Image-conscious advertising

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Image is everything. If there's no visual magnetism to the ad, there's little chance that promises, branding messages or special offers embedded in the copy or trumpeted in the headline will get their due. Stopping magazine readers often boils down to an eye-catching visual. ¶ We were only a page into a favorite business publication when we came to a dead halt on a stunning spread promoting Xerox's color printers, multifunction systems and digital presses. Three succulent strawberries, whose redness sparkles against a white background, stop readers in their tracks. Not only that, they also help support the headline selling point that color makes sales presentations 39% more memorable. Color is not only the essence of the product, it's the essence of the ad.

The brilliantly photographed image of the strawberries is dominant, almost overwhelming. But that's fine with us. An ad should be constructed so that a single component dominates the area. It can be the headline, it can be the text, but the surest route to the reader's brain is via the visual. Color, particularly colors such as red, green and blue, creates wonderful contrasts with simple white backgrounds. Note how the art director played color for everything it's worth in the headline: "Juicy Xerox."

The copywriter kept the focus on the advantages of color in the text. "Use color smartly and it communicates facts, underscores salient points and adds the `aha's' to your work."

The image in an ad for ViewSonic is much more "ho-hum" than "aha." The sepia-toned photo of a mature, prim-looking woman seems out of sync in an ad touting ViewSonic's line of LCD monitors, digital televisions and projection devices. Color is the name of the game, yet ViewSonic hopes to stop readers with a bland image. The concept of the older woman with the headline: "I'm more than just a party girl-and ViewSonic is more than just the #1 selling monitor brand" is flatter than one of the company's LCDs. The image breaks the ad.

Hitachi Data Systems, on the other hand, gives us an image that makes its ad. The simple visual of a brown leather wallet stuffed with cash works deftly with the headline: "Soon you'll need more storage, too." Copy goes on to explain why participating in Hitachi Data Systems' partner program makes for a profitable relationship. The ad reads: "We could go on about how wildly successful you could be with Hitachi Data Systems. ... But we'd rather just let our partners do the talking." Hitachi then makes a call to action, offering more information on its Web site. This is a borrowed interest image that works.

Sometimes an unexpected image can make an ad. Sprint weighs in with a nostalgic, paint-by-numbers-like illustration of a professional golf tournament. A horde of photographers surrounds the green, where the golfers line up their putts. It seems to break through the clutter in a business magazine dominated by photos and more standard-looking illustrations.

Copy in the visually arresting execution talks about how Sprint produced a customized network to help connect the course to the rest of the world and enable the media to send large digital files from the golf course. While the image is striking, the headline is completely lost in the rough. Located in the upper right-hand corner, the headline-"With Sprint, The PGA is beautiful"-barely registers. Even though we suspect most readers will stop on the page, the minuscule headline does too little to pull them into it.

Another ad that's made by its powerful image is from Ricoh. A fireworks burst resembling a multihued daisy commands the center of the page. The colorful daisy is then replicated in a flow chart that highlights the multiple functions of Ricoh's document management systems. The functions include scan to e-mail, design, print, copy, approve and finally-celebrate. It's a clever use of color where color is once again the essence of the product. 

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