A Nice Splash of Paprika (Or, A Little Ugly Goes a Long Way)
As fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue and then in her role at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the late Diane Vreeland was the supreme arbiter of taste, trend and style. Back in the spotlight via the upcoming documentary of her life, The Eye Has To Travel, Vreeland valued fanfare above all else.
“There’s enough ugliness in the world! Why add to it!” she once told her grandson, reacting to his ill-advised short haircut. The eminently quotable Vreeland, however, took an expansive view of attractiveness. To her, “a little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika” and she was “a great believer in vulgarity—if it’s got vitality.” The biggest no-no, for Vreeland, was to have “no taste at all.”
Imagine if Vreeland, who passed away in 1989, were here today to judge the world of visual content—which brands get the champagne clink, and which get the bad haircut award?
Set aside their determinedly anti-commercial objectives, but no content is more vulgar than the visceral anti-smoking campaigns recently introduced in the U.S. and now in Australia.
Famously a smoker herself, Vreeland, while possibly acknowledging their bad taste, might have dismissed these images of disease, suffering and death as tasteless. From a visual content perspective, however, there is no denying their power to impress and influence behavior: I would argue that every content marketer should want for such indelibly arresting visuals.
If death is a handcuffing image, what about sex? Much ado was made recently about “the breast of advertising” or “breastvertising.” As reported by AdAge, “20 percent of all magazine and Web ads involve sexual images.” Tastelessly bad, or vulgarity with some vitality? One litmus test of Vreeland’s aesthetic might be her assay of the gap between the women of Hooters and the women of Vogue. Another: the new controversy over Michael Phelps’ bathtub shots for Louis Vuitton.
On a lighter note, many brand websites and their social media offspring (and this really is an online discussion, since according to Forrester Research, 90 percent of buying decisions start on the web) are unambiguously attractive and effective.
One clear example is iTunes. While no substitute for the good old days of thumbing through vinyl at the record store, the visual display of multimedia on iTunes’ home page and its popular Facebook page artfully invites consumers to “entertain all the possibilities.”
Imagine Facebook: The Magazine for Photojournalists, featuring only image captions and no postings. Via weekly photo contests on its Pinterest site, Mashable.com has actuated this concept, generating dynamic photo album-style content while driving significant traffic back to its main site.
Less known, but extremely effective (and a personal favorite) is free web app WeTransfer, which allows users to up to 2GB worth of files for free. That alone keeps me (and some 3.5 million users each month) coming back, but another draw are the visually stunning, never intrusive wallpapers of sponsoring companies, some with their own WeTransfer channels, that simply beg for click-through. No need for paprika—this one is perfectly seasoned.
Jeff Heilman covers business, marketing, law and travel for a range of custom and trade publications. Also an award-winning photographer and copywriter, he ghostwrote Courageous Counsel, a book on the history of women general counsel in the Fortune 500, published September 2011.