12 tips to win with images

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Imagine a wrestling match between words and pictures.
Pictures would win.

But why?

There are several reasons, most importantly the fact that we process the visual more quickly than the literary. Images trigger emotion and, when used in the context of marketing, emotion is then closely associated with your brand. What’s more, studies show that pictures are far more likely to be shared on social media.

In fact, if you want proof of the dominance of images, just re-read the opening line above. It started with an image of a boxing match. It probably piqued your interest, so you read on.

Strong, authentic images can lead to great marketing wins. Here are 12 tips to help you get those wins.

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1.  Every picture tells a story

Great pictures make us feel – often they make us feel a mixture of emotions, some of which may be contradictory, and many of which cannot be adequately described in words. From Love to Bingo, a Getty Images film by Almap BBDO, shows the journey from youthful love to old age, using 873 Getty Images stock shots. It tells a familiar story but in a unique and unexpected fashion. It lasts only one minute, seven seconds, but during that time we experience strong, tangible feelings.

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2.  Use meaningful images

We’re living in an age in which the sheer amount of data available to us is greater than we could have predicted even five years ago. Commentators wrestle with the notion of “information overload”, and how it might be changing our behaviour. For images to work, then, they have to stand out.

Twitter realised this when it introduced preview windows in users’ timelines. The idea is that a viewer will be tempted by a detail from an image, then click to open it further. As a marketing technique, it’s simple but astoundingly successful. It says: “Like what you see? OK, click on it to see more.”

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3.  Match your brand values

Your brand has values, so why not use pictures to explore them? This doesn’t mean using tiresome, predictable images again and again. On the contrary, use your marketing to astonish the viewer and explore new brand territories. Uniqlo hosted an entire ad campaign on Pinterest, showcasing their Dry Mesh range. The campaign – which cost nothing in media spend – seized on the insight that Pinterest users love to scroll, as well as rightly predicting that many Uniqlo customers are also on Pinterest.

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4.  Let images breathe

In many ways a picture is like a poem: the white space that surrounds it makes it stand out more. A single, great image can work far better than a cluster of good images. This photo by Kelvin Murray, of a baby in front of a blank wall might at first seem somehow “incomplete”. We might ask ourselves, “what’s the baby looking at?” But once text is added to the wall, the image comes together. It’s simple, clear and – precisely because of these values – one of Getty Images’ best-selling photos.

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5.  Show real people

With the success of platforms such as Instagram, social photography is having a huge impact on brands; central to this is the belief that when we see real people, we’ll see real emotions. Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches campaign and more recently, their Selfie campaign are great examples of showing how we perceive, and mis-perceive, our appearance. Dove has gained huge media attention – as well as increasing sales of the product. Photographers and brands increasingly shoot to recreate this authenticity.

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6.  Don’t make your graphics look like banner ads

Within the advertising industry many creatives say that the best ad is one that doesn’t look like an ad at all. There’s a lot of truth in this. So play with the unexpected: use the download bar, and experiment with the banner, skyscraper and MPU formats. We consume so much digital content that a clever variation from the norm will amuse and engage on a far deeper emotional level. The NHS safe sex ads are a great example of playing with these conventions. 

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7.  Label images – particularly if they are clickable

In the digital world if we see something we like, we naturally want to click on it. However, the big irritation with digital is when data doesn’t download properly. Digital can both reward and frustrate us, and when it doesn’t work, it only alienates the user.

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8.  Size images appropriately

This isn’t just about the size that they appear on the page, or screen, but their file size. Will the picture work on tablets or smartphones? What will the user experience be like? Given that we’re dealing with vast amounts of competing data, images have to download quickly and consistently.

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9.  Don’t forget mobile

Smartphone use is growing fast; for many people, it is now their main interactive platform. At the end of January 2014, the BBC reported that over 1 billion smartphones were shipped in 2013 – a rise of 38% over the previous year. This means that it’s not enough to design solely for desk and laptops; it’s essential, too, to test new work on a mobile site and, in this way, to explore new, inventive solutions.

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10.  Be positive

As a general rule of thumb, positive images tend to get re-sent far more on social networks. It makes sense: we’re all time-poor, so why not promote content that educates and entertains or – if possible – both?

Until very recently, the most retweeted post in the history of Twitter was that of Barack Obama hugging his wife, Michelle, after he was re-elected to office. This year, it was surpassed by Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie at the Academy Awards. It’s no coincidence that these are warm, positive images.

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11.  Know your audience

This is true of all marketing, but is especially when it comes to pictures. It’s crucial to be aware of the sectors of your audience who are more likely to create and curate images.

Three, the mobile network, harnessed this with their ad that showed a moonwalking Shetland pony. They knew that many users, having seen it on YouTube, would want to do their own version, so they invited users to do a Pony Mash-Up where they could customize the ad. To date, the ad has seen 8.3 million views on YouTube.

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12.  Test what works for you

The same advice doesn’t apply to everyone. So find out what works for you, for your audience and for your product.

A great example of this is the Cape Times’ ad campaign. Boasting that “You can’t get any closer to the news”, the newspaper’s ads mixed selfies – a very modern phenomenon – with historic photos. In one execution, for example, Winston Churchill was seen “taking” a selfie. In merging the old and new, the campaign was a great way of making its product relevant for the contemporary audience.

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