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NOT EVERY PICTURE PAINTS A THOUSAND WORDS

NOT EVERY PICTURE PAINTS A THOUSAND WORDS

October 21, 2020

The front page of today’s Financial Times provides an excellent example of how it pays to use visual language when speaking to the press, as well as the impact a well-chosen image can have.

 

In an attempt to win over the increasingly sceptical UK business community on the benefits of leaving the EU, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is quoted as breezily reassuring business leaders that it will be “just like moving house – initially a hassle but ultimately worth it”.

 

This is an image, we are told, that Mr Gove is pretty pleased with, and has used many times before. Certainly, it does a good job of conveying the government’ view that the Brexit transition process represents only a small bump in the road leading directly to a new and golden future.

 

The only problem is that very few people believe it anymore. And in this article Mr Gove’s cosy house-moving analogy is immediately and unceremoniously trumped by the unnamed participant who announces it was received “like a bucket of cold sick”.

 

In the game of quote-one-upmanship, a cold bucket of sick will win nearly every time. The stronger an image is (as long as its relevant), the more likely it is to end up in print, and the more likely it is that readers will remember it.

 

But this is a weapon you should use wisely.

 

The current UK government has often shown a flair for translating big, important and technically complex ideas and processes into simple and relatable images and slogans. But over time their over-reliance on this strategy has seen them become a cautionary tale for prioritising style over substance, vison over detail.

 

The housing analogy is a great image that falls flat because we do not trust the source, while the bucket of sick viscerally conveys the powerful sense of resistance and disillusionment felt by the business community.

 

Visual language is an essential tool in a communicator’s arsenal, but it should be used to enhance rather than replace integrity and fact. Those that deploy easy analogies as part of a strategy to bluster and obfuscate will find that sooner or later there will be a cold bucket of something or other waiting around the corner.