When the message misses the target audience‘s mark

Formulating a snappy ad for a clearly defined target group is a basic requirement for successfully marketing a product, no matter what the line of business. Visual impressions are registered more rapidly in the observer’s brain than words are, so good, message-appropriate images are particularly important. Unfortunately – and the colorful world of advertising is ripe with examples – many advertisers fail to give this aspect its due. The consequence: the language of the image is lost on the observer. In the best case scenario, this means a boring ad; in the worst case? A message that straight-up misses the mark.

That’s why today we’d like to clarify how you can avoid some common mistakes in choosing images for your campaigns:

The image doesn’t fit the target market: The motif must be tailored to the respective target group, meaning the companies or people who are most likely to buy the advertised product. The young hipster, as advanced in years as his beard might make him look, is not a suitable vehicle for an ad for a denture cleanser… The main question is: Who do I want to engage (and who don’t I)? Gender, age, marital status, education, profession, city/state, interests and attitudes, preferences and needs, consumer behavior, and price point?

The message is unclear: Those who don’t first and foremost consider what they want to convey – straightforwardly, without a big whoop – will be left talking to thin air. There might be a chance hit, here and there, but effective advertising is different. Once the message has been properly formulated, the image has to fit precisely: It’s the first impression that counts and indeed determines whether the message hits home or not. And this message must be a promising one, for the target market in question.

The motive is boring: If an image doesn’t arouse any emotions in the observer, it won’t make an impression. A good image surprises, awakens joy, provokes, cheers, flatters, confuses, even frightens or shocks – it forms a visual accent in the flood of images and impressions that we are exposed to on a daily basis. Which of these emotions is best suited to drawing attention is also a matter of knowing the target group.

The image is not authentic: Supermodels and -heroes are not believable as advertising media since observers will simply feel frustrated and say to themselves, “Sheesh, I’ll never be like that…” – they won’t identify with such figures, because the gap between their actual daily reality and this idealized image is too wide. When viewers can’t even recognize themselves the tiniest bit, neither sympathy nor curiosity evolves – and these are the most important prerequisites for successful communication. Accordingly, select characters for the motives that are appropriate for the target market.

Image overload: Depicting an interesting story with one or a few meaningful images is a whole different kettle of fish than parading out a series of average motifs. The image should refer to the real and imagined world and address the expectations of the target market. One really good (and well selected) motif can tell a better story than several…

Tired images: Meaningless symbolic images that might’ve worked in the time before the Internet are piling up on the ever-growing trash heap of bad work—but they don’t even get off the ground in today’s visual flood. Those of the digital age want an original, product-specific and target group appropriate visual communication that entertains and “grabs” them.

Images as fillers: Photos are a central element of an effective ad, never an “adornment.”Even when they fulfill a supporting role, such as structuring a longer text into more manageable sections, the image’s message must always remain in focus.

Text/picture mismatch: This term – which is from newspaper publishing but refers just as well to advertising –  describes the undesirable effect aroused in the reader/viewer when the message of an image and the corresponding text don’t fit together.  If, for example, a very specific person is described in the text, then the reader wants to see what the person looks like so that he can “get a visual of him.”  If instead, he’s presented with a symbolic image, he might easily have an impression of inauthenticity.

Obsolete motifs: Even in the Internet age, the minute still has 60 seconds and the day 24 hours, but the “shelf-life” of visual material has been drastically reduced in the face of a widespread over-abundance. The user, accustomed to over-stimulation, constantly wants new visual stimuli.  However, that doesn’t exclude elements of continuity, such as those in the form of an influential role model. How powerfully this moment of experienced familiarity might be weighted depends likewise on the target group: for example, for older, rather conservative addressees rather more; for young people still in the experimental phase, rather less.

Perfect communication with the target market is a fundamental of successful advertising. Here, fitting images are of pivotal importance, even if they primarily serve as a “gateway” to the viewers‘ attention. The addressee’s decision whether to find the message interesting or not—and look into it more closely—occurs in fractions of a second and depends to a great degree on the quality of the illustration. The creative team at Westend61 offers an unimaginably broad variety of quality photographs; there’s something for (almost) every need so that an image’s message and the target audience fit together like lock and key.