WHAT is it like to gaze into the mind of Don Draper? To reverse-engineer the ad men that make subtle suggestions to steer your wage towards one particular product or another? While we can’t see into the mind of that brilliant, cigarette-smoking adulterer, we can examine how he does his job.
The advert has a language just like any other art: a way of reading images, fonts, colours, and how they all affect us. The choice of colours is perhaps the most obvious one: red is for lust and anger, blue is melancholic, purple is regal, green is divisive.
Painting your advert a certain shade will affect how it’s received by its audience, and colour has to represent the company ethos, the product, and the consumers. Just as potent is the lack of colour. Apple might be the most easily recognisable brand for this minimalist advertising, frequently employing white to blend the aesthetic and the economic.
Of course, there are other ways that advertisers use the tools of their trade. Typography, for example, which has two prime considerations: mood and readability. A thin, round stroke is more likely to invoke an uplifting atmosphere. Conversely, thick and rigid text, harshly written, uniformly capitalised with an unstable kerning is set to leave the audience uneasy. Google’s new logo, with its curvy sans-serif script is aiming to look more modern, more playful, than its stuffy predecessor. In fact, Google is so eager to keep this font, dubbed ‘Product Sans’, to itself that the license is not available to its customers. I suppose even Alphabet needs its own alphabet.
Moving on from the design of fonts to the fonts as a collective – how does each one make us feel? Well, Courier is based on old memos on typewriters, so invokes a vintage vibe. Helvetica is associated with businesses because that’s what US Government tax forms are written with. Impact is for newspaper headlines, although now it’s been adopted by internet memes. Similarly, Comic Sans is childish, and Arial is boring. A serif font (when the type has small tails at the end of the letter) is easier to read in print, whereas sans-serif is better for online use. Every ebb and flow of a letter can conjure new emotions – get it wrong, and your type is almost unreadable.
But what’s a good advert without a suitably stylish logo? The best brands manage to hide subtle meanings even in their corporate image. The Amazon logo has an arrow from its first letter to its last letter, suggesting that the company will get you from A to Z (and, sneakily, is also in the same curve as a smile). The logo for the Museum of London represents the geographical area of London as it has expanded through history. And, of course, the FedEx logo has an arrow in the negative space between the E and the X.
There’s a world of wonder behind design, and the only thing better than noticing the hidden messages is realising when you haven’t noticed them.