Is image everything?

Photo- and video-sharing social platform Instagram is 5 years old today. And just last week, the company announced that there are now 400 million Instagram users around the world.

AML Creative Director (and wordsmith) Richard Germain asks whether the dominance of pictures over words as society’s primary means of communication is complete and, if so, whether he should zip up his pencil case and learn to use Indesign instead.

Instagram’s growth is undeniably impressive. Launched on 6th October 2010 as a photo-sharing app, it now has 100 million more unique users than it did a year ago.  80 million photos are shared on Instagram every day. Compare this to Twitter, whose total of 316 million active users is pretty much the same as last year.  Twitter may not be flatlining but it certainly seems to have reached a plateau.

And Instagram isn’t just about people sharing pictures of where they’ve travelled and what they’ve eaten – ‘food porn’ as it’s known. Around 85% of the world’s top brands now have an Instagram presence. Not bad for a platform which many people still think has the sole function of making photos look like they’ve been taken with a 1970s Instamatic, and which still retains a homespun, anti-business feel – no hard-hitting sales messages, no pithy taglines, no body copy nor bullet points.

So is image everything? Has the word been given the bird? It would seem so when you consider that one of the most effective ways of increasing RTs and favourites on Twitter is to include an image (a shout-out to AML’s digital team for that stat).

Yet conversely, we are writing more than ever before. And I’m not just referring to advertising copywriters, who are two-fingered typing more video scripts, websites and content (lots of content) than ever before. I mean everyone and, in particular, the Millennial generation.

Whereas twenty years ago, the most that anyone under the age of twenty-five might write would be a thank you letter to their great aunt, sent at least six weeks after the receipt of a gift. (Oh, and of course the occasional cheque – remember them.) Now it’s hard to get the younger generation to step away from their keyboards. An intrinsically social group, Millennials like to share everything. Reviews, recipes, outspoken opinions and innermost thoughts.

It seems, therefore, that image isn’t quite everything. Still and moving pictures certainly have a pre-eminent position in the way that many people interact with brands. But it’s the combination of words and pictures and that really delivers deep and meaningful engagement – be it the two lines that accompany an Instagram photo, the script for a video, even a well-chosen hashtag.

So it looks like I can keep my pencil case unzipped for a little while longer. For that. you have my word.