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A picture really is worth a thousand words.

A Picture Really Is Worth A Thousand Words

Much of my professional advertising career has been spent as a copywriter. So it might seem somewhat contradictory for me, of all people, to be ballyhooing the value of using graphics in advertising materials. Really, it's not. Because I've learned from long and sometimes painful experience that good copy and good graphics should work in tandem, and that very few ads, brochures or direct mail fliers can stand alone as copy-only pieces without the help of strong visual aids to catch attention, reinforce the copy's selling points and demonstrate product. Whether you're a local retailer or a manufacturer, and whether your chosen advertising medium is newspaper, magazines, printed catalogs or newsletters, your ad materials can almost always be made more effective with the judicious use of good graphics.

There are all kinds of graphic tools, devices and techniques available to an advertiser, and just as many different sources from which an advertiser can obtain the proper graphics. But, for the purpose of this exercise, let's just concentrate on basic product illustrations, the meat and potatoes stuff of most retail ads.

Line Art Illustrations

The most commonly used product graphic in most retail ads and literature is the line art illustration. It's nothing more than an artist's rendering of a product, usually done as a black and white pen and ink drawing, without any shadings or gray tones. Although line art illustrations usually lack the realism and drama of a photograph, their clarity and simplicity makes them easy to reproduce in almost any printed format. They're also pretty easy to enlarge or reduce to virtually any size without a noticeable loss of detail or quality. Most line art illustrations are still produced the old fashioned way - by a commercial artist sitting at his drawing board, with either the product or a photo of the product as reference, faithfully reproducing the basic form and then the more minute characteristics of the product on illustration board. Some artists use specialized techniques called "stippling" or "crosshatching" to give the line illustration a few highlights. We're even starting to see more line art illustrations that are cranked out by very sophisticated computer illustration programs. For now, a retailer's best source for professionally produced line art illustrations of various products is directly from the manufacturer. Most manufacturers are more than willing to supply their dealers with such materials. All you have to do is ask. It is possible to have line illustrations produced locally by a good commercial artist, but the cost makes that somewhat prohibitive for most retailers. Incidentally, don't trust an amateur artist who can draw cartoons and caricatures to develop line art for you. Professional results require professional training, and producing professional quality line art illustrations is a highly specialized skill.

Product Photographs

Nothing can beat a really good photograph for illustrating a product. But, note the use of the word "good", maybe because photos that are too light or too dark or lack contrast can reproduce in print as just one big blob. Newspapers also have a notoriously hard time accurately reproducing even good photos. For those reasons, I don't usually recommend the use of photos in retail newspaper ads. If you're determined to use photos in your promotion material, here are two common mistakes to avoid:

- If your ad or printed price is black and white, don't give the printer a color snapshot and expect it to reproduce well.

- Don't provide the printer with an overly-large print and expect it to reproduce well in a much smaller size. Reducing an 8"x10" or 11"x14" print to a 1"x1" square is an invitation to disaster.

Your best source for good quality product photos is, once again, the manufacturer. If you need to have product photos shot, my best advice is to find a good commercial photographer - not a portrait photographer. There's as much difference between the two as between a trap shooter and a high power rifle shooter. The equipment is similar but the skills and the rules of the game are completely different. Should a retailer try to shoot his own photos? That's a frightening thought. But I know some amateur shutterbugs will try to do it anyway, thinking it's an easy way to save a few bucks. So in an attempt to save those misguided souls from complete disaster, here's a brief list of simple pointers for improving product photography:

1) Use the largest format camera possible. 35mm should be a bare minimum; 2-1/4"x2-1/4" (120 film size) or 4"x5" view cameras are better yet. No Instamatics(R) or pocket cameras, please.

2) Use a simple, uncluttered background, preferably solid white seamless paper. And don't get wrapped up with cutesy props unless you really know what you're doing.

3) Use adequate lighting. A built-in strobe will usually not do the job. You need to spend some time reading about key lights, backlights, reflectors and such if you intend to photograph products to their best advantage.

4) Move in close to your subject. If you're looking for a close-up, shoot a close-up. Most amateurs shoot photos from three to four times farther away than they should. Then they lose the detail, and they run the risk of a soft, fuzzy, grainy print after it's cropped in tight and the subject is enlarged to the size they really need.

5) Use the highest possible shutter speed (at least 1/500th of a second) and the slowest possible film speed for the lighting conditions (100 ASA or less if possible). Both will help keep your photos crisp and sharp, and you'll avoid the grainy look that's inevitable with high speed films.

6) Hold the camera steady, focus often and use a tripod whenever possible.

7) Shoot lots of film. It's your best and cheapest guarantee of producing at least one good negative. Try different exposures, different angles, different backgrounds and even different lighting.

8) Use a good custom film lab for your film processing. We're talking reproduction quality photos here, not family snapshots. Kmart is not going to color correct your negatives or burn and dodge your prints. The commercial labs just don't have the time to correct your errors. And for reproduction you need a photo as close to error-free as possible.

Suggestions for using graphics

I can't tell you in one short paragraph how to use your graphics effectively. But, if you do your own layouts, I can give you a few helpful hints that might make your use of graphics more interesting:

1) Square graphics are less appealing than rectangular ones. Mix'n match vertical and horizontal rectangles and use just an occasional square. "Variety" is the key word.

2) Two or more graphics of the same size are boring. Instead, make one graphic dominant.

3) Tiny graphics, particularly photos, look like spots on a page. So emphasize one or two larger graphics rather than a bunch of small ones.

4) Grouping together a bunch of small photos usually looks better than spacing them far apart.

5) If your graphics depict objects or people aiming or pointing in a specific direction, place them so they point towards the copy rather than off the page. That will help pull your reader's eye towards the copy.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Publishers' Development Corporation
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:use of graphics in advertising
Author:Grueskin, Robert
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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