The Soul in Advertising & Design

As a designer and artist, strong visual communication is my highest goal. Yet getting (and keeping!) the attention of customers in a sea of visual stimuli can be quite a challenge in this time of social media where images and snippets of information constantly vie for an ever-shorter span of attention. Did you know that since 2000, our average attention span has shortened from twelve to merely eight seconds (that’s one second less than a goldfish by the way!)?  So what's a marketer to do?

PHOTO CREDIT: iStock Photo

PHOTO CREDIT: iStock Photo

An obvious solution is the use of striking visuals paired with well-written, attention-grabbing copy that entices customers to seek more details and ultimately sells them on the "product”—whether it's a physical product, service or idea.

Obviously, as a visual person, my favorite elements to work with are graphics. This can mean illustrations, photography, abstract textures, or simply swaths of color. It all depends on the mood and the message. But most importantly, it depends on the soul.

It might be a surprising idea to think that advertising can have a soul, a spiritual value. But even in the early twentieth century, even a President of the United States recognized it!

President Calvin Coolidge pronounced a benediction on the business of advertising in a 1926 speech: “Advertising ministers to the spiritual side of trade. It is a great power that has been entrusted to your keeping which charges you with the high responsibility of inspiring and ennobling the commercial world. It is all part of the greater work of regeneration and redemption of mankind.” 

I still believe this, even after all my years of life. I believe one can still use their values to reflect their message in advertising. And those who encounter this message can pretty quickly pick up on the integrity of it. If it's pandering, most people will spot that. If it tugs their heart strings, they will not only have been impressed upon themselves, but they're more likely to share the message with others.

Yet advertisers did not always know the importance of engaging the emotions: the use of good copy, photos and illustrations weren't always a part of marketing history:

Advertisements in colonial America were most frequently announcements of goods on hand, but even in this early period, persuasive appeals accompanied dry descriptions. Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette reached out to readers with new devices like headlines, illustrations, and advertising placed next to editorial material. 

Good ole Ben Franklin! And characteristically ahead of his time—it took a while for such approaches to become the norm:

Despite the ongoing “market revolution,” early and mid- nineteenth-century advertisements rarely demonstrate striking changes in advertising appeals. Newspapers almost never printed ads wider than a single column and generally eschewed illustrations and even special typefaces. Magazine ad styles were also restrained, with most publications segregating advertisements on the back pages. Equally significant, until late in the nineteenth century, there were few companies mass producing branded consumer products.

My, how times have changed! These days, businesses not only use special typefaces, photos and illustrations, but they do so in multiple outlets to create a branded image of what they're promoting. The use of images is one of the quickest ways to express a message in advertising, and custom photography one of the most expressive ways to communicate your brand’s signature, and most importantly, soul.

Although practically everyone now carries their digital camera wherever they go so that they can snap that "special moment" shot with meals, pets, people and places, these images are rarely the quality you need in advertising. The resolution is too low for print, limiting the viewable size of an image, and let's face it, the quality of a photo from one's phone is not going to match the quality of a professional shot. Even the best iPhone image won't be useful in a print ad or brochure if its resolution only allows it to be one inch in size.

Custom photography has become rarer as budgets for photography have dwindled so much so that photoshoots have fallen away and stock imagery has often become the norm. I would like to be part of bucking this trend. While I've used my fair share of stock, and it still has its place in the creative process, I’ve found it much more meaningful to capture the emotion of a moment that is specific to the campaign, and which will never be found in someone else's marketing materials (which is often the case with stock imagery). I recently art-directed a couple of photoshoots for a client and it was such a beautiful process. The results are clearly worth the planning, time and money spent. In the right hands of a professional photographer, it provides a high-quality expression that conveys the soul of your brand and connects to the emotions of your customers.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Frazier Photography, Copyright 2014 Caregivers by Whole Care

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Frazier Photography, Copyright 2014 Caregivers by Whole Care

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Frazier Photography, Copyright 2014 Caregivers by Whole Care

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Frazier Photography, Copyright 2014 Caregivers by Whole Care

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Frazier Photography, Copyright 2014 Caregivers by Whole Care

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Frazier Photography, Copyright 2014 Caregivers by Whole Care

For your next marketing campaign, consider setting your message apart from the competing masses by adding custom photography, illustration, or typography to your budget planning. Not only are you creating a visual library custom-fitted to your company's needs, but you are engaging the creativity that fosters eye-catching results in those few seconds of attention your customer may have. Do you have questions about who to work with and how to plan such a campaign? I can help. It's what I love to do!