As a professional photographer you’d expect me to say a picture is worth 1,000 words.

We’ve all heard it before. And it’s true of great pictures which encapsulate a complex story or message in one, usually simple, form.

What they share with great copywriting is the idea that the greatest effectiveness is usually achieved with the least number of elements.

26 years ago, as a young reporter passionate about photography and keen to improve, I asked a seasoned pro photographer what the difference was between pictures taken by a professional and those of an amateur.

He said a professional decides what the picture is of and makes it just about that – filling the frame with it. Amateurs, by contrast, try to add in other elements – complicating and weakening the message.

So ‘less’ really is ‘more’ because there are no distractions – just what you need to say what you want.


Two episodes of the excellent recent BBC Radio 4 series Marketing: Hacking The Unconscious reminded me of that truth in copywriting.

Diamonds and the Peacock’s Tail told the story of how pioneering female copywriter Frances Gerety came up with the longest-serving piece of copy still running today.

It’s also the one voted Greatest Slogan of the 20th Century by Advertising Age – De Beers’ “A Diamond Is Forever”.

Four simple words which have retained their power for 70 years. Helped along the way, of course, by the social conventions they created for the marketing campaign.

Just as powerful in changing attitudes, and by doing so saving lives, was the slogan created for the 1987 UK AIDS campaign – “Don’t Die Of Ignorance”. You can hear about its birth here.

What those slogans share is supreme economy – just four words. But, most importantly, the right words.

It’s the difference between talking in marketing copy about someone’s house and their home. ‘Home’ has so many emotional resonances ‘house’ lacks.

I often say a great tweet is like a haiku – perfectly efficient in its use of characters by choosing the right words.

Combine the right words with the right picture or pictures and you have a combination which can catalyse a chain reaction of engagement with your target audience.

Great social campaigns often use explosive combinations of powerful images and a few simple but hard-hitting words.

But always the right words.

This article also appears on LinkedIn Pulse