Creative Strategy Importance: Visual or Verbal?
What’s more important, the visual or the verbal?
You Need Both to Build a Powerful Brand. Advertising today is a visually oriented discipline. And we have Confucius to thank (or blame) for this state of affairs. Confucius’ famous saying, “A picture is worth 1,000 words,” has been quoted endlessly in advertising circles in America. Furthermore, most creative directors started out as art directors. First and foremost, they see their job as creating a unique and distinctive visual. The words can come later.
Art directors generally believe that pictures or visuals are more important, while copywriters generally believe that the right choice of words are more important.
Both are wrong.
It’s like asking what’s more important in building a house, a hammer or a nail? Both have to work together. The best hammer in the world is useless if the hammer misses the nail. And the best nail in the world is useless unless there’s a hammer to hammer the nail in.
The visual is the hammer. It’s difficult to build a strong, powerful worldwide brand without a strong, shocking, dynamic visual.
The success of Marlboro cigarettes demonstrates the incredible power of the right combination of visual and verbal. Introduced in the U.S. market in 1953, Marlboro eventually became the world’s largest-selling cigarette brand.
Marlboro was the brand that made Philip Morris a hugely successful company. If you had invested $1,000 in Philip Morris stock at the end of 1953, the year Marlboro was introduced, your stake would be worth $15.5 million today. (As a matter of fact, Philip Morris stock appreciated faster than any other stock on Fortune magazine’s list that year of the 500 largest companies in America.)
Wow! The Marlboro cowboy must be an exceptionally powerful visual.
That’s not necessarily true. That’s not how advertising works. The Marlboro cowboy is only a hammer.
What was the cowboy hammer trying to do? At the time of Marlboro’s introduction, virtually all cigarette brands were “unisex” brands, appealing to both men and women. Almost all cigarette advertisements featured pictures of women as well as men.
To the cigarette manufacturers, that made a lot of sense. Cigarette companies figured their future depended on their ability to create as many female smokers as male smokers. (They have almost achieved that goal. Today, 28% of adult American men smoke vs. 22% of women.)
Marlboro was conceived as a “masculine” cigarette, one of the first brands to focus entirely on men. (In 55 years, there has never been a woman in a Marlboro ad.)
It was this “masculine” verbal message that the cowboy hammer was designed to drive into the smoker’s mind. It was this combination that built the exceptionally powerful Marlboro brand.
Is a picture worth a thousand words? No. Without a verbal, a picture is essentially worthless.
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