BtoB

Facial expressions speak volumes

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Faces are magnetic. Humans carefully study each other's faces to glean information that often goes beyond the spoken word. Faces evoke curiosity and are enormously effective at attracting an audience, including a b-to-b one.

Although b-to-b is often about the exchange of highly technical information, it's the human relationships that truly matter, and that's why it often makes sense to feature a face or faces in an ad to help build a bond of trust. But simply featuring a face is no guarantee that it will connect with the target.

Take the maniacal-looking mug that dominates an ad for Catalyst Telecom, a value-added distributor to resellers of audio-visual communications systems. Some readers might recoil, fearing the middle-aged man with mouth agape is about to bite them. The man's clenched fist might strike some as threatening.

The headline: “Why do three out of four Avaya partners trust Catalyst Telecom with their business?” hardly matches the exuberance of the image. We were expecting to read that he was just named marketer of the year or that his chief competitor was indicted by the feds. Copy soberly focuses on the advantages of partnering with Avaya and promises a solution, but the in-your-face image seems incongruous with the message itself. The image is outlandish for the sake of being outlandish.

At the other end of the facial expression spectrum is a stern-faced woman with arms folded judgmentally across her suit jacket who has that “why did I ever hire your firm in the first place?” look. The image in this ad for Nixon Peabody LLP Attorneys at Law teams well with the headline: “I don't need theories from my lawyers. I need answers.”

The copy is as no-nonsense as the client with the withering stare. “Ever get a three-page memo from your lawyer when you're looking for quick, to-the-point advice? At Nixon Peabody, we know that you prefer simple, clear and practical to rambling and theoretical. Your world is complicated enough.” The image and copy work well together to differentiate Nixon Peabody in the competitive field of legal services.

Testimonials are especially persuasive because a third-party is willing to put in a good word for you. Readers will want a good look at the endorser to help them assess his or her credibility. Facing the camera on behalf of NEC is Ruth Eastwood, chief executive of the Curve Theatre in Leicester, England.

She looks like the genuine article standing amid a sea of seats in this well-staged photograph. It's her face and not the empty theater that draws readers into the scene. In the copy, she speaks to NEC's expertise in providing an innovative communication platform that allows the theater to be efficient and produce a satisfying customer experience. “Being first is one of the theatre's drivers. NEC technologies offer the theatre both flexibility and value for the money.” The strong human presence helps make this an effective ad.

Finally, who can resist the familiar face of a celebrity? Going to bat for Sharp's multifunction copiers is New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi. Looking dapper and confident between two of the machines, Girardi appears beneath the baseball-themed headline: “Award-winning Sharp MFPs have all your bases covered.”

In some quarters, the Yankees are considered the Great Satan, but Sharp is counting on having its brand associated with a likable manager and a sports franchise with an unrivaled history of success. We'd feel better about the ad if we were convinced the celebrity endorser actually used the product. It's hard to imagine the Yankee skipper spending much time at the copier.

A larger concern is the typography. The reverse-type copy block is difficult to read. Compounding the readability problem is the poor registration of the type—at least with the copy we found.

In closing, we encourage the use of faces to engage audiences. The challenge is finding a face that pairs well with the message, the product or service, and the brand.

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