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“A picture speaks a thousand words”. Apparently.

We’ve all the heard the saying “a picture speaks a thousand words”, but does it? Has this phrase seeped a bit too literally into our minds? And when it comes to branding, are the visuals prioritised over the words?

Back in the early 1900s the phrase was originally “A picture is worth a thousand words” and, according to Wikipedia, this famous saying makes reference to “the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single picture, this picture conveys its meaning or essence more effectively than a description does.”

In modern times, the idea that an image can be more effective than words, is reflected in society every day; and as a result, I believe that the idea has become skewed. Particularly in the age of social media when we are seeing more and more carefully curated feeds and perfectly-poised selfies that paint a picture that is often not true – how effective is that really?

Whilst I agree that a picture can convey part of a story and a depth of emotion, the suggestion that it’s more effective than using words is what I find jarring – particularly when it comes to creating an online profile or branding; ultimately, it is the words that will clarify who someone is, what their values are, and what they actually do.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s not possible to convey a full story just from a photo, and because an image is open to interpretation, it would be more correct to say that “a picture speaks a thousand different words, and it’s dependant on who is looking at it”. Further to this, it’s human nature to make judgements based purely on what we see – and this, can be detrimental.

I am of course playing devil’s advocate with these musings, and I started thinking about it in the context of how an online business should approach branding. After all, “a picture speaks a thousand words” is just an expression, but given my love for words and writing, I thought it was interesting how this notion might have seeped a bit too literally into the online world. And lately I’ve been asking myself, could this sort of mindset mean that some small businesses consider copywriting as secondary to the visuals?

There are lots of factors that play into both images and words, and the context of each case would of course frame the whole debate. But still, I’m curious, what do you think?

Is an image more effective than a caption?

Does a picture speak a thousand words?

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