Image vs. Word
An essay on which one is more powerful in advertising and to what extent
Students often struggle to comprehend the content of difficult texts. In that case it is a common and effective strategy to visualise words in order to achieve a better understanding. In addition to that, the idiom "a picture is worth a thousand words" seems to be on every ad man's mind as it is almost impossible to take a walk downtown avoiding advertising images. The question coming up in both cases is whether the image is stronger than the word?
Images are more powerful since they are considerably easier to remember than complex sentence structures. At the first sight, a picture is able to convey a whole statement or situation. In contrast to that, words have to be combined into substantially more complicated compositions to equal this quality. It is a fact that by this means the image is more "colourful". High-quality advertising has to catch attention immediately to have the opportunity to sink deep into the addressee's memory. People today are increasingly confronted with sensory impressions, to notice advertising anyway, it has to stand out of this turmoil. A mere text is definitely not distinguishable from a mass of impressions as it does not catch the eye and needs far to long to be decoded. Otherwise, it might be true that words are also able to cause the production of images in people's minds, however, it is certain that images are more immediate and rather likely to stick in the consumer's memory. A suitable example for long-lasting remembrance of an image is part of an advertising campaign by United Colors of Benetton. The company used the photograph of a half-naked black man with an artificial hand, to which a spoon was attached to. Just looking at this shocking picture, one automatically comes up with a lot of questions about the imaged man: "Why did he lose his hand? Does his skin colour play a major role? Maybe racists abused him and cut his hand off? Why is there a spoon attached to his artificial hand? And so on and so forth. Imagine this
particular advertising to consist only of words, there would not be as much of a direct emotional appeal that prompts so many questions and it would hardly be remembered. For companies, "a standardized campaign instead of various local campaigns is likely to result in economies of scale (Hornikx et al. 2010, p. 170)." Therefore the use of images in advertising is very profitable for global players since visual association does not depend on language at all. Regarding a Levi's advertising, probably everyone recognizes a half-naked model, only wearing a pair of jeans as a symbol of desire or beauty. An Englishman as well as a Japanese are expected to conclude that Levi's products raise the consumer's attractiveness. In that way companies have the "opportunity to exploit good creative ideas in different countries (Hornikx et al. 2010, p. 170)."
As communication always consists of verbal and non-verbal units, high-quality advertising should also combine the advantages of image and word. Complex sentence structures are indeed not perfect eye catchers, however, if somebody expects advertising to convey very precise information it is possible to claim that words are more likely to guarantee that every consumer receives the same information about the product. Images offer a lot of place for imagination and in that way include potential misinterpretations, which in turn bear a considerable risk for advertisers as messages might end up conveying content, that was not intended to reach the consumer at all. In 2010, there was a rather shocking WWF advertising that displayed a shotgun pointed at a child in a tiger costume. Without the slogan "imagine this is yours", it would be extremely hard to comprehend the intended message that hunting not yet fully grown...
References: Hornikx, Jos; van Meurs, Frank; de Boer, Anna. “English or a Local Language in Advertising.” Journal of
Business Communication. Volume 47. (2010): 169-189.
Food for life. United Colors of Benetton. www.wfp.org, www.benetton.com/food.
Levi 's engineered jeans. Levi Strauss & Co. www. levi.com.
Imagine this is yours. World Wide Fund For Nature. www.wwf.com.
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