Clement Creative Blog

Communications concepts vs. headlines and visuals: What’s the difference?

Posted by Charlie Clement on Mar 8, 2016 8:00:00 AM
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True comunications concepts, as opposed to mere headlines and visuals, are more persuasive and work better at pulling people in.As a longtime ad guy, I believe a true communications concept for an ad, a sign, an offering on a web site, anything, transcends a mere headline-and-visual combination and has more selling power.

In today’s world, for many communications assignments, a writer comes up with a headline, then it’s the art director or designer’s job to “find a visual to go with it.” Which all too often ends up being a stock photo that adds little or nothing to the idea, besides representing the category.

Communications concepts, on the other hand, are ideas where the headline and visual combine to make a compelling statement. They engage you and make a point all at once. Not that a terrific headline or visual can’t do that on its own. But it’s rare. 

Handy guidelines that improve your creative executions.
There are guidelines I like to use when I get an assignment to come up with concepts for any kind of marketing communcations. I wouldn’t consider them hard and fast rules. But they help me keep the creative I deliver more conceptual. Which, for my money, means stronger and more persuasive. 

Following are three of my favorite guidelines or approaches to creating conceptually-driven communications. Adhering to any one of them on any particular assignment can help make that bit of communications stronger.

1) Visually demontrate your advantage.
Of course  you've taken the time to think strategically about the assignment beforehand and have identified the advantage you want to highlight. So as you or your team approach this creative execution, think of an intriguing way to depict that advantage — visually. Maybe it's a straightforward picture of the product in action, or perhaps it's more whimsical or unusual. In the case of a service-oriented advantage, it may beg to be the latter to get the idea across. Here are two such examples I've used to visually demonstrate an advantage.

A visual demonstration of being able to reach your go-to contcts at Medical Mutual easily.

The brand research had said Medical Mutual's biggest advantage centers on the close relationships their hospital clients — the sell medical malpractice insurance — enjoy with them. We defined what that meant and demonstrated it in this ad that hearkens back to the days of Commissioner Gordon reaching Batman on the hotline.

Another visual demonstration of how Cat's strategy saves money for rural utilities.

This industrial generator ad is from my early days in the business. The electric utility managers it is targeted to know all about load profiles and the savings they can realize by shaving the peaks off of those profiles. Thus, we have a visual demonstration of the advantage you receive from the strategy being advertised.  

2) The "say cow, see cow" rule.
I learned this one when I worked for a big B2B agency in the Midwest that had a lot of agricultural accounts. Hence the cow reference. I'm pretty sure other ad folks know the same rule by another name. Anyway, the basic idea is that if you show a cow, you don't have to say "cow" in the headline because it's pretty evident. 

If you say "Diesease Control," you thankfully don't have show it. Much more engaging.

Cruise ships use bottled chlorine to disinfect water and surfaces on their vessels to protect passengers from nasty pathogens. The innovative on-demand, on-board chlorine generation systems that Howell Labs sells provide better protection and other significant benefits.  So instead of showing petri dishes or —yikes— imags of disease, we applied the "say cow, see cow" rule on the cover of this brochure. It shows that the strategy makes disease control on a passenger ship as easy as pushing a button.

We see the hangar door, therefore we don't have to say it in the headline. It keeps things more conceptual.

Pilots of small planes and owners of airport hangars understand the language and cadence of pre-flight safety checks. And they certainly recognize a hangar door when they see one. Put the two together as in this hard-working small space ad and it's pretty clear that a single-panel aluminum hangar door is a surprisingly different — ahem — concept for this market. And the point is made without without saying "hangar door" in the headline. 

 3) Cover one, cover the other.
This guideline can actually be used as a good check for conceptual quality. It's not like everything you create has to comply, but just try covering the headline and looking at your idea, then cover the photo and look at it again. If separately they don't communicate much, but together they make a real point, then voilà. You probably have a strong concept.

Cover the headline OR the visual and it makes no sense. But together, they make a powerful concept.

Go ahead. Try covering the headline and you'll say to yourself, "What the ___?" Then cover the photo and you'll probably just say, "What?" Together, though, it made a lot of people it targeted in the medical field interested in learning about the seminar. 

Neither the headline nor visual can stand on their own. But together... intriguing.

You need two hands to cover the headline on this, but just squint and you'll get the same effect. This one ran in medical association magazines. For the doctors it targeted, it cetainly posed an intriguing question when you read it in context of the visuals. And they didn't have to read beyond the first paragraph to confirm that Medical Mutual's Claims Committee — the people who decide whether to settle or defend your case — is made up of doctors just like them, not business people like at other insurance carriers. It's kind of a big deal if you're a physician and get sued. 

Some of these examples of commications concepts conform to more than one guideline (Yay!). That said, I'm not here to say that your creative has to comply with any of them. But try one on your next ad, web banner, brochure, online offer, whatever, and let me know how it goes. If you're like me, you'll find that these little tricks help make your communications more conceptual and persuasive. Also, and I really mean this, I'd love to hear your feedback.

And there you have it.

Topics: Creative

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