Visual Influence: Moving from Trend to Truism


“Essentially [gifs are] a whole new method of communication. If people are talking in this content and using it to replace words, strategically that means you can create a branded language. And you can one way or another get billions of people to communicate with one another through your content. We’re serving in places that you can’t buy ads. This is uncharted territory.”

That’s the chief operating officer of Giphy, Adam Leibsohn, making a compelling argument for moving pictures becoming the baseline for social media engagement at the first Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York last month. Together with Fast Company, Weber Shandwick convened top marketing, content and creative leaders to discuss “How Can Brands Survive the Era of Engagement?”

It’s an exciting question for everyone involved in brand comms now. Leibsohn’s right: We’re dealing with a brand new language. We’ve been talking about visual influence for some time, but it has become part and parcel of modern communications over the past 12 months. It’s now a reality.

Gifs, cinemagraphs on Facebook, Vines, emojis and stickers are no longer just fun trends. They are emerging as innovative, creative devices for brands to express themselves to consumers in new ways.

Take emojis. They are now a real part of the marketing lexicon. The Grand Prix winner at Cannes this year featured emojis, the pizza emoji can now actually be used to order pizza, GE flipped its corporate .com presence to promote Emoji Science, and one car manufacturer even issued a press release entirely in emojis.

Shortform content packages are proving to be exponentially more engaging than passive, static media, and brands are now starting to get to grips with using them to effectively engage audiences.

There’s huge appetite among clients across EMEA and globally to understand all the media flux in play at the moment. Most importantly, they want to know how to transition effectively from legacy to digital ways of communicating.

Essentially, visual influence is about thinking through the eyes of those you want to reach. And earned still comes first: As ever, it all comes down to a great idea, and a set of creatives around that idea that earn the attention of not only people but also algorithms.

Brands are now realising that it’s about more than simply digitizing existing assets by republishing or repackaging: It’s about thinking digitally, and creating content for very specific environments like Snapchat or Instagram.

It’s also about understanding how those environments are evolving. Instagram captions are the new blogging, and Instagram itself is inspiring other projects such as Dronestagram — a picture-sharing site for aerial photos taken from drones.

And new platforms are emerging all the time. Pictoline is a visual news organization that produces simple, arresting visuals designed to make readers stop, click, and share. In just a few months since they started publishing, they’ve attracted 300,000 followers on Facebook and 66,000 on Twitter.

As some of the biggest brands in the world are discovering, agencies and clients no longer have to be the originators of this content. There are great opportunities to partner with YouTubers, Viners and Instagrammers who have big followings and outstanding visual skills.

Through Mediaco, we have countless examples at Weber Shandwick of how we have guided companies and brands to drive engagement in this new age of marketing. Things are moving quickly, but we have incredibly smart thinkers who understand the world not just through the lens of PR but also digital engagement: They think earned first and social first.

Two final thoughts on the flourishing of this new visual language: Last November, Mark Zuckerberg said that within five years Facebook will be mainly video. By June this year, the company had announced it was delivering over four billion videos every day.

And Snapchat — an app that many dismissed as being trivial; for teenagers to send sexy texts that automatically disappear — now has an estimated market value of about $16 billion, and is turning heads as a real time, engaging news platform for millennials, for instance, aggregating real-time, crowdsourced news around the recent San Bernardino shootings in California.

In 2015, visual influence was a trend for brands to watch. In 2016, the opportunities will start to become a reality, and brands and agencies will start to really embrace, experiment and adapt to this exciting new environment.

Chris Perry is Chief Digital Officer of Weber Shandwick

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