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Is a picture really worth a thousand words?

The news last week that Twitter is introducing functionality to enable brands to target users by emoji has, according to Campaign, put another nail in the coffin of the written word. Coincidentally, on the same day that this emoji story broke, I attended a creative therapy session that provided interesting insights into the dramatic shift in PR from traditional modes of communication to visual, interactive content; it’s no longer what you tell your audience, but how long you can hold their attention for.


This is the smartphone generation after all and we (apparently) have no time to read articles; I’ve got a high score to beat on Angry Birds! Right? As a proud English graduate and believer in the power of language, you may think this prompted some kind of existential crisis for me. In fact, I asked myself, is a picture really worth a thousand words? While it’s true that dwell time has become a viable measure of success for some campaigns, such as Deliveroo’s fun gherkin puzzle, I don’t think we should be mourning the written word quite yet.


There are still plenty of occasions where businesses can use words to generate the right results, whether that’s a thought leadership piece to offer expertise and build credibility on a particular topic, or penning an open letter to raise awareness of a social issue or charitable cause. At the same time, campaigns have been known to overstep the mark due to the language they use.


Let’s take the EU Referendum campaign and the recent controversy surrounding Nigel Farage and UKIP’s anti-immigration poster as an example. The image shows the suffering of migrants and refugees fleeing violence in their own country, in tandem with the phrase “breaking point” to intentionally stoke fears around immigration. This divisive language is completely at odds with Brendan Cox’s incredibly poignant statement about his late wife, Jo Cox MP. The poster and statement demonstrated in one day how words can either be used to divide or unify.



In my own life I find words give colour, humour and happiness to the everyday. I’m getting married in September and on our table name stationary we have images that we associate with places that are special to us. Enter stage right, an alpaca from Kent and a lobster from Springfield... Without a short accompanying description on the table stationary, this wouldn’t mean much to anyone other than Tom and I, but words tell stories and invite others into your world in a way that pictures sometimes fail to do alone.


I’m of the belief that words are not redundant for brands, campaigns or people, nor do I believe that they are mutually exclusive from images. The acceleration towards video and image-based content is exciting and positive, and can be done without leaving words behind.









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