If it’s 10:08, it must be a watch ad

John Foust
By John Foust, Advertising Trainer

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

That’s certainly true in advertising. Consider the nuances of photography. For example, the next time you run across an analog watch ad in a newspaper, magazine or store poster, check out the photo. Whether it’s Rolex or Timex or another brand, there’s a good chance that the time is 10:08. Or in rarer cases, 1:52. That’s because the placement of the hands creates a v-shape at the top of the watch face, which is where most timepiece makers place their logos. This v-shape frame sets the brand name apart from everything else on the face.

Watch manufacturers – and other smart advertisers – know how to photograph their products. They realize that a photo makes an instant impression on an audience. And they understand the overall impression is heavily influenced by those vital details that coach Wooden talked about.

When we hear the phrase “photo bomb,” we think about children jumping around in the background of wedding photos or family pets intruding on serious family poses. Mishaps like that are obvious and can be re-shot or corrected in commercial photos. It’s the little things that often create problems, because they can be missed in the design or editing process.

I remember seeing a photograph of a group of several people in a full-page ad. It was a generic image which probably came from a stock photo library. Although all of the people were looking toward the right side of the ad, it was clear that they had been looking to the left in the original shot. One of the subjects was wearing a shirt which featured a large slogan in words that were backward. The photo had been “flopped” to create a mirror-reversal across a vertical axis. The result was a photo of people looking in the desired direction, but with a distracting detail that had slipped through the editing cracks. Just think how easy it would have been to start out with a different picture or eliminate the words altogether.

In extreme cases, I’ve seen flopped cars with backward logos. That kind of mistake is sure to make an advertiser cringe – or even reconsider the decision to run more ads in that publication.

Sometimes, there are legal reasons for what can and cannot appear in a commercial photo. You may have seen professional athletes in ads without any team identification. That usually means the athlete had agreed to appear in the ad, but the team or the league would not allow visible logos.

The point of all this is to think carefully about photography. Before and after a photo is taken or selected, there’s a lot of detail work to be done. Make sure the legal angles are covered. Make sure there are no photo bombs. And make sure the photo casts a strong light on the advertiser.

In other words, make sure it meets the Wooden Requirement.

(c) Copyright 2023 by John Foust. All rights reserved.

John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. Email for information: john@johnfoust.com

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