In the world of advertising the old adage that 'a picture is worth a thousand words' has never been more true, according to Neil Francis, creative partner at the UK-based direct marketing agency Stephens Francis Whitson, who suggests that written copy has begun to fail many brands around the world.
It seems, Francis says, that the use of imagery in advertising is now more important than ever in conveying messages about brand or product identity. Despite the death eighty years ago of silent film, the use of iconic imagery over the clever use of words is very much alive, and at the forefront of many successful campaigns.
Copy lacks lustre
But this has occurred at the expense of good copy. All too often, a great deal of copy on direct mail in particular and in marketing in general does not reflect or enhance the essence of the brand it is trying to promote.
There is no argument that, as consumers become time poor and increasingly bombarded with messages (on average some 4,000 each day, Francis says), the need to develop visually appealing communications that cuts through the noise has become paramount. But the requirement to support the advert - and close the sale - with meaningful dialogue should be taken equally seriously. "Sadly, all too often, it is not taken as seriously", warns Francis.
Not waxing lyrical any more
There was once a time (perhaps twenty years ago) when TV advertisers packaged their marketing messages within cleverly crafted lyrics and melodies of songs ('jingles') written specifically for advertising campaigns. But, in general, that time is gone and there is a feeling now that advertising has become so visually sophisticated that copy is almost too "corny" to be used effectively.
Who killed the copy-writer?
Could it be, Francis asks, that the demise of the craft of copywriting can be in part attributed to the attitude of colleges that encourage "conceptual creation" over art and copy creation? While these subjects are not mutually exclusive, educationally at least, they seem to have been inextricably spun together. Francis says he still meets creative teams fresh from three years at college who haven't yet decided who is the writer and who is the art director.
On the bright side, however, most graduates are now taught to take the big brand idea and deliver it across a range of media. But it also seems that too few are taught the intricacies of each discipline, especially how to complement the visuals through persuasive copy and a strong "brand tone-of-voice".
But, Francis concedes, this is not all the colleges' fault. The lack of importance that many brands and agencies attribute to copy is demonstrated by the absence of copy direction in brand guidelines today. While volumes of work are published on the size of fonts, position of logos, preferred colour schemes, and even the size of margins, Francis warns that there is an obvious absence of "personality" that gives consumers a reason to respond. And it's this aspect that will need to change if direct marketing is to stay at the forefront of brand development.