A few days ago I posed this query:

When it comes to advertising, what’s more important: the words, the graphic design, or both?


Essentially what I was asking is this:
When you see an ad, or a TV commercial or a direct mail piece, what catches your eye more? Words? Design? Or are both equally important?

Received many responses, here are just a few: (my thoughts are at the bottom)

“Content is most important! Whether the matrix involves a higher dependence on graphic usage/visuals or whether its copy plays an integral role in the piece of communication, the overall content and the way this relates to the target audience is the most important!”

“I think relevancy. I see/hear/read something and before my active mind realizes it, my subconscious mind reacts to the relevant content. This then triggers my active mind to pay attention. Which explains why I noticed a 2×2 BW ad for Sod in my local paper when I was getting ready to re-sod my lawn. Nothing creative about the ad so how was it that I noticed it? I’m sure they still run the ad, but honestly, can’t say that I’ve seen it since I re-did my lawn.”


“Some people are visual, some aural, others literal or completely distracted. No ad can be all things to all people. I’m a wordsmith who’s strongly visual, meaning I strive to paint pictures in words, to develop consistent themes or metaphors that a designer can use as a jumping-off point. The process can also work just as well in reverse. The best print ads, in my view, are collaborations. The two elements should mesh seamlessly. What I’m looking for in an ad is a strong, clean, original, even startling graphic and a brief, provocative message that draws/demands my attention/leaps right out at me. Take transit ads. As a member of a captive audience, I want to be entertained by fun eye candy. Someone else sitting on that train might want to read all the small print on ad for laser eye surgery. That doesn’t negate the need for a strong graphic.”

“Advertising, even in its most basic form, is expected to “influence” human behaviour in some way. To do this, advertising should first attempt to stimulate at least one of the 5 senses of the target – eg. see, hear, touch, smell and taste – in order for him/her to develop a perception about the ad. This stimulation will contribute to development of “A” or the “Awareness” stage of the simple AIDA (Awareness-Interest-Desire-Action) process / model.”

“Graphic design obviously attracts a persons focal view. If an advertisment catches someones eye then you’ve successfully achieved their attention, but that doesn’t mean the advertisement as a whole is successful. The words play the next part which is equally as important as its getting a message across. If you were successfull at getting someones attention, the next challenge is keeping it! Wording is crucial.”

“Here’s a question to answer your question: Have you ever listened to a TV ad without seeing the images (or vice versa) and asked yourself what the heck was that about? Have you looked at an “image” ad and wondered what’s their point? Yet we KNOW from direct response, that a dry presentation with a clear call to action evokes a response more times then not. (In this case the design is not missing it is just more utilitarian.) So, the indication I get from this is they need to play well together, bear the same objectives, and present a cohesive thought. Sometimes design will lead, other times words will lead, but they both need to work as a unit and rarely will they succeed in isolation or without the other’s support.

Just to twist it up a bit more for you, how about when we use words as design… a stylized or typographic treatment instead of an image – is it considered art or words?”
“A picture is worth a thousand words, but it takes words to say so.”

“Design catches the eye, but words make you linger on. Together, if they don’t make a synaptic connection to your emotion, then neither words nor design really matter.”

“Now more than ever, businesses need to employ experienced creative writers with a strong marketing background and designers who think about the best way to display the text. People seem to be is such a hurry to just get something out there. If your reader doesn’t know where to look, or if the sell copy is not prominent, and the benefits not clearly defined the advertiser will not make the sale. Now more than ever, advertising needs to have a clear, well-thought-out message presented effectively. Words and graphics are both important.”
“Words and Visuals are equally weighted for me. In the case of broadcast media, sound quality ranks high too. A beautifully design print ad with nothing to say will be ignored. PLAIN BLACK TEXT with no artful placement or clever artistic additions will just feel like a memorandum. Say it well, make it pretty – is that too much to ask?”

“Each element is important, wouldn’t you agree?”

Being a writer you would think I would at the least lean toward the word side of this “debate.” However, that is not the case.

But that does not also mean I think design is more important.

No, we all know the answer.

Where’s peanut butter without jelly?

Where’s Barnes without Noble?

Where’s Laverne without Shirley?

Where’s words without the design? And vice-versa.

Ok I know there are plenty of examples of great advertising done without either the use of words OR design.

But… I think to make the biggest splash, get the biggest bang for your buck and whatever the hell other stupid euphemism you want to throw out… the words and design must be in total harmony.

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One thought on “

  1. Steve,Good post. In my opinion, both of these elementsare very important. The idea is to tell tell a great story or paint a remarkable picture. For instance, take silent movies as an example. People were able to understand the conversation without it actually being there. That is how well acted and visually appealing it was. On the other hand, look at Nike for example. Think about how powerful their simple tag ‘Just Do It’ really is. It has helped carried the brand. I think what is more important is the big picture.What are we trying to convey? What is the message? Which would be the best form to get us there? This just shows how important planning is. Also, what about music? That can make a commercial, movie scene and capture the audience.

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