Pay for the Photography and Photoshop, Dammit

In an article on web marketing that I wrote recently for MaineBiz, webmaster Al Arthur advised that small business owners cough up the cash for professional web design — advice that I heartily support. But due to space constraints, the article had to leave out Al’s follow-on comment about the comparable importance of paying for decent photography. To that, I’d add professional photo editing, and design for print too. When things don’t look good…they don’t look good. And if customers don’t have a professional’s eye for design, they are at least subliminally influenced by quality when it appears, or doesn’t appear, in any graphic context associated with your company.

Two full-page, four-color ads in the current issue of the Camden Herald (and, I presume, its local sister publications) are good object lessons in how not to do it.

PETA ad shows bad Photoshop and a dead lobster masquerading as a live one.

We really shouldn’t come down too hard on the designer. She lives in Idaho and television ads for Red Lobster constitute her entire familiarity with the species.

This ad by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals purports to show a live lobster being cruelly rent asunder by an uncaring “slaughterhouse” worker. As any Mainer would immediately recognize, its bright red color signals that this is no live lobster. Or as Mr. Praline might say:

‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This lobster is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-LOBSTER!!

So those two hands that are meant to be so roughly treating this poor crustacean are, in fact, only about to start enjoying supper.

Except: those two hungry hands never really touched said cooked lobster. It may not show very well in my photo (and I apologize for that: my scanner’s bed isn’t big enough to take the full page ad), but those hands have been obviously Photoshopped in with all the finesse that you’d expect from an organization that throws blood at people as a means of political discourse.

Walmart ad shows prescription bottles with bad info on labels

Opposite the PETA ad was this one from Walmart, which opened its new store in Thomaston a day or two ago.

The problem here is subtler. Look below at the labels on the prescription bottles.

What’s that? The fictitious prescription holder lives in Anytown, Arkansas. And her refill order expired in two thousand and frickin’ nine!

Now come on, Walmart! You’re one of the world’s biggest companies; you could fund PETA’s operations for a century on last quarter’s profit. You think that just maybe you could pay for 15 minutes worth of Photoshop to update the labels to make the customer a Maine resident of the current decade?

prescription bottle label shows inappropriate content

No way we’re gonna fill this prescription for you, Jane. We stopped selling fen-phen years ago.

Slightly off-topic, but back to the PETA ad: at the bottom, the call to action reads: “To learn how you can help stop this suffering, visit PETA.org.” Go to that (home) page, however, and you’ll find nothing about Linda Bean and her red, dead lobsters. Perhaps if you dug deeper into the website you might find something relevant, but an advertisement has to: a) make things as easy as possible on the audience, and b) include a meaningful call to action. There’s no indication of what the reader is actually supposed to do to help “stop this suffering.” Call Linda Bean? Sign a petition? Send money? Throw blood on someone? If the information is somewhere on the website, the URL should lead directly to it. A QR code wouldn’t hurt. But the ad shouldn’t require the reader to go to the website in the first place: it should tell me, right there on the page, what it wants me to do.

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Why so Little Originality in Auto Badges?

Drive anywhere in the USA, and the preponderance of Toyotas and Fords on the road will have you thinking that almost all cars sport oval badges. But it’s not so! Some of them are round.

Actually, there is a bit more variety in badge shapes, but the great majority are, in fact, either oval or round. I suspect there may be some good design reason for that — I’m surely no designer — but to me, it seems like a lack of original thinking. Why do badges have to fit into a circle or an oval? Come on, automakers: break the mold.

Now, the badge isn’t necessarily the same as the brand’s logo. Sometimes it is, but often it’s a variant of the logo (like, say, the logo with a CIRCLE around it!). Anyway, here’s the result of my investigation, mostly conducted at the local Big Box Emporium of Cheap Plastic Crap (where, I defiantly acknowledge, I do a fair amount of my nonfood shopping). Images are in random order; all are mine, except the following, which I’ve borrowed from other sources: BMW, Audi, Cadillac, Lexus, Infiniti, Mini.

Toyota badge.

Toyota: two ovals in an oval. Dull.

VW badge

VW: as round as round can be.

Volvo badge

Volvo: mostly, it’s a circle, but the arrow at 2 o’clock gives it a certain..masculinity?

Suzuki badge.

Suzuki: the courage to have the initial letter, in a dramatic font, standing all by itself, with no border of any kind.

Subaru badge.

Subaru: The collection of stars is a pretty strange logo which really does need a border to contain them.

Nissan badge.

Nissan: The horizontal bar breaks the circle a little bit, making it just a little bit more interesting than a logo entirely contained by a circle.

Mitsubishi badge.

Mitsubishi: some of this conglomerate’s companies go by the name “Three Diamonds.” Doesn’t need no stinkin’ circle, does it?

Mini badge.

Mini: a circle with wings. Right. Circles have wings. Little boxy cars can fly.

Mercury badge.

Mercury: a boring round badge for a boring brand with no sharp edges.

Mercedes logo.

Mercedes: yeah, it’s round, but it’s different. The circle doesn’t encircle a symbol or logo: the circle is an integral part of the symbol. For this reason, we call it classy, not dull.

Mazda badge.

Mazda: the border isn’t quite round or oval: it’s kind of squashed. And it’s really a part of the design, as in Mercedes’s badge. So we’ll give it a B.

Lexus badge.

Lexus: an L (or is it a nose?) inside an oval. Boring.

KIA badge.

Kia: a name in an oval. Kind of dull. Could the  logotype stand by itself, with no border?

Jeep badge.

In comparison to KIA, Jeep’s all-typography badge seems to work fine without a border. And each letter is affixed separately.

Infiniti badge.

Infiniti: basically an oval. Who took the first piece of pie?

Hyundai badge.

Hyundai: an H in an oval. How do you say “boring” in Korean?

Honda badge.

Honda: another H in a border; this one a rounded, vague trapezoid. The border still makes me snooze.

GMC badge.

GMC: the big, masculine letters closely spaced have good design integrity, don’t need a border to hang together.

Ford badge.

Ford: the ultimate oval logo. Since it’s probably the oldest badge on the road, we’ll give it a pass. Heck, they might have invented the oval badge!

Dodge badge.

Dodge badge: the big bad ram (um, it’s really just a sheep) in a shield-shaped border. OK, it’s not round. And I like the pretty baaa-lamb.

Chrysler badge.

Chrysler: those are some big wings you put around that round badge there, Grandma.

Chevrolet badge.

Chevrolet: The logo is plenty intact and self-supporting, needs no border to set it off. It’s a cross, but it’s so different from the “usual” cross that probably few people associate it with Christianity.

Cadillac badge.

Cadillac: GM is always tweaking the Caddy badge. At its heart, it’s a heraldic shield. The current iteration, however, is flanked by a garland that damn near encircles it, and then the whole thing is placed on a circle, thereby making it solidly dull.

Buick badge.

Buick: I think those heraldic shields could stand on their own, without a round border. See also: Cadillac.

BMW badge.

BMW: the logo itself is round; there’s no round border encircling it. Works for me.

Audi badge.

Audi: it may be made of circles, but it’s definitely not a logo within a circle. Pretty much one of a kind.

My takeaway is the obvious one: Don’t let the design ideas of your competition steer your designs. Think outside the oval.