If there was a “bible” for out-of-home advertising, one of its ten commandments might read something like this: “Thou shall not replace a good image with words”. But that’s a rule you could break.
True, OOH is a predominantly visual medium, but there are times when copy-driven ads work better. Sometimes, nothing encapsulates a message better than a crisply phrased sentence, whether it strikes a humorous, poetic or even stark tone.
Of course, there’s an art to deploying a headline driven billboard or truck ad. But when done right, the results of these verbally-focused ads can bring stellar results.
Sometimes You Need Words to Paint a Picture
Humans process visuals much faster than words, so it makes sense why we prefer to pictures over words. Nevertheless, you’ll no doubt agree that words often express emotions and ideas far better than a picture can at times.
Just think of a wedding invitation. Sure, you could send a couple a blank card with a picture of smiling couple, and they would probably consider it to be thoughtful. But it would mean so much more if you wrote sentiments in it like “holding hands together looking into a horizon during sunset”. You and the couple-to-be could picture that, and it’s an image that your imagination allows you to shape however you see fit.
The same goes for ads. Depending on the content of your message and the type of message you want to share, words will serve you better than images.
When Copy/Headline-Driven Ads Work Better…
Of course, if you’re not an advertising creative, it’s tough knowing when you should opt for a copy driven ad over a visual one. And truth be told, anyone who’s creative and strategic enough can use words in any way they see fit. Still, there are some standout instances where copy drives the message home with more emphasis than pictures.
When To Use Copy-Driven Ads
- You Have Something Funny Or Important To Say – Some forms of humour work better with words: sarcasm, puns/wordplay, allusions to famous phrases and observational humour (think Jerry Seinfeld). Also, when making statements to capture abstract ideas or emotions, words will make more sense than a picture trying to represent the concept.
- Your Branding Is Naturally Verbal – Some brands love to “talk”. They tend to be humorous and light-hearted, but in general, their ads sound like they’re having a conversation with viewers (check out Spotify’s recent ad campaign). If your other marketing and advertising content relies heavily on the copy, then keep your branding consistent by adopting a similar style to your OOH ads.
- Your Content Is NSFW Or Controversial – Risque images frequently find their way on ads, with varying levels of reception. In some cases though, you’re better off discussing a sensitive topic with a carefully-worded headline rather than attempting to show it. The last thing you want is to deal with angry parents concerned for their kids, or a group who feel they’ve been insulted.
Reminders For Headline Driven Ads
Brands often avoid the copy driven approach for out-of-home ads, because trying to capture a message in few words takes skill. It’s a form of sculpting, an art that seems lost in our visually dominant culture.
So if you’re going to go the headline-driven route, keep a few pointers in mind. Just like images, your words can work either for or against you.
Tips For Doing Copy Driven Ads
- Keep your headline as short as possible
- 10 words or less is ideal
- Longer copy needs to tell an engaging story or paint a scene
- Focus on a single idea, emotion or concept
- Avoid double meanings unless both meanings are quickly understood
- Make it a joke, a saying or a philosophy for more emotional impact
- Use rhymes, quotes or numbers to grab attention
- Play around with fonts, sizes and layout to enhance your message
- Test audience reactions to cut out potentially offensive statements
Pictures Don’t Always Speak a Thousand Words
If you’re considering a new direction with your out-of-home advertising, find a copy-driven strategy. It may be what you need to change the perception of your brand, or to break free from a creative rut.
More importantly, the nature of your brand or message may reach more hearts if words do the heavy lifting as opposed to images. The key is to use your copy wisely. Find a way to make a headline, phrase or tagline a natural extension of your brand and its message while avoiding too much controversy. You may soon find yourself standing out amongst the cluttered OOH landscape.