If a picture is worth a thousand words, why don't we use them more?

By Russell Davies, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 18 July 2013 08:00AM

One of the joys and challenges of working at Nike was getting to grips with how "post-literate" the culture was.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, why don't we use them more?

They could all read – they just didn’t like doing it. (Not on an individual, personal basis – but on a professional one.) They were smart, thoughtful, engaged, curious people with above-average attention spans and above-average capacity to do hard work. They just had a massive aversion to reading long documents, so strategy tended to be communicated via images: pictures, graphics, short bits of video – sometimes with the odd word thrown in, but normally just very well-chosen images.

This had tremendous advantages in a global business – it minimised the language barrier and often enabled creative and communications work that was more nuanced and less "slogany" than the average proposition-led campaign. It’s one of the reasons they’re good.

I was reminded of all this by a fascinating article in The New York Times technology pages about the way images are starting to dominate social media. As a professor of photography at Harvard says in the piece: "This is a watershed time, where we are moving away from photography as a way of recording and storing a past moment, turning photography into a communication medium."

If images are so plentiful and easy to come by, will we be able to charge so much to make them?

Look at Instagram and Vine and all the rest: people are using images to communicate their current status, to tell people what they’re up to – not to memorialise moments or for the beauty of the image. Consider Snapchat. It is for image-sharing but is entirely focused on the now. Each image has a deliberately limited life – you can only see it for ten seconds or so. And Snapchat deals with 200 million images a day – that’s a lot of "not memories".

If products like Google Glass – so focused on the visual field; so uninterested in text – take off, this is only likely to increase. If you can snap a picture and send it with a nod of your head, your activity stream is going to get very visual.

Will this be good for the advertising and media business? That’s what I’m normally obliged to wonder at this point in a column. Frankly, I’ve no idea. We’re good at images so, to that extent, our services should be in more demand. But, if images are so plentiful, easy to come by and disposable, will we be able to charge so much and take so long to make them?

Perhaps it will encourage a generation of strategists that can communicate with images as well as with words – that would be good. And maybe for next week’s column, I could just send a picture.

Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service
@undermanager

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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