“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”
| Ernest Hemmingway
By its nature, advertising is storytelling. As we learned from the ancient Greeks, there are three parts to storytelling:
The rest of storytelling primarily revolves around setting the scene (the emotion you’re eliciting), a person’s perspective (including implied or explicit character development), and how much time you have to convey your story to your audience:
- 300-page book?
- 30-minute movie?
- 3-minute long song?
- One image?
All four of these are forums for storytelling. To be successful, all of them require a beginning, middle, end, transitions, scene, and perspective. The only difference is how much time your audience will spend absorbing and understanding.
At first glance, it seems absurd to think that an entire story can be told with a single image. Yet, great artists, from ancient sculptors to painters and photographers, have been doing this very thing for millennia.
Visuals for Advertising
You have 5 seconds to capture a potential client’s attention through a visual (photography, graphics, illustration, drawing, video). In that short period, how do you set the scene, show a person’s perspective, and tell a 3-part story?
Planning | a weeks-long process
Here’s what you should expect to cover during the 2 to 6 week-long process of planning for the visual portion of your advertising campaign:
- Ending; which leads to a call-to-action
- Story arc
- Location scouting
- Color selection (primary and supporting)
- Scenic design
- Lighting design
- Costume & wardrobe
- Hair & makeup (HMUA)
All of these items need to be considered, after which you’ll end up with 3 things:
- Through computer graphics or sketching, storyboarding shows everything from where the actor/model/product should be located within the scene to the type of lighting and its location and the viewpoint of the camera (real or virtual).
- Shot list
- A list of must-have visuals. The added benefit of having a shot list is giving your visual artist time to create extra visuals based on happenstance.
- Lets everyone know when and where they need to be as well as deadlines.
Do all of these things well and your visual artist will be able to focus on drawing the eye of your prospective client to the focal point of your advertisement through techniques including composition, framing, lighting, and depth of field.
Because in the end, the most effective visual stories are told in a simple manner that borders on minimalism.
Five seconds is more than enough time for a human brain to comprehend an entire three-part story if you literally help your prospective client focus on your message.
Visual Storytelling | Examples
Which one of these two examples tells you more about the subject of the story in 5 seconds?
In less than 5 seconds the Simplicity advertisement showed you enough of the story that if you love plants and gardening, you’d likely read the copy and then click on the advertisement for more information. On the other hand, 5 seconds isn’t long enough to even recognize that the Complexity advertisement is about plants and gardening.
Note | Copy is short for copywriting: the text that often accompanies a visual.
Planning | Revisited
Both photographs were planned, including:
- Story arc
But it’s the completeness of planning that made the Simplicity photograph such a compelling advertisement. There’s a clear story being told (love of plants and gardening) that required careful selection of location, colors, and lighting design. While not obvious to a potential client, there’s also scenic design involved in the photograph (the white background).
Granted, in this case, casting, costume & wardrobe, and HMUA didn’t apply since a person or animal was not used in the advertisement.
But, even without the copy included at the bottom of the advertisement, there’s a clear call-to-action |
If you love plants and gardening, click here.
That’s the end of the story. It’s subtle and might not be recognized by a person who’s not interested in the subject. But the ending of the story/call-to-action is designed to screen for people who are interested in the subject.
Most importantly, the Simplicity advertisement immediately guides your potential client’s eye to the story. It makes it easy for them to decide if they’re interested in learning more.
A visual needs to be designed through planning and the resulting visual will be significantly different based on your target client.
Tip | If you’re in an immediate-need-industry (Examples | Clothing, staple food, medicine), your visual story should be blunt: “You need this item and here it is. Just go to a particular website or store to purchase.”
For everyone else, simplicity with a little mystery is beneficial to helping a prospective client take the all-important step of going to your website to learn more. With ongoing storytelling coupled with a good product/service, your prospective client will want to become part of the conversation through communication channels including E-mail lists and social media. And that changes your client base from a transactional one to an ongoing relationship–the type of relationship that keeps clients coming back for more which continuously increases their long-term value to you because you continuously increase your long-term value to them through content that they couldn’t get elsewhere.
This article is an excerpt from our upcoming book on Strategic Marketing & Advertising. To learn more about our books and classes and to receive a discount, you’re invited to subscribe to our E-mail List by clicking HERE.
Visual Storytelling | Historical by Pavel Nekoranec
Visual Storytelling | Complexity by Barna Kovács
Visual Storytelling | Simplicity by Susan Libertiny
Cover photography by Kelly Knox