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Message, imagery must work together

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They're lovely, they're creative, they're intriguing. What more could you want from an ad? How about a genuine connection between the eye-grabbing imagery and the essential message?

All of the ads in this column have stopping power thanks to the vibrant visuals, but their messages and imagery are incongruous. Something just seem to be off.

We'll start with an ad from Qwest, a leading telecom. The image of a row of colorful dollhouses was impossible to resist. We couldn't help but note a person's hand planting a tree in the front yard set off by a white picket fence. Somewhat lost in the scene was the headline: "Whether you're a real estate developer … or a toy manufacturer."

The headline seemed to drift off at that point. Only the most curious readers will drop into the small copy block below topped with this headline that seems oblivious to the initial headline: "Qwest's tailored solutions allow you to get the most out of your network."

Qwest says that it has a broad range of customers, and that 95% of Fortune 500 companies choose Qwest. Yet, on the other hand, the copy notes that "every company is unique." It seems Qwest wants it both ways. It wants to cover every industry under the sun—from toymakers to real estate developers—yet it wants to cater to each company's unique needs. Nothing connected for us in this ad.

Kensington introduces its SlimBlade, which it describes as both an ultra-thin mouse on the desktop and a presenter when it's held in the hand. It sounds like an interesting combination of peripherals, but setting the product against a rich-looking background of coffee beans doesn't do it justice.

Yes, we get the metaphor of the SlimBlade being a blend, much like coffee. And there's no question that the image draws readers into the scene. But the visual and the headline—"Fine Blend"—fail to convey the device's unique selling proposition. The bird's-eye view of the product against the beans fails to capture its thinness. It could be as thick as a brick for all we know from that perspective.

A visual demonstration of the product would do more to convince an audience that the SlimBlade is truly a breakthrough product. Show it to us in the hand of the presenter clicking through a slide show, and show it to us on the desktop as the user clicks through a spreadsheet. And skip the coffee.

ArcelorMittal, a steelmaker, presents two images, each beautiful. The one on the left appears to be a fog bank with hills in the far distance. The image on the right features a graceful, steel suspension bridge that pierces the fog bank. Beneath the images is the headline: "Boldness changes everything."

So what's the point? In the snippet of copy below, readers are asked: "Do you believe in the power of boldness? Those who first imagined the Millau Viaduct, did. At ArcelorMittal, we believe it can change everything. In steel and everywhere."

Call us provincial, but what is the Millau Viaduct? Is it some landmark the Chasers have missed? And whatever it is and wherever it is, what is its connection to the advertiser? This ad is like a fog bank—beautiful but vapid.

Finally, there's this ad from Symantec featuring the incongruous image of a Monarch butterfly emerging from its chrysalis above a steel-gray gate or grate that seems to radiate like the sun. Readers are left to deduce the connection between the images.

The headline doesn't help much in clarifying the message. It says, "Your changing business is connected to a wide variety of computing devices … is connected to new threats that attack those devices … is connected to the power of one comprehensive, integrated solution to manage their security."

Like the other images selected for this column, Symantec's is compelling. But it fails to connect to the message.

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