Which works best - text or images?

Insight from RAMetrics

Text or images

Back in 2014, in an article about the demise of the long copy ad, Campaign quoted veteran UK copywriter Neil French, who famously noted: “How many times have you been in a client meeting, and he’s announced ‘People don’t read copy anymore?’ This coming from a man with a newspaper poking out of his briefcase. And if you point this out, he says, ‘Well, I do, of course. But the public doesn’t.’”

It is often said that we are becoming a more visually biased society. Content with strong visuals is most likely to be shared on social media: Facebook posts with images see 2.3 times more engagement than those without images (Buzzsumo, 2015). Behavioural scientists have shown that when we’re making a snap judgement about a fact, the mere presence of an accompanying photograph makes us more likely to think it’s true, even when the photo doesn’t provide any evidence one way or the other (Newman EJ, Garry M, Bernstein DM, Kantner J, and Lindsay DS 2012).

Ads with a strong visual idea are far more likely to be lauded at Cannes and similar awards events than a long copy ad – or perhaps there just aren’t many ads with copy entered? Yet eye-tracking technology also shows that a powerful headline or piece of copy can attract as much, if not more attention, than a powerful image.

Using the RAMetrics database, we investigated which measures were most responsive to the three different types of print ad: ads that are mostly image; ads that are mostly text; and ads that are balanced between both image and text.

When it comes to memorability, image-based ads perform better – 68% of readers recall seeing ads that are predominantly visual, compared with 58% of readers for text-based ads. However, the highest average impact score (71%) is for ads that have the best of both, text and image.

In fact, image-based ads outperform their text-based counterparts across all metrics – readers are more likely to find image-based ads more engaging, they draw more of the reader’s attention and they’re even more likely to encourage them to take action.

It’s not surprising then that visual ads are deemed substantially more interesting than text heavy ads, but those which utilise both components come out on top (30% vs 22% vs% 32% for image-based ads vs text based ads vs both text/image ads). Similarly, they provoke more of an emotional reaction (34% vs 26% vs 37% for image-based ads vs text-based ads vs both text/image ads) and readers tend to find them more likeable (like ad: 28% vs 20% vs 31% for image-based ads vs text-based ads vs both text/image ads).

Ads containing both visuals and copy generally tends to achieve a more balanced performance and are best for activation, however there are some brand metrics which favour image-based ads. Readers find it easier to recognise brands via image-based ads (sender identification: 33% vs 26% vs 30%) and even find them more familiar (previous knowledge: 46% vs 36% vs% 40% for image-based ads vs text based ads vs both text/image ads).

Interestingly, visual ads are more likely to persuade readers into taking action, they encourage visits to the advertiser (15% vs 9% vs% 13% for image-based ads vs text based ads vs both text/image ads) and even influence actual purchasing (have bought/will buy: 14% vs 11% vs% 12% for image-based ads vs text based ads vs both text/image ads).

Contrary to expectations, long copy ads are less effective at delivering new information. We might expect readers to garner more information from text heavy ads, but in practice, readers prefer ads which contain a bit of both, (new information: 34% vs 26% vs 37% for image-based ads vs text-based ads vs both text/image ads). However when it comes to getting engaged readers to take action, text based ads are second to none (engagement to action: 48% vs 48% vs% 44% for image-based ads vs text based ads vs both text/image ads), which can translate to more website visits, more conversation around the brand and even encourage readers to look for more information.

Does that mean that it is all over for the long copy ad? We believe not! It’s not really about the amount of text and image that matter, it’s the strength of the creative. The category of advertiser will also have a bearing. Among the text based ads in the RAMetrics database are several for a funeral directors. We can hazard a guess that it’s not very easy to seduce the reader on this subject!

The best copy rich ads can easily compete with image-led executions. One thing that we can be certain of is that there will be an increased need for storytelling in the future. The need for quality, creative communications – whether we call them content or advertising – will only increase. This may be done entirely through visual means, pictures and videos, with maybe a bit of text to show the way. It would be a brave advertiser who would turn their back on the power of the written word. People are reading books, more newsbrands, and they are reading more words than ever online. There should still be a role for beautifully crafted, engaging copy.

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