What’s going on here?

3rd June 2015

Within this picture lies the key to great communication.

Take a good look. What’s going on? How to make sense of it? What is the artist saying, exactly?

All successful communication demands choice. Not every point to be made is equal. When brands communicate, we never tell everything. Rather, we choose foreground and background – making one point clearly, rather than many points, muddily.

Sounds reasonable? And yet, such things are hard as all hell to get just right.

Many times, we tend to fudge the clarity of choices, to keep everyone happy. This does not help the final outcome, but it does appear to make our lives easier. The result: the communications brief expands, and the agency is tasked to do the impossible – say everything, and make sure it has impact.

In truth, few agencies will actually take such a brief literally. The result would be unconvincing and readily shot down by the client.

So, what sometimes happens is that there are two briefs. The one that’s pages long and tends to contain a bit of everything. And the ‘Realpolitik Brief’ – the one that creatives deduce for themselves. Because a brief without focus and choices is an unworkable brief.

What a missed opportunity for the brand owner! Disempowering, frustrating and – let it be said – avoidable.

But, how to decide what goes in the foreground, and what is background? Well, herein is the client’s and the brand team’s biggest challenge. Nailing the ‘one big thing’ to say requires a combination of consumer insight, judgment, clarity on competitive set, smart framing of what makes the brand different, clarity on positioning, all peppered with a little more judgment for good measure.

My own view is that spending time to think clearly about the brief is worth it, every time. This is, of course, the essence of planning: sweating the thinking. Make sure the brief is an examined document. Once we know the core message, all cylinders are firing. Everyone benefits from a brief that knows the one big thing it wants to say.

Take that photograph for example. It is surely not about winding country roads, nor the bucolic English countryside, nor roadside signage.

It’s all about the rock. (Or is it a pebble?)

The arresting visual pun guides us to the point – the foreground – and has us dwell there. Once our brains discount photoshopping, we seek ways to make sense of what is before our eyes.

As it happens, the pebble (yes, it’s a pebble) in question is Lewisian Gniess, one of the most celebrated and ancient rock types in the British Isles. I know this because I was drawn in by the picture, following the scent, via Google, to figure it out. People are like that.

But this isn’t advertising!, I hear you cry. This is the work of a talented photographer strutting his own zany stuff!. Yes, I reply. Indeed, yes.

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