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A Picture Says 1,000 Words, Part 2

A bulletin board completely covered with posters. A cacophony of words and images passing by when you are already overloaded on words and images from hours of time reading textbooks, staring at a laptop or sitting in class. So how do you make your posters and promotional posters stand out? How do you make sure they are more than just white noise?

And by promotional posters, I mean not just printed medium, but also any of the various electronic bulletin boards, smart boards, or other electronic medium that sometimes substitute for printed medium. Technology can do some amazing things, but because of that, I think we forget that it does not always overcome some fundamental human behavior issues.

Chances are, the pictures you choose are as important as the words you choose. Yes a picture is worth a thousand words. But what words is that picture saying? Is it conveying the information that you want people to hear? As I mentioned in part 1 of this post, if all you want is 1,000 words, I know a slightly deranged guy that stands on the street corner talking to himself. He’s good for 1,000 words. Most people who walk by don’t understand what he is saying. Most people are not stopping to engage with him. In fact, most walk by quickly pretending not to notice him. Is that what you want for your promotional posters? You need to choose your pictures and images carefully so that they say the words you want them to say and have the impact you want them to have.

Location, location, location

At the risk of sounding like a realtor, location is everything when it comes to promotional posters. Think about the space you are placing a poster and think about the typical activity there. For example, if you place a promotional poster in the middle of a hallway in an academic building, you are talking about a space that people are typically walking quickly through on their way from one location to another. Your poster is going to literally have to stop people in their tracks. That adds a lot of degree of difficulty to getting your message across. Unless you are planning to use pictures of naked people, chances are your poster is not stopping most people in their travels.

Look instead for locations where people might be lingering, waiting, looking around. Think about the hallway in a residence hall where someone might be lingering waiting for a friend to get ready. Think about locations where people might be waiting in line (e.g. on the way into the dining hall). As much as many of my dining colleagues don’t love them, think about doing table tents on the dining hall tables. If you’re waiting for a friend to go back through the line, a quick read of a table tent is a viable way to pass the time. Heck, think about the inside of bathroom stalls where you have a captive audience (though check with your cleaning staff first to make sure your poster is not a maintenance headache for them). Your odds of getting someone to look at your poster in those locations are much better.

If you do want to get a promotional message into a public area, you might want to consider putting it on a header board over your recycling bins. In that case, you will have some people who are stopping to use the bins who may pause to read the message. And you will have some who slow enough to navigate around the bins (the same reason you cannot have bins in many areas because of fire egress issues), and in the process who may slow enough to pause to read your promotional message.

Are your images inhibiting your audience?

What comes to mind when you think about recycling promotions? Cartoon images of dancing recycling bins? Smiling happy trees that look like one of Tolkein’s Ents on ecstasy? Pictures of forests and nature scenes? Who are you targeting with those images? Are you just looking to reinforce the behavior of people already recycling, or are you trying to target folks who do not currently recycle as much as they should be? Assuming the latter, have you considered that your images might be turning folks off to your program and inhibiting the effectiveness of your promotion? Don’t get me wrong. There is a certain audience that will respond positively to that imagery. However, I have found that think there is an equal if not larger audience for whom that imagery will elicit a negative reaction, and a much larger group for whom it will merely reinforce their apathy.

If the goal of your promotional program is to increase recycling, the people that you need to reach are those who are currently apathetic or antipathetic toward recycling. Are your images reaching those folks? Have you stopped to figure out who those folks are, what makes them tick, why they don’t currently recycle?

Ultimately, you need for recycling to become as habitual as throwing out the trash. To get there, you need to get as many people as possible to recycle as often as possible. That means systematically eliminating their excuses and removing the “disconnects” that keep them from participating in your program. That’s where relatable images come in. If you are targeting folks who are not always currently recycling, your promotional message already has one “disconnect” to overcome. The images you choose to accompany that message can either help you to overcome the existing disconnect and make your program more relatable, or add another disconnect.

Don’t overlook cultural impacts

Campuses operate like a small community. As such, I would urge you not to overlook the cultural based recycling promotions happening in some communities. People have found some fascinating results when they look at the failures of “traditional” recycling messages to connect with various cultural and ethnic subsets of their communities. When you look at such impact, you may find that everything you are doing for promotion needs to change, from colors, to images, to the way that you phrase things. Most of us have heard the story about the promotional failure of the Chevy Nova when it was introduced to Mexican and Latin American markets – how it was only after the introduction that folks realized that No Va essentially means “doesn’t go” (not exactly the way that you want to promote a car). Don’t let that sort of disconnect impact your program.

Share your approach to visual messaging in our comments thread or on our Facebook page.

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Roger Guzowski

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