Scientific Advertising: Picture This
Just like pictures of Santa have changed since 1923, so have the ways we use pictures in advertising. There’s Claude Hopkins’ way and most everyone else’s. This week’s chapter of "Scientific Advertising" — Art in Advertising — highlights the difference between the two schools: direct response and branding.
Nowhere else is an image felt to be so important as in branding; nowhere else can image be so constrained as in direct response. Hopkins hogties pictures because he is obsessed with sales. He wants advertising to do nothing but sell, and he wars mightily against advertising brand image for it’s own sake.
My caveat: Branding advertisements can certainly influence market share. But you can’t always quantify it in the same rigorous way that Hopkins demands for immediate sales are not exactly the point. Making a solid customer is more straight forward than building a space for your brand in the mind and life of multitudes — whether they buy or not.
Hopkins hates it. He decries art for art’s sake, and assaults a brand doing so: “Use pictures only to attract those who may profit you. Use them only when they form a better selling argument than the same amount of space set in type.” Like every word — the art must make someone buy. If doesn’t it’s a wasted effort.
Turns out, if you just want to build your brand but not sell with an ad, you’re doing something very modern. Here is background on branding. We take it for granted. But when I grew up, no one south of a cattle ranch said I should brand anything. Certainly not myself. A ranch foreman once told me he felt sweet nostalgia at the smell of burning animal hide during a branding ... it reminded him of cowboying with his grandfather. It was odd then. But today, everyone with a social media account is after the same odor and assumes it’s normal behavior.
Branding sprouted when big companies began producing consistent quality products and required something to set them apart that wasn’t quite the product itself. Here is that history in brief, written for The Atlantic Monthly by Marc De Swaan Arons:
“In the 1950s, consumer packaged goods companies like Procter and Gamble, General Foods and Unilever developed the discipline of brand management, or marketing as we know it today, when they noticed the quality levels of products being offered by competitors around them improve. A brand manager would be responsible for giving a product an identity that distinguished it from nearly indistinguishable competitors.”
“This required an understanding of the target consumer and what we call a ‘branded proposition’ that offered not only functional but also emotional value. Over time, the emotional value would create a buffer against functional parity. As long as the brand was perceived to offer superior value to its competitors, the company offering the brand could charge a little more for its products …”
Note, the job of the brand manager wasn’t to increase sales. That was an eventual result, not the immediate goal.
Hopkins is far more practical: “Pictures in advertising are very expensive. Not in cost of good art work alone, but in the cost of space. From one-third to one-half of an advertising campaign is often staked on the power of the pictures …”
“... Mail order advertisers, as we have said, have pictures down to a science. Some use large pictures, some small, some omit pictures entirely. A noticeable fact is that none of them uses expensive art work. Be sure that all these things are done for reasons made apparent by results.”
Listen to Hopkins — you don’t need expensive photo shoots, graphic design or even viral video. You just need good old fashioned sales if you really want to make money. Here follows a litany of Claude Hopkins’ pictorial advice, much of it at odds with your marketing manager, and certainly the design team.
On Men In Advertising
“... in clothing advertising, pictures have proved most convincing. Not only in picturing the collar or the clothes, but in picturing men whom others envy, in surroundings which others covet. The pictures subtly suggest that these articles of apparel will aid men to those desired positions.”
On Women in Advertising
“Picturing beautiful women, admired and attractive, is a supreme inducement. But there is a great advantage in including a fascinated man. Women desire beauty largely because of men. Then show them using their beauty, as women do use it, to gain maximum effect.”
However you use it — the beauty of pictures is not to be denied. The question is when to harness it.
Don’t Use a Cancerous Picture
Hopkins says, “... a picture which is eccentric or unique takes attention from your subject. You cannot afford to do that. Your main appeal lies in headline. Overshadow that and you kill it. Don't, to gain general and useless attention, sacrifice the attention that you want.“
His admonition is borne out in the modern experience of copywriter Dean Rieck. He tells a story about graphics gone wrong at a company’s marketing department:
“People like me who work on the front lines creating direct response advertising have to deal with clients who want to sell but who also demand adherence to branding guidelines, usually in the form of font, color, and graphic specifications.
“It can be a difficult juggling act. The guidelines may be simple, requiring only the use of a logo, or difficult, enforcing highly restrictive design rules that curtail selling techniques.
“When branding guidelines become too restrictive, it can hurt sales. Years ago, I began working with one of the top communications companies, helping them sell products and services such as DSL and long distance. I decided to break out of the overly restrictive branding guidelines and create mailers that I thought would sell better.
“This didn’t go over well with others in the company and I received many complaints about the ‘look’ of my mailers. However the response rates were high. In one effort, I created a self-mailer that met the annual call generation goal within 9 weeks. So I was allowed to continue.
Eventually, my ‘ugly’ mailers provoked the branding department so much, I was asked to test a ‘pretty’ and properly branded mailer. I did. The ugly mailer won hands down.”
His unartful triumph was purist Hopkins. Here’s another example from Hopkins himself ...
What Happened to Breakfast?
“... the picture must help sell the goods. It should help more than anything else could do in like space, else use that something else. Many pictures tell a story better than type can do. In advertising of Puffed Grains the picture of the grains were found to be most effective. They awake curiosity. No figure drawing in that case compare in results with these grains.”
I assume we’ve become so accustomed to breakfast heroes that pictures of puffed grain is too boring. But, you can find a new angle — like blowing up the atomic structure of a single Rice Krispie 18 million times its natural size and compare it to NASA photographs beamed from Pluto.
I think that picture could sell some cereal.