And while I heartily second that emotion, I usually let Tim or Charlie express it, since it’s less sour-grapey to say it after you’ve won those kinds of awards, which they have.
But the interesting thing is that not all ad awards are based merely on creativity.
But if you’d also like to see a meta-analysis of winning campaigns, showing what winning and finalist entrants had in common, then you’re also in luck.
Effie Worldwide has compliled just such an analysis in their 2012 Effie Report, and have also been kind enough to summarize their key findings as follows:
- “Effie Finalists tend to spend more on paid media, but not necessarily the most. More finalists spent in the $20 million to $40 million range than in the $40 million+ category, and nearly half spent less than $20 million.
- Effie medalists have slightly fewer goals to achieve, and campaigns with a business objective, rather than one to reach a target audience, collect more medals.
- Never underestimate David taking on Goliath – he’s 47 percent more likely to win an Effie medal.
- In the Shopper Marketing Effie categories, about two-thirds of finalists’ programs demonstrated some aspect of disruption – either by novel product placement in the store, changing the way shoppers perceived the retailer or changing perceptions of the brand.”
So what I’d like to do today is take each of Effie Worldwide’s bullet points and discuss it in terms of local advertising/branding:
Spend More on Paid Media
It’s tempting to go after “free advertising” such as Word of Mouth, Social Media, and various PR and Guerilla Marketing tactics, but while those are effective, experience shows that there’s just no replacing old-school mass media muscle when it comes to grabbing increased share of mind, and in turrn, share of market.
But if that’s the case, then why didn’t finalist spend the most on media? Frankly, I’m guessing here, but I think this indicates intelligent media buys along with the desire to effectively concentrate on one (or a few) media source(s) rather than a spending spree spread out over too many media types.
It might also indicate the investment in long-term, day-in and day-out media spends for branding rather than massive, flash-in-the-pan spending for one-time marketing blitzes.
In any case, according to Effie Worldwide, effective marketing strategies are more likely to have intelligently invested in paid media.
Focus on Fewer Goals & Tie Them to Business Objectives
There’s an apocryphal story about a copywriter who was late to a client meeting, wherein the board was going to discuss with him the 13 Points they wanted to their ad to cover.
So the copywriter walks in late carrying a hockey bag over his shoulder. Without saying a word, he places the bag on the conference table, pulls out a board that’s basically been turned into a bed of nails — a rather eye catching prop that grabs every eye in the room as it’s placed on the table.
The copywriter then takes a fry pan out of the bag and slams it down onto the bed of nails. Lifting the fry pan up, he shows the executive team the dimples. Then writer-boy swaps out the bed of nails with a board featuring a single, imposing spike potruding from it. He slams the fry pan down, forcing the spike clean through it, creating a half-inch hole big enough to stare through when mr. copywriter holds the pan up to show the board.
At this point, our intrepid copywriter says, “Now how many points do you want the ad messaging to convey?”
As it is with ads, so it is with campaigns: one point, goal, or objective per campaign is always best.
And if you want to narrow it down to one objective, you’ll want to choose a business objective. So, figure out how you want to measure success in term of your (or your client’s) business, along with what the required timeline is, THEN create a campaign clearly aimed at achieving that singular, business goal.
And by the way, “driving traffic” isn’t a business goal. Increasing gross sales might be, but merely getting traffic through the door isn’t. So conversion ain’t just a metric for online businesses…
Act Like David Rather Than Goliath
Increasing market share when you have very little of it to begin with is relatively easy, as there are plenty of competitors to steal customers from, and plenty of prospective customers to steal. On the other hand, once you’ve cornered 30-35% of the market, grabbing more of that same market is darned difficult.
This is why, again according to the Effie Report, smaller businesses taking on larger competition are more likely to find their advertising effective — because gaining marketshare always involves stealing it from someone else. So when you’re already holding almost all the marbles, there are fewer and fewer left to acquire.
For local businesses that means that once you become the Goliath of your category, you either have to open up a new store in another market, or open up another business, or business-line, in the same market. Either way, your future growth will be powered by your Davids rather than your Goliaths.
Of course, this assumes that the smaller business has something new or interesting to offer the customer… which leads us to
If you look at how that last bullet point is worded, it’s basically saying you need to do two things:
- Grab people’s attention through some form of novelty
- Provide people with some sort of Unique Selling Propositon, OR change the way they FEEL about the brand
In other words, if you’re offerng the exact same thing as everyone else, in the exact same manner, and if your ads are predictable, boring and dull, then it won’t matter that you’re investing in paid media in order to air ads aimed at achieving measurable business goals for a business that has plenty of market share left to steal — you’ll still lose.
But if you’re ads capture the interest and imagination of the buying public, while offering them a strong reason to do business with you, you’ll soon disrupt the power structure of your industry as you dominate every market you care to enter.
My only note of caution is to add in a third point: credibility. You can grab their attention and promise them a tempting and relevant benefit, but if your audience doesn’t believe you, your ads won’t achieve much.
Relevance and Credibility are the meat of the message. The novelty part simply ensures that your message is heard long enough to be deemed relevant and credible.
Interestingly enough, these are the same principles espoused by all Wizard of Ads Partners, including Tim and Charlie, so it’s gratifying to see them espoused by a institution dedicated to promoting effective advertising, such as Effie Worldwide.
If you’re interested in exploring these principles to grow your business, why not contact one of us?
2013 is just getting started, why not make it your year to thrive?
It’s a slight change, but it makes a world of difference, doesn’t it?
The photo comes courtesy of a rather clever ad campaign for The Cape Times — something I was turned onto by the always-wonderful No Caption Needed blog. The intent was to make us see these iconic photos with new eyes, allowing the idea of a self-taken-phone-camera-pic to shake up a classic. And it worked.
But it also transforrmed the photos into something creepy, especially this one.
It’s one thing to look on as the ecstasy of victory so overcomes a sailor’s sensibilities that he kisses a stranger in the street; it’s entirely another when the sailor still has the self-awareness to phone-pic himself during his supposed blissed-out moment.
Sometimes, it’s just a whole lot better when someone else is controlling the camera and the spotlight. In fact, not just sometimes, but often.
Translating this to advertising and marketing:
- When others sing your praises, it comes off as credible and genuine; when you sing your praises, you come off as a wanna be Donald Trump
- When reviews praise an item to the sky, we believe it; when product copy does so, we read it with a large grain of salt
- When you tell me how great someone else is, you come off as passionate; when you tell me how great you are, you come off as arrogant
Well.. you get the picture. Why not let someone else hold the camera. Or, if you’ve got the camera, why not point it at something other than yourself?
That means take the dramatic focal point or purpose of a given scene, and move the “cut” or “fade in” — the entrance — as close to that point as possible. Eliminate the preamble.
Then, exit the scene as soon as you’ve accomplished the dramatic moment. Don’t tie up the lose ends and don’t spell out the ramifications. Let the audience fill in the gaps between one scene and the next.
This emphasizes the drama by cutting out the “boring bits.” And it works. But almost no one ever mentions the importance of ritual to this process.
Because a ritual is a defined process, one can enter into the middle of one and have perfect orientation around what’s going on — what happened before entering the scene and what to expect next. Expectations that can then be harnessed for suspense and/or subverted for surprise.
And ritual offers the same help for leaving a scene early: the audience already knows how the ritual is supposed to end. So the writer doesn’t have to show you, or he can highlight the dramatic departure from the ordinary by foregrounding how the ending differs from expectation. Brides are supposed to walk out of the church married to the man they met at the altar, so running away from the altar with a crazy man that showed up halfway through the ceremony (like in the graduate) is pretty dramatic.
Here’s a great video example of John August editing a newbies script and applying exactly this principle:
The ritual, in this case, is checking into a hotel. We’ve all done it, we know how that ritual starts and ends — so why show all of it?
For advertisers, entering a ritual late and leaving it early lets you squeeze more story into less air time. Like this Clorox ad:
The entire ad is built around a ritual that is then subverted to make a point. And that would be cool enough if it was just a typical 30-second ad, but if you look at the timeline on the video, it’s actually a 15-second spot. Clorox compressed the ad into half the typical timeframe, allowing them to combine two of these style ads — two full story arcs — into a 30-second ad-space.
Enter Late and Leave Early Through Ritual!
I’m a fan of explanatory videos for several reasons:
- High engagement (for at least the first 20 – 60 seconds). In a TL;DR world a well placed video will hold a visitor’s full attention for at least 20 seconds.
- Multi-media. You’ve got moving pictures, words, music, and sound effects all working to convey information and create emotion.
- Emotion & Impact. Nothing beats video when it comes to high-impact demos and/or conveying passion, enthusiasm and sincerity.
Unfortunately, very few explanatory videos take full advantage of these strengths.
- Many waste their high-engagement window with too much unadorned exposition and preamble.
- Most over-use the “say-it, show it” technique and under-use visual storytelling techniques to point where they become nothing more than poorly illustrated radio ads.
- And more than a few tend to overplay the cartoon-y animation in ways that undermine effective emotional impact
But Salesforce knocked their video on Cloud Computing out of the park. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it now:
Granted, the video could jump to the point even faster than it does, but even still, the central meat of the message starts after 15 seconds — within the 20 second window of engagement. Moreover, the fast-moving animation easily keeps viewers’ attention until then. And after that, the video just keeps getting better.
Here are some specific aspects of the video that are worth noting, copying, and demanding from your explanatorry video, should you decide to get one:
1. The video counterpoints less-emotional words with more emotional imagery
For example, at the 40 second mark, the audio says “you call technical support, and they don’t know, so they blame someone else.” But the imagery shows the tech support guy lounging in a chair with his feet up, laughing at the customers predicament while mindlessly throwing darts. The neutral audio combines with the cutting video to create a messaging impact that’s greater than either one alone. Nice.
Another great example occurs when one stick figure “sticks up” a customer stand-in, firing a pistol that unfurls into a microsoft flag — all while the announcer says, “…the way you pay for cloud apps is also different.” Well played, Salesforce. Well played : )
2. The animation enhances the emotional impact of the messaging rather than undermining it
At the 44 second mark, the video shows a rather unstable-looking stack of software, which topples when one of the software boxes get’s swapped out forr an upgrade. The toppling of the boxes is meant to represent and dramatize a serious real-world problem.
A less-effective video would show the stack crashing straight to one side or another, without employing any depth cueus. In cinematic terms, they’d use flat staging, more suitable to comedy than drama. Worse, they’d probably make the crash cartoony in a way that would belittle the real-world consequences supposedly represented by the animation.
In the Salesforce video, on the other hand, they show the stack crashing towards the camera/viewer, using depth staging and serious sound effects to enhance the dramatic effect of the crash. And it works, because the producers of the video knew their craft as visual storytellers.
You can see this same depth staging when the “hairball” crushes the small business two. The scene is shot at an angle, looking up at the advancing hairball, rather than shown flat.
Remember: videos should use serious staging and serious sound effects for serious subject matter.
3. The video builds upon visual symbols from one scene to the next
The Salesforce video emphasizes the mess of a software crash by creating a giant hairball of IT difficulty/failure around the toppled software stack at the 50 second mark. Then that same hairball crushes a small business under the weight of IT difficulties 10 seconds later, while the audio track says, “small businesses don’t stand a chance.” Great pairing of visual storytelling and symbolism (IT failure will kill your small business) with explanatory audio.
Later the video will also contrast the wobbly software stack displayed at the video’s 44 second mark with a nice, super-stable, cloud-supported stack of cloud-based apps showcased at the 2:40 mark.
4. The Video Makes Effective Use of Reality Hooks and Analogies
When the Salesforce video compares gmail with Microsoft Exchange, a light goes on. Anyone with the slightest gMail experience knows that it truly delivers on Apple’s claimed promise of “It just works.” gMail might not have the best interface in the world, but it does work uber-reliably, with no technical fiddling required on the part of the user.
So what better way to drive home the advantages of cloud-based computing over reguar, enterprise level software than bringing it to the level of immediate, shared experience. The ability to bring the benefits of cloud-based apps home to the viewer, serves not only as an explanatory analogy, but as a persuasive “reality hook.”
5. The video’s strongest and boldest claims are followed by a genuine “Here’s why” sequence
Starting at the 1:50 mark and running all the way till 2:10, the Salesforce video makes several bold claims about cloud-based apps: that you can be up and running in a few days, that their apps cost less, are more scalable and secure and reliable than regular software. Then, they give a nice reason-why explanation for those claims.
Right at the 2:10 mark the video launches into an explanation of multi-tenancy, comparing it to renting space in an office building (rather than paying for the whole building yourself). Strong, Relevant Claims + Credible Proof = Persuasion. The salesforce video gets this in a way that a lot of explanatory videos don’t.
6. The video uses music to its advantage
The Bottom Line
If you’re planning on creating an explanatory video for your business or start-up, it’s well worth the time to watch a bunch of them from different providers. Watch them with the sound off. Watch them with the sound on but the video covered up. Now ask yourself:
- Which ones make full use of visual storytelling?
- Which make effective use of music?
- Which take too darn long to get to the point?
- And which ones actual achieve both clarity and credibility regarding the products claimed benefits?
What you’ll probably find is that great explanatory videos require a strongly persuasive script AND strong visual storytelling. Just make sure you’re getting both parts of that equation into your video…
P.S. There are a lot of solid explanatory videos out there and I’ll be reviewing more in the coming weeks, so if you’ve got a favorite you’d like analyzed, link to it in the comments.
Case in point, the triangle to the right doesn’t exist. The only shapes in that picture are three black pac-man shapes.
Yeah, the negative space left by those pacman shapes include wedges of white — but the larger triangle that you see connecting those wedges of white into a meaningful pattern only exists in your mind.
And yet, if the pacmans are there, you can’t help but see that triangle, can you?
In fact, the only way to not see the triangle is to remove two of the pacman figures, ’cause as long as the dots are there, you WILL connect them.
Designers refer to this as “closure,” and it’s more than just a parlor trick or visual illusion.
Closure and Image-Text Interaction
Closure, as it turns out, not only comes into play between elements within a picture, but also between image and text. And this interplay was especially on display in a recent post by the always-interesting Derek Halpern (h/t Melissa Breau)
Halpern references recent psychological studies showing that statements accompanied by related images are considered more believable than the same statement without an image. So, a statement like “The liquid inside a thermometer is magnesium” was more frequently rated as true when it was accompanied by a picture of a thermometer!
Similarly, statements about whether some obscure “celebrity” was alive or dead were also more frequently rated as true when the statement was accompanied by a picture of the celebrity. And this effect was the same regardless of whether the pictured celebrity was pronounced dead or still living.
Clearly, pictures have persuasive power beyond what anyone has ever suspected.
And just knowing this is incredibly useful, but in my opinion, the real meat of these studies comes from asking WHY. Fortunately, one of the posts that Derek links to nicely summarizes the hypothesis formed by the scientists who conducted these tests [emphasis mine]:
“The reason for the difference lies in the suspected mechanism at work. The “truthiness” researchers (Newman et al., 2012) speculate that a not necessarily probative but relevant image, like the tire slide above, increases the “cognitive availability” of the concept. That means the mind finds it easier to think about and elaborate on the concept. In the process, that makes the claim seem more familiar which in turn makes it feel more true: “Truthiness” achieved.
There are also other mechanisms that facilitate elaboration. For example, the researchers refer to the notion of a “semantically predictive sentence,” which means phrasing that leads a listener to anticipate what the upcoming words will be. For example, “the stormy seas tossed the boat” is more semantically predictive than “he saved up his money and bought a boat.” That expectation causes a listener to feel more familiarity and translate that into greater veracity (Whittlesea, 1993). When people are engaged — by anticipating the final word in this case — they engage in more fluent processing and that leads to a feeling of truth.
That process extends past the role of imagery. In Newman and associates’ second experiment, they showed that including non-probative words instead of a photo produced the same effect (e.g. accompanying a political leader’s name with information about ethnicity, sex, hair color, etc. – factors that create a picture in the mind, but without telling the reader whether the figure is alive or dead). The additional information led people to believe that the associated claim was more likely to be true.”
Ok, so first thing, what the heck does non-probative mean? Basically, it means the photo does not logically prove the statement to be true or false. Non-probative images are merely decorative.
For instance, if you have a statement like “The US has the highest incarceration rate of any country” and you then accompany that statement with a bar graph like the one on the right, then that image would be considered “probative” because it would logically “prove” the statement to be true, assuming that you took the image at “face value.”
This is opposed to a more decorative image of a convict behind bars. That photo would be related to the statement about incarceration rates, but it would not logically “prove” anything.
Why “Non-Probative” Doesn’t Mean Non-Persuasive
So who says suggestion is any less persuasive than outright statement?
For instance, if that photo of the convict behind bars was black, it might remind the test subject that the US jails a disproportionate number of African Americans — a visual suggestion that would surely color one’s judgement of the accompanying statement, right?
Because people can’t help but connect the dots between image and statement.
It works the same way with the celebrity statements as well. because we believe in internal consistency. If someone hands us a statement with spelling and grammatical errors, we become less likely to lend credibility to the statement or the person who wrote it. Anyone recall Dan Quayle’s Potato gaff?
So when someome mentions a little known celebrity and provides a picture of said celebrity, we not only automatically connect the dots between picture and celebrity, but we connect the dots between knowing who the heck one is talking about with knowing what the heck one is talking about. The thought process goes something like, you obviously know who this guy is and I don’t, so you probably also know whether or not he’s still alive…
Why do I think this is a greater factor than the psychologists’ “increased cognitive availability” hypothesis?
Because scientists who conducted the same test, but who accompanied the celebrity statements with facts and stats about the celebrity instead of a picture recorded the same effect: the stats boosted the perceived credibility exactly as the photos did in the previous test. And my guess is that the stats “prove” to the test subjects that the people making the statement really know who they’re talking about, in pretty much the same way that a picture would. Makes sense right?
But would stats really help people hold an idea in their heads? Would stats make the celebrity more “cognitively available” to the test subjects? I rather doubt it.
And images don’t have to do that explicitly, as implication and closure work just fine, if not even better.
A picture of an old-fashioned thermometer displays a silvery strip in the middle of it, implying the idea of liquid metal. Connecting the dots between image and statement, and suddenly the idea of liquid magnesium seems a whole lot more plausible…
It makes me wonder if a picture of a modern-day thermometer would have had the same results…
Using Closure To Improve Persuasion & Impact
So… we know this closure between image and text creates greater believability. But how would one use it for images alone?
Well, for images, the short answer is to give the viewer 2 + 2 rather than just handing them 4. Create an image that makes them connect the dots between elements of the image. Here are some great examples of that:
OK, so these are cheating a bit because they’re both text-based images, but neither of them make much sense until you connect the dots — allowing both ads to make their statements all the more strongly.
Here’s another example, this time with an honest, no-kidding image:
Again, the image is meaningless until you mentally “fill the gap” about what those sets of feet really indicate. Closure at work. There’s also a nice gap/connection between the stockinged feet and the text.
And on a more purely visual note, much of the emotional impact of this image can be attributed to the “gaps” that it forces your mind to fill in:
Great example of closure used to increase mental engagement and impact. But what about using closure to select more powerful imagery to accompany your persuasive copy and messaging?
How to Use This In Web Copy
Here’s what I suggest:
1. Use the “I saw it with my own eyes, so it must be real” approach
If you’ve got a testimonial, you could, as Derek suggests, place a picture of the customer who gave it to you next to the testimonial. That’ll work. Or, if you don’t have that, you could take a photo of the hand-written testimonial and place it next to the testimonial.
It sounds silly, but just imagine the difference between someone saying “this person wrote in to say X” and someone handing you the actual hand-written note and saying “look what customer X had to say.” Which would be more persuasive? The latter, right? Because then you could say that you saw the testimonial “with your own eyes.”
Of course, the “so it must be true” part would likely go unsaid, but it would be all the more powerful for it. And that’s why an image of the hand-written testimonial would be more persuasive than the statement alone.
So within your sales copy, determine which elements people would most want to see with their own eyes, then find images that would give them a similar sense of verification.
Another example, I once worked with a metal roofing company that claimed a no-kidding 50-year life span on their roofs. Now the claim and guarantee is great. But what I advised them to do was find the oldest roof they had ever installed (which turned out to be 30+ years old) and to get both an establishing pic of the building/roof and a close-up picture of the metal “tiles.” It’s one thing to claim a 50-year life span, and another entirely to show a 30-year roof that looks brand new.
Just don’t do the cheese-ball thing of using blacked out bank statements to “prove” how much money you make!
2. Use images to suggest and emotionally prime belief
No one does this better than apple. Take a look at this screen shot from Apple’s page on the new iPad 4:
It’s not an accident that the iPad sports an image of two Porsche’s about to race, or that the image is from a graphics intensive game. The messaging is about speed after all. Speed achieved through high-performance engineering. Don’t you think the image of “Porsche Race Cars” brings all that to mind rather powerfully?
Here’s another example:
So… what the heck is that black ring in the middle of the picture?
It’s not a magnifying glass. Nor is it a camera lens, is it? Maybe it’s some kind of weird bastard love child between the two…
But it doesn’t matter, does it. We instinctively know that this is showing us that even when you magnify the picture 2.5X, it’s still high-res enough to look crisp and un-pixelated. Of course, the copy never makes that claim. But the picture certainly suggests it, doesn’t it?
If Images Combined with Statements Are Powerful, What About Video?
But were this really starts to come into it’s own is in explanatory videos. But that’s a subject for another post…
Want your photo to compel onlookers to find out “the rest of the story”? Capture a scene that’s out of balance.
Whatever scene you capture, it’ll be the imbalance — the conflict between incognruence elements — that creates story appeal and adds intrigue to your photo.
When everything fits, we have no need to wonder at any kind of explanatory backstory. But when we experience the extraoardinary, not only do we pay attention, but we have a built-in need to understand the cause and meaning of the exception. A need that can’t be triggered absent imbalance or trouble.
If your wife comes home every evening at 5:30 pm, and you see her car roll into the driveway at 5:30, you’re not about to wonder why, are you? There’s no trouble, no curiosity
But if it’s 6:45 pm and she hasn’t come home or e-mailed or called, well… you’ll start to wonder why, right? And in wondering, you’ll start creating scenarios — stories! — to explain the exception to your wife’s ordinary routine. It’s called worry.
So here’s the thing: for any visual scene, there are only 5-6 basic elements at play, and the imbalance usually only occurs between two of them. For instance a person pictured might be attempting to accomplish a goal with an outlandish or rather exceptional tool. Here’s an example of just that kind of imbalance:
Of course, the image is made all the more powerful by the symbolism inherent in the incongruence. But the symbolism only enhances the story appeal inherent in the imbalance, it doesn’t create it. How do I know, because photos depicting similar action-tool imbalances create similar amounts of story appeal and intrigue:
Again, there is a lot of symbolism in these photos that helps enhance the impact, along with many visually arresting aspects of these photographs that also add to their ability to hold our attention, but these elements are additive and not generative, when it comes to story appeal. They enhance; they do not create intrigue. That’s why the heart of all these civilian-soldier photos lies the same central imbalance — the same engine for story appeal.
Another example is the action-agent imbalance. The things being done by or to a person are out of balance with the nature of the person pictured. Famous example:
And here’s a very similar photo showing the same imbalance:
And here’s a very different photo that still manages to capture that same agent-action imbalance:
What’s the point?
According to the late, great David Ogilvy the most effective, hardest working advertising images are those with what he called “Story Appeal.” Yet no one that I’ve been able to find or have heard of has ever made a methodical study of just what goes into creating story appeal within an image.
But it’s not like it’s an impossible code to crack… and I thinkI can say (without sounding too imodest, I hope) that I have cracked at least a part of that code…
Interested in reading more about this? Let me know either in the comments section or by e-mail.
P.S. There are other elements and factors that can make an image visually striking and appealing that don’t require imbalance. The extreme beauty on display in an Ansel Adams photo is one example. But wherever you find story appeal, you’ll also find imbalance.