Nov 27, 2017

Marketing the Invisible

When an abstract concept meets its visual match
By Richard Byrd

Not sure who did the math on “A picture is worth a thousand words,” but they had a point.

In the marketing world, a picture is a shortcut. One blink, and the story unfolds. Beyond merely recognizing the subject, we instantly have an impression about the quality of a product or offering. The busier our lives become, the more quickly we jump to conclusions and move on.

No wonder the stock image industry blooms. Getty Images alone puts 80 million photos and illustrations at our fingertips. For common themes and short deadlines, libraries like this—and there are many—provide an amazing communications resource.  

But what if your offering is not tangible?

The value of many businesses simply cannot be summarized in a stock image. Or shouldn’t be. A hospital offers health. A business analyst offers understanding. A yoga studio, tranquility. What are the visual shortcuts for these emotional attributes?

We faced this dilemma when creating an identity for Tokio Marine HCC.

Mind over risk

Tokio Marine HCC is a specialty insurance company. They will not insure your house or your car, but call them if you need a policy for your jet plane, a national sports event or to insure your top executive.

While TMHCC covers more than 100 classes of specialty insurance, their overarching philosophy boils down to “Mind over risk.” In other words, they cannot eliminate risk from the world, but they can skillfully underwrite policies to give their clients peace of mind.

Like others in the insurance space, TMHCC had previously explored stock photographs of risk-taking: skydivers relying on the security of their parachute, rock climbers having faith in the rope around their waist. Striking imagery, yes, but certainly not distinctive. To tell our client’s unique story called for something more powerful.

The perfect case for illustration

Like a commissioned photograph, an original illustration takes time and special skill, so it immediately carries an aura of a high-touch item—in perfect alignment with our client’s way of doing business.

Illustrators, though, are free from the constraints of reality. They can play with familiar objects in the abstract, creating imaginative allegories to convey a more engaging idea than any preconceived stock image ever could.

Emotionally, illustration felt right.

Now all we needed was an artist who could cleverly illustrate a story of  “confidence, strength and global reach,” true to the values of TMHCC.

We turned to the master of the visual metaphor, Brad Holland.

Google ‘Brad Holland’ and feast your eyes on the massive body of work the artist has created over five decades. You might recognize his pieces from The New YorkerTimeVanity FairPlayboy and Rolling Stone. Shattering the notion of artist as order taker, Brad Holland pioneered conceptual illustration, and he continues to create surprising solutions for his assignments, using visual twists to shed new light on old subjects.

We called. He answered. We were on our way.

Did we say surprise us?

There’s a thrill about starting a custom project. And a serious fear that quickly follows. Anybody who’s ever had a haircut knows, the end result doesn’t always match expectations.

Brad understood. To alleviate our anxiety, he offered pencil sketches. A generous four to five sketches per concept. And when our client still struggled, the artist offered more options.

This benevolent outpouring of ideas made it easy to make the final selections. Brad painted them in color over the next few weeks.

Brad also created a dozen of icons illustrating various lines of business. These small gems added interest and human touch.

The happy result

TMHCC’s “Mind over risk” tagline has met its visual match. The new illustrations, originally commissioned for an executive capabilities brochure, so clearly register “distinctive, smart, high touch” that they now emblazon an expanded list of key corporate materials, including the company website.

Yours and yours alone  

There’s a time and place for easy visual marketing solutions, and in this digital age, there’s no shortage of them. But when the project warrants the time and expense, original artwork is a thrilling and powerful way to tell a story no one else can ever copy. And that’s worth a lot.

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