I find it strangely ironic to use words to describe the importance of photography in advertising. With that in mind, I’ll keep this under the thousand-word allotment conventional wisdom tells us a picture is worth.
When I first started working in this business four decades ago (40 years, really?), photography decisions were largely the domain of art directors and creative directors. They spent weeks, often months, progressing from pencil concepts through final marker layouts, to photo shoots and color separations.
The luxury of time is gone forever. Today, anyone with a computer is now a “creative,” with access to virtually limitless sources of stock photography, illustrations and HD video. Production time can now be measured in hours or even minutes.
As a result, the downpour of mundane advertising messaging has become relentless … and the level of consumer interest and impact has been totally diluted. More than ever, it is essential to have a unique IDEA that can be communicated SIMPLY to achieve what I call “visual Velcro.” An image that reaches out and holds you and is difficult, if not impossible, to let go of mentally.
Consider one great example, “Cocaine Kills.” This advertising campaign used simple black & white photos of a gun barrel pushed up someone’s nose. No stock photo here. The art director and photographer cared enough to capture the perfect image for a clear, powerful and incredibly enduring message. The campaign was first run in the 1980’s and is still remembered today for its simplicity and directness.
Powerful advertising isn’t dead. There are other, more recent, excellent examples of great ideas, executed simply with photography.
While it looks simple, creating photography that conveys a powerful, enduring message can be difficult. Extremely difficult. As a professional photographer friend of mine is fond of saying, in reference to the ease of digital photography, “Owning a piano doesn’t make you a musician.”
It takes an understanding of your target audience, a respect for their time, the insight to boil down the message, the courage to stand by an idea … and caring enough to make it all happen.