Animal magnetism draws in readers

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Welcome to the b-to-b menagerie, where animals are tapped to help marketers make a point about their product or service. People naturally gravitate to animal images, so at the very least our animal friends help marketers get noticed. But a quick glance usually won't get the job done. To truly engage the reader, the animal should serve as a metaphor that's relevant to the selling proposition. Otherwise, it's borrowed interest for borrowed interest's sake.

The best of breed in our book is the handsome, intelligent-looking golden retriever in a black turtleneck sweater that looks natty beneath the headline: "The hairiest deals, turned best in show." The headline and text plays well off the image in this ad for Bingham McCutchen, an international law firm that specializes in complex financial and technology matters. States the text: "We structure, negotiate and close the most challenging deals with the foresight, confidence and control that our clients need to stay in the winner's circle." One nit, however: Only the doggedly determined will be able to find the firm's Web address, which was buried at the bottom of a column of text that lists the cities in which the firm has an office.

The most visually dynamic animal image we encountered was produced by AVW-Telav, which presents the photo of a green chameleon, which appears to be training a baleful eye on the camera. If it weren't for one of the AVW-Telav monitors, which essentially frames the creature, readers could not discern the camouflaged lizard for the surrounding leaves. That's the point of the headline: "Technology that can get anyone noticed." The snippet of copy follows through on that point: "Don't blend in. Intelligent lighting systems. Concert quality sound. Flat screen technology. LED walls. And more." The reptile was put to good use.

Business banker ABN AMRO trots out a well-coiffed sheep. The headline reads: "Haute couture" and the tagline says "Making more possible." Other than that, the ad offers no explanation of the sheep or the company's products or services. As noted, animals will always draw a look in an ad, but it doesn't mean readers will walk away with the message the advertiser intended to convey.

A more accessible metaphor comes by way of electronics distributor Arrow, which allows the image of a goldfish in an undersized bowl to drive the story. It's important for an advertiser to elaborate on a metaphorical image in the headline or the text—or both—to ensure that the selling point isn't lost on the reader. Arrow does it right with a headline that flows logically out of the visual: "Don't let resource restrictions stunt your growth."

Copy, written in a sprightly tone, elaborates: "It may be even tighter in that bowl than you think. Some distributors are hungrily crowding into your space, selling to your clients. We don't compete with you. Ever. No other enterprise computing distributor can say that."

Metaphorical images sometime leave too much to the imagination. When we saw what we took to be the image of a wolf baying at the moon, we assumed the ad's message would be about individuality or uniqueness. But in reading the text, we realized that wasn't a lone wolf but a coyote that's the leader of the pack, according to the headline. The ad is for Coyote Point Systems, which makes an electronic device called a load balancer. But leader of the pack conjures a different image than the one used in this ad.

Another puzzling animal image comes from software marketer SAP, which features the hybrid image of a goose with the head of an oil drilling device. Fortunately, it's not something we see every day. The headline attempts to make some sense of it all: "As soon as cars run on a tank of goose down, we'll make one kind of software solution."

Frankly, we weren't intrigued enough by the combination of the odd-looking visual and the headline to plunge into the copy, which is in a small, gray type that's difficult to read. That's the risk of letting animals do the heavy lifting in an ad. 

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