Last week I wrote about my attraction to the ads of yesteryear and compared them to current advertising. What struck me walking between the rows and rows of ads pinned up at the AdFest 2012 was the number that relied on a visual alone. Copywriting hardly surfaced. Now there is nothing wrong with ads that are purely visual – SilkCut and Benson & Hedges Gold back in the 70s did so beautifully.

The award winning ad for Samsonite suitcases showing heaven in the passenger section of the aircraft, and hell below, quickly communicates why we need strong luggage.

But in many cases, it took me a while to figure out what the ad was saying. Sometimes, I enjoyed the visual pun when I had taken the time to appreciate it. But guys, we know the average reader will only spend 1.5 seconds looking at any ad before turning the page. This heavy reliance on images only really concerns me. The print ad appears in a newspaper or magazine that is the medium of the written word. Why is the copywriting so neglected?

“A picture is worth a thousand words?” Al Ries says this phrase is a mistranslation. The original Confucius quote, he claims, actually said, “A picture is worth a thousand pieces of gold.” It is almost certain Mr Ries got the origin wrong. Be that as it may, the written word developed because pictures could not tell the full story and Man needed a more concise way of communicating.

I fear today’s advertisements are failing to communicate. The illustration may amuse or, in my case, often confuse but does it say enough to make me go and buy the product or service? I have serious doubts. Advertisements have for decades used pictures and words together to create an interesting and persuasive message. Is it not time that the copywriter came back, armed with those seductive words, into the creative partnership?

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