My friends and I have recently succumbed to the latest iPhone game craze of Draw Something. It’s essentially Pictionary + Hangman, and you earn more coins as you guess more of your friends’ drawings correctly. You can spend these coins on more colours (to make your drawings prettier and/or clearer), or on bombs which can get rid of the bogus letters to aid you guessing the drawing. Anyways, let me tell you that drawing a tiny picture of Shakira / KFC / willow on an iPhone with my man-sized fingers is no mean feat. Sometimes I will do my best with the drawing, but then I’ll write words (itself a task) to provide a verbal clue. For example, my drawing of Shakira (or rather, a stick figure with blonde curly hair, a wobbly bottom and a microphone) was accompanied by the hook from her song “Whenever, Wherever”. However, this can feel a bit like cheating. The most satisfying drawings on Draw Something are those when the picture is sufficient to transmit the message.
Aha, now you see where I am going with this seemingly random anecdote. In fashion advertisements (and for the purposes of this article, I’m mainly discussing articles in print), often the only text that appears is the name of the brand – and in cases such as “Gucci”, “Tommy Hilfiger” or “Tom Ford”, these brands are so respected, adored and coveted that that is enough. Occasionally, they may print the addresses of the brand’s flagship stores so that you know where to find the clothes you’re looking at, which is helpful and reasonable enough. Pictorially, one expects to see the clothes in a flattering light, displayed in an eye-catching way on a beautiful troupe of models in a picturesque location. This is often the case, and this is usually enough. Sometimes, celebrities may be used in the place of models to give a campaign that extra spark of resonance with the public; other times, a striking use of colour (or the lack thereof), lighting (or the lack thereof), or various post-production effects (or the lack thereof) may draw the eye.
Iconic adverts, such as the Calvin Klein underwear campaign featuring Mark Wahlberg (above), have grabbed attention, caused controversy at the incorporation of sexuality into the mass media, and have gotten everyone talking. A win-win situation, as this usually translates into success (both financial and in terms of reputation) for both the model and the brand. Wonderbra’s advert featuring Eva Herzigova was so show-stopping that it famously caused traffic accidents as men and women alike were distracted from the road.
Interestingly, the text accompanying the advert, as well as advert itself with the sexually alluring woman in her underwear, is seemingly directed at men (who are less likely to be buying bras than women, and although most girlfriends would appreciate receiving sexy lingerie from their partners, a gift of a Wonderbra probably wouldn’t send the right message!) – where women are the main consumer. It is a clever way of enticing women to imagine men’s reactions to them in their underwear with bigger breasts, and yet to also include the other 50% of the population who are not the target consumer but still have the power to talk about the advert, the brand and thus make it more of a household name and talking point. It’s also a witty reference to Eva Herzigova looking pleasantly surprised at her new boosted boobs.
However, there are also numerous examples where text is used in adverts either to do the heavy lifting when an image is not strong enough on its own (similar to what I was talking about at the beginning with Draw Something), or to an ultimately detrimental effect through being confusing or just plain bland. Reading through my latest copy of GQ Style inspired me to write this blog, because I was faced with several instances of this. To start with, Ryan Reynolds’ advertisement for Boss Bottled – “The Fragrance for Men” (Because obviously, men only really need one fragrance!) :
Ryan reportedly says, “I don’t expect success. I prepare for it.” (I have inserted punctuation where it should go – copy writers are evidently not grammarians.) Does one prepare for success by wearing the correct Hugo Boss cologne? Regardless – what does this declaration even mean? How can one prepare for something they are not expecting? The straightforward, front-on picture of Ryan Reynolds and a bottle of Boss Bottled tells me that this is not meant to be a particularly cryptic or clever advert – so why the riddle?
Next, Canali. Now, I love the fragrance Canali for Men, so unlike Hugo Boss, I am willing to cut Canali some slack. Take the following two examples of Canali adverts – one good, the other awful. The reason why is down to the text:
The first advert is perfectly acceptable, bar one slight punctuation error and its final statement that “There is no need for words” (but apparently, there is). It’s a sincere (well, as sincere as an advertisement can be) depiction of one man’s love for his sexy suit. The second advert, however, immediately irks me because although I get the point of the copy, choosing a jacket to wear isn’t a particularly difficult choice in the grand scheme of a city professional’s daily life. Especially when the jacket matches the suit trousers and the rest of the outfit you’re going to wear. It’s a shame because the text underneath the heading is decently written.
Onto French Connection:
This is the worst because the advertising campaign clearly has delusions of grandeur. Where the Boss and Canali fails are straight-faced, French Connection are winking at the public, asking the question “are you artistic and cerebral enough to get this campaign?” Evidently, I am not, and neither are any of my friends or anyone I know, because we all think that it’s useless. According to French Connection themselves, it “creates intrigue and demonstrates confidence”. I would argue that it is so deliberately quirky-opaque that it creates indifference and demonstrates arrogance. The text totally ruins what is actually some excellent photography. Perhaps if French Connection’s advertising truly were confident, they would be able to use these pictures without spoiling them with words. After all, as I’m trying to incorporate into my playing of Draw Something – a picture is, can be, and should be worth a thousand words.