Visual First: Say It All Without a Word

Two years ago, I purchased a video installation by the up-and-coming LA artist Brian Bress. The piece, The Hunter, is showcased via flat-screen monitor, with Bress himself dressed up as a huntsman, drawing images on a sheet of glass with a dry erase marker. There are no words. There is no sound. There’s just Bress drawing images for the audience to decipher.

When I first laid eyes on this fascinating piece, I didn’t just see a singular work of art; I saw an important marketing lesson. In Bress’s work, one can clearly see the value of establishing and communicating through what I call a visual vocabulary.

Increasingly, communications agencies and firms are losing touch with how to really connect and engage with audiences. How so? They aren’t fluent in the language of the visual realm. Now, more than ever, brands are consistently tackling more hard-to-define, abstract concepts and ideas – take GE’s work to illustrate the Industrial Internet, for example, or IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative.

Meanwhile, the explosion of purely visual media consumption continues to grow exponentially. Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Meerkat, Oculus Rift – the list is endless, and new mediums spring up all the time. Whether they like it or not, brands have got to start adapting to the changing landscape of media. Brands must be invested in communicating visually.

Marketers everywhere ought to be constantly redefining the brand experience by transcending – and actively disrupting – traditional modes of communication. Establishing a visual vocabulary, a way to connect with audiences purely through image, will help guide brands toward more meaningful engagements with their consumers.

Art goes further than nearly any other medium to get at the heart of synthesizing abstraction. In The Hunter, Bress’s art does more to unpack complex themes, from notions of power to the complexities of romance, than a copy tagline could ever try to attempt. Sometimes, a symbol can be far more satisfying – and more universally resonant – than a missive. Watching Bress’s strokes become images is akin to witnessing the unfolding of an imagination, or creativity at work. In other words: Brian Bress doesn’t make stagnant artworks; he crafts visual experiences.

The visual realm isn’t only stimulating and invigorating; it connects us on an authentic and emotional level. Marketing to savvy consumers who know all the tricks (and let’s face it, this is becoming evermore ubiquitous) means more than crafting a cunning tagline. It means letting consumers come up with their own ideas. It means sparking their imaginations, piquing their curiosity, and giving them something exciting and memorable to partake in. At its very core, visual art inspires – and that’s exactly what any great and successful marketing campaign should aim to do.

Intel’s Instagram account is one of my favorite examples of visual marketing. In less creative hands, the account could have been flat and repetitive – close-up shots of silicon chips can be interesting, but how many of them can anyone stomach? Instead, it is vibrant and thoroughly contemporary. For a recent shoot in Sydney Harbor, the brand tricked out boats with Intel-powered GPS systems. As the boats crossed invisible borders, the GPS systems caused their fluorescent lighting to change color. In another shot, a hopeless tangle of brightly colored computer cables makes a pointed case for wireless technology. The account sometimes uses the hashtag #techisbeautiful. Indeed, they make it so. But more importantly, the colors, photography, and composition of the photos consistently make the account feel of the moment – as cutting-edge visually as the firm aims to be technologically.

When it comes to commitment to the visual, it’s hard to beat tequila maker Patrón. The company recently flew a custom-made drone equipped with 360-degree cameras over and through the agave fields and manufacturing facilities at its main distillery in Jalisco, Mexico. They also captured the sound of the fields and the machines. The end result was an engrossing virtual reality experience for Oculus Rift that took viewers on an ultra-realistic fly-through tour of tequila production. Nothing short of remarkable.

Visual marketing has the power to summarize and instantaneously transmit a brand’s message. It can inspire awe. But we shouldn’t discount its ability to engage audiences by making them laugh, either. A photo Taco Bell posted on its Instagram recently had a white background and black text that said, “This picture had potential.”

Marketers or consumers, we’re all humans talking to one another – it’s okay to lighten up sometimes.

Brian Bress is an artist who understands that good ideas don’t need to be spelled out – and that the most complicated ones are often the simplest to visualize. The Hunter is currently installed in my office at Group SJR; it loops every twenty minutes. The act of witnessing scribbles become forms, of watching lines evolve into symbols and complex concepts, has become a genuine source of creative inspiration for me. (And marketers take note: despite the ongoing repetition, I have yet to grow tired of it).

If you want to truly delight and inspire your audiences, consider reinvigorating your concept of ‘communication.’ Consider adopting an entirely non-verbal vocabulary. It’s time to get fluent in the language of the visual.

Alexander Jutkowitz is a vice chairman and the chief global strategist at Hill+Knowlton Strategies and managing partner for our content subsidiary, Group SJR.

Photo credit:tulpahn /

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