Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Copywriting in the Stock Photography Era

I think we can all admit that stock photography has made advertising possible and more profitable for a great many people and agencies. Gone are the days of assignment photography for every assignment (sorry photographers, honestly). In fact, unless you’re a fairly large agency, you’ll never have a single shoot. Almost all advertising today is done with stock photography. But this begs a question.

Why so much emphasis on visual solutions when it’s becoming harder to create them? Stock photography means that already over-taxed art directors and designers have to do Photoshop back flips to Frankenstein together an image that hopefully looks something like the intended result. Instead of trying so hard to squeeze water out of rocks (props to those who do so on a daily basis), should there not be more emphasis on copy? I’ve seen a disturbing trend in many agencies of cutting copywriters. But when one of your two artistic elements is already set and incredibly difficult to change in even small ways, should not there be added importance to the one you can change and tailor to an incredible degree? In other words, when the pictures are already taken, shouldn’t there be added importance given to copy, to the remaining place you can actually express and articulate everything you’re trying to say?

But nobody reads copy any more, visual solutions are the only solutions. Tell that to Mini. The incredible success of the entirely new make of little autos was built upon a campaign that featured a simple product shot, truly insightful copy and an unassuming, but unmistakable colored box outline. Or perhaps you think the footage that could have easily been replaced with stock footage (if it wasn’t stock in the first place) from MasterCard’s Priceless ads would be just as effective if the announcer didn’t say anything and items with prices didn’t show up on the screen. The truth is, copy is a great way to inject real personality into your ads, a way you can do it without the technical difficulty of creating crazy visuals, a way to give your brand a unique voice that make it more accessible (or less, depending on your brand’s intended personality), and a great way to ease the load on your probably over-burdened art directors and/or designers.

Finally, emphasizing copy more in the stock photography era is actually very economical. Don’t be misled to believe that the copy idea takes less time to think up. But I think we all know that once the thought work is done, the copy rarely takes the same amount of execution time as the design. And, you can change and tweak the copy very easily, even once it’s in place. Not so of the design. The point? All this adds up to hours of work that the agency is paying for. In essence, copy is a cheaper way of giving your ads real creativity because the total amount of time to execute and make changes significantly drops with copy-driven solutions. Turn-around time increases. Art directors and designers have their burdens lightened and the client’s brand gets a voice beyond a funky visual.

If you ask me, that’s a win-win.

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