Battleground Print Adverts: Copy vs Visual

By , agencyfaqs! | In Advertising | October 10, 2005
While the trend now is to use more visuals in print adverts, Indian advertising professionals believe that the days of long copy are not completely over because the risk of playing with visuals can only be used effectively by strong brands

"A picture is worth a

thousand words," says the visualiser. Not to be defeated so easily, the copywriter retorts, "It took you seven words to say that." And the argument continues.

However, a clear change in trend can be seen now in print adverts, where visuals are fast replacing long copy.

Prasoon Joshi, regional creative director, South and South East Asia, McCann-Erickson, feels that changing lifestyles are the main reason for this trend. Joshi says, "People today have very little time to check out the details in a print advert, and long copy is passť. In such a scenario, visuals offer a better option for registering effectively with the consumers."

Raj Kurup, regional creative director, Grey Worldwide, agrees with this viewpoint when he says, "The key factor here is time. People are so hard-pressed for it these days that they barely spend three minutes on a newspaper as a part of their morning ritual. Their claim is, 'Tell me what you want to say and make it quick'. Since the target group has moved on, it's only fair for print adverts to evolve, too. If a few words can tell a great story, why not?"

According to Kurup, visuals are much more effective in print ads as they break language barriers as well, especially useful in a multilingual country such as India.

Kurup says, "In our culture, different elements signify different things. For instance, in a print ad that uses the visual of a woman using vermillion ('sindoor'), it automatically means that she is married, in addition to symbolising values such as security and trust. The consumer is usually clever enough to decode this message and doesn't require additional translation in words."

Santosh Padhi, creative director and national head, art, Leo Burnett, cites the example of a print ad that makes effective use of visuals. He says, "Take a look at the Heinz Ketchup 'French Fries' ad. The brand has already been positioned so strongly as a thick tomato sauce that there wasn't any need to use copy at all. In fact, we didn't even use a brand logo - we just showed a bottle of Heinz in the background."

Why only such visual elements, at times, just the brand logos are enough to tell the complete story. The Nike print ad is a good example here because all it carries is the brand's logo (the Strike sign).

Rajiv Rao, creative director, O&M, Bangalore, explains, "A brand such as Nike doesn't need to say that it stands for great quality shoes. It can get away with just a visual and its logo in the ad."

He continues: "Many nascent brands use long-winded copy, providing information about their product, which, unfortunately, consumers are not interested in reading."

Both Nike and Heinz have used visuals to communicate their message very effectively, but does this mean that only known or established brands can take the risk of such innovations?

Padhi of Leo Burnett says, "In order to go the purely visual way, it is important that the brand be positioned well already in the consumer's mind. Generally, an established brand can afford to take such an approach. But a nascent brand will, most of the time, require a certain amount of copy to educate the consumer about itself."

Rao of O&M does not agree with this perspective. He points out that some established brands such as Nike have never tried copy centric ads, not even when they were not as well known.

However, Rao is not completely against the use of copy in print adverts. He says, "I think the use of the word or the visual depends entirely on what one wants to communicate. If it is an informative ad, long copy would work best. On the other hand, if there is a single message that needs to be conveyed, a visual can do the job effectively."

There are also admen such as Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar, creative director, O&M, Mumbai, who feel that it is too early to write off the importance of the word in print advertising.

Although Mahabaleshwarkar admits that in India, people don't tend to write long copy any more, he is of the opinion that if a copy is written well, people will certainly read it even today.

He justifies his stand, saying, "People still like reading, which ensures that words will never go out of fashion in print advertising. It's only that copywriters are becoming lazy and it's time for them to pull up their socks."

According to him, having a glossy visual in a print ad is just an easy way out.

Russell Barrett, creative director, Leo Burnett, Mumbai, tends to agree with Mahabaleshwarkar on the importance of words in print ads.

"I don't think the written word is dead in print advertising. Internationally, there are certain long-copy ads that are still doing a good job and winning awards. The belief that people don't read long-copy ads is just a perception issue. On the other hand, there are ads with bad visuals, too," Barrett points out.

Josy Paul, national chairman, rmg david, offers his take, "Print is currently being used as a 'quickie' medium, which has led to the deterioration in print adverts, be it visuals or the copy. It's the agencies who are to be blamed for this lazy attitude towards print ads."

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