it the magic and that the coke break is a small reward moment for the main character.

It is amazing that from a glance we can decipher that one fizzy pop manufacturer has a long history, a bit of magic, charm and is to be enjoyed as a treat in a moment of calm. The other is more modern, edgy and unconventional. 

The problem of stock imagery

If we accept that your brand imagery is one of the most important weapons in generating an emotional response to your brand then we need to talk about stock images. Stock is brilliant: It is cost effective, the images are getting better and you can find a variety of images in a few minutes. It is also a huge risk for the brand. Stock imagery, by its nature, has to be generic enough to make it applicable enough to enough different uses to make money. Any successful stock image will therefore appear in multiple different uses associated with multiple different brands. 

The overuse and generic nature of stock can make it feel like wallpaper. It is especially challenging in B2B where smiling people in suits, rather than giving the warm feeling that they are intended to feel contrite and unimaginative. It is uniform. The white, middle aged, grey haired man in a suit says nothing about you as a company. It makes a brand feel regressive no matter how cutting edge the rest of the design is.

We are quite good as an industry at creative beautiful hero brand imagery to use in a big ATL campaign however what we often neglect is the everyday imagery we use as brands for everything from social campaigns to website and event collateral. Often these are the first touch point a user has with a brand and it can leave them cold. 
Bringing an emotional element into our everyday imagery and making that imagery stand out is more than a container. It has to be different. Unsplash through their Unporn campaign have been great at railing against the norm. In a recent campaign they looked to revolutionise sexual imagery to enable it to be talked about easier in media and education.

Which is far more relatable or emotive than medical diagrams or soft porn that dominate the field currently.

Imagery is about more than illustrating what you are saying. It is about bringing emotion to the inanimate and creating a tone for your comms at all levels. We have to be braver with our imagery and reject the generic if we want to stand out. Otherwise we are just another middle aged man in a suit smiling.