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Want to Win at Marketing? Invest in a Visual Vocab
Holmes Report
Holmes Report
News and insights from the global PR industry

Want to Win at Marketing? Invest in a Visual Vocab

Holmes Report

By Alexander Jutkowitz  I recently purchased a video installation by the up-and-coming LA artist Brian Bress. The piece, The Hunter, is showcased via flat-screen monitor, with Bress himself dressed up as a huntsman, drawing images on a sheet of glass with a dry erase marker. There are no words. There is no sound. There’s just Bress drawing images for the audience to decipher. When I first laid eyes on this fascinating piece, I didn’t just see a singular work of art; I saw an important marketing lesson. In Bress’s work, one can clearly see the value of establishing and communicating through what I call a visual vocabulary. Increasingly, communications agencies and firms are losing touch with how to really connect and engage with audiences. How so? They aren’t fluent in the language of the visual realm. Now, more than ever, brands are consistently tackling more hard-to-define, abstract concepts and ideas – take GE’s new Industrial Internet campaign for example, or IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative. Meanwhile, the explosion of purely visual media consumption continues to grow exponentially. Whether they like it or not, brands have got to start adapting to the changing landscape of media. Brands must be invested in communicating visually. Marketers everywhere ought to be constantly redefining the brand experience by transcending – and actively disrupting – traditional modes of communication. Establishing a visual vocabulary, a way to connect with audiences purely through image, will help guide brands toward more meaningful engagements with their consumers. Art goes further than nearly any other medium to get at the heart of synthesizing abstraction. In The Hunter, Bress’s art does more to unpack complex themes, from notions of power to the complexities of romance, than a copy tagline could ever try to attempt. Sometimes, a symbol can be far more satisfying – and more universally resonant – than a missive. Watching Bress’s strokes become images is akin to witnessing the unfolding of an imagination, or creativity at work. In other words: Brian Bress doesn’t make stagnant artworks; he crafts visual experiences. The visual realm isn’t only stimulating and invigorating; it connects us on an authentic and emotional level. Marketing to savvy consumers who know all the tricks (and let’s face it, this is becoming evermore ubiquitous) means more than crafting a cunning tagline. It means letting consumers come up with their own ideas. It means sparking their imaginations, piquing their curiosity, and giving them something exciting and memorable to partake in. At its very core, visual art inspires – and that’s exactly what any great and successful marketing campaign should aim to do. One of my favorite recent marketing efforts that embodies this idea is Converse’s Just Add Color Geurilla Graffiti campaign, wherein Converse asked talented street artists around the world to create art – not ads – to express and promote their brand. The ad becomes something secondary to the creativity and the inspiration that the art itself affords the community and anyone who appreciates street art. Lexus is another company that is committed to communicating visually. The luxury car brand just recently released its Art is Motion campaign, which aims to convey Lexus’s advanced driving technology by using the car – and the way it drives – to create digital brushstrokes. The result? An actual portrait of the car’s owner serves as a representation of how the vehicle’s technology works. And, lastly, perhaps one of the most creative – and humorous – ways a brand has conveyed a complex point via visuals belongs to Mercedes-Benz. The car company’s hilarious ad used the unique movement of chickens to portray the complicated mechanisms behind the car’s ‘Magic Body Control’ technology. Brian Bress is an artist who understands that good ideas don’t need to be spelled out – and that the most complicated ones are often the simplest to visualize. The Hunter is currently installed in my office at Group SJR; it loops every twenty minutes. The act of witnessing scribbles become forms, of watching lines evolve into symbols and complex concepts, has become a genuine source of creative inspiration for me. (And marketers take note: despite the ongoing repetition, I have yet to grow tired of it). If you want to truly delight and inspire your audiences, consider reinvigorating your concept of ‘communication.’ Consider adopting an entirely non-verbal vocabulary. It’s time to get fluent in the language of the visual. Alexander Jutkowitz is a vice chairman and the chief global strategist at Hill+Knowlton Strategies and managing partner for the agency’s content subsidiary, Group SJR.  
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