Sometimes Writing Is Better Without Words

Feb 02

A British colleague and I had a brilliant idea for a partnership when we both worked with global packaging company Sonoco. As Sonoco’s public relations consultant, I was “words.” As their graphic designer, he was “pictures.” Thus the informal marketing duo of “Words and Pictures” was born.

The funny thing is, I’m not just a writer. As a content marketer, some of my best writing is more about visuals and less about words. This is particularly true with technical or complicated subject matter and the need to quickly make a point. Here’s an example:

A client that produced high performance fluoropolymer tubing was launching a new heat-shrink tube. I was handling the media launch and needed to get the attention of editors. The challenge? There are just so many ways you can photograph a plastic tube. Even editors who cover niche markets can easily overlook a good story due to bland photography and a stack of emailed press releases.

How did I get the client’s heat-shrink tubing in the news? I photoshopped a fiery red background  behind the tubes. You won’t believe the number of tech editors who immediately recognized the properties of the novel tubing and ran the story. Even I was a little surprised.

Effective visuals aren’t limited to photos. Sometimes things are effective. Things like can openers.

Years ago, products in metal cans required a can opener to open. (I know, I’m dating myself.) Not only was it inconvenient, the sharp metal disk was a cut hazard. Easy-open ends like those sold by GilpinEZO were – and continue to be – the answer. My client Sonoco was intent on converting the coffee industry to easy-open ends. I placed stories in the packaging trade industry featuring early adopters of the safe, easy-open ends like Trader Joe’s and Melitta Canada. The dam finally broke with the big CPGs after we sent a simple dimensional mailer. The first layer had an old-timey can opener and this headline:

“If you want to get rid of this…”

The second layer revealed an easy-open, peelable membrane end on a paperboard coffee can with the headline:

“You have to get this.”

Brand marketers got it and the dominoes started to fall. When Kraft Foods converted to the Sonoco package, it was front page news in Packaging World. Today, you can’t find a metal coffee can that requires a can opener.

About those bloody bandaids…

Visuals are very effective at making a point quickly, but also allow you to avoid having to get into an in-depth discussion of an issue to make a point. Here’s what I mean…

Did you know that the ice cream containers used in many of the name brand ice cream shops have metal rims that are so sharp servers often cut their hands, fingers, and arms while dipping your cone? Where do you think the blood goes? That’s right. On your cone. Your kids’ cones. Or back into the container to potentially contaminate all of the ice cream. Gross, right?

There is a safer container available with a smooth plastic rim. A growing number of proactive ice cream makers like Blue Bell and Ample Hills Creamery have made the switch, recognizing that cut protection is brand protection. Still, the big boys aren’t budging from those sharp-edged drums.

How can we inform consumers of the risk of blood-borne illnesses at their local dip shop and make the big brands see the light? While I won’t share the entire strategy, it does include imagery like this:


And this:

And this:

Yep, it’s gross. But a lot less gross than blood on your cone or your kid’s cone.

There’s a lot more to say about visual “writing” so I’ll leave it here for now. The next issue of the Lux-Writes e-newsletter will look at video storytelling, and as a former award-winning producer, it’s something near and dear to my heart. Meanwhile, if you have questions about this post, give me a shout. I’m happy to tell you more.

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