In advertising, as in art, a bigger canvas has a bigger impact.


What do Picasso’s Guernica, Michelangelo’s frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and The Godfather have in common? Huge scale.

Guernica is 11 and a half feet tall and over 25 feet wide. The Sistine Chapel covers over 12,000 square feet. The Godfather lasts three hours. And much of their emotional impact comes from these gigantic dimensions.

Of course, you can check out a snapshot of these masterpieces on Wikipedia, or watch a few excerpts from The Godfather on your smartphone. But you don’t viscerally feel them – not really – until you see them in their original format. And when you do, you never forget it.

So what does this have to do with advertising?

Too many brands today rely too heavily on media formats that make it difficult, if not impossible, to connect emotionally with their audience. We spend a lot of time worrying about craftsmanship and storytelling, as it should. But we should start paying more attention to the mix of media we invest in, because it’s hard to evoke emotion when working on a canvas the size of a postage stamp.

I’m not saying it’s impossible, or that art has to be big to have an impact. If you’ve ever seen it in person at the Louvre, you know that the Mona Lisa is surprisingly small. But with my apologies to Marshall McLuhan, the media is the message. And some media are better at evoking emotion than others.

Here’s why it matters. Emotion sells. It’s science—decades and decades of data and research prove it. According to Psychology Today, brain scans show that “when evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences) rather than information (brand attributes, characteristics, and facts)”. Another study found that the most shared articles in The New York Times are emotional stories. Yet another found that ads with emotional content are twice as effective as purely rational messages. Etc.

Ultimately, we all focus on media formats designed for scrolling, browsing, and swiping. But brands should also invest in media more conducive to emotional impact.

Here are five:

Outside the house

It’s hard to imagine Wieden + Kennedy’s Kaepernick campaign without the billboards. Almost all the media I saw about the campaign were actually photos of the outdoor advertisement. W+K could have just posted the image on social media, and they did. But a massive billboard in the right place immediately says, “This is important. Stop and watch.” And people did. The big canvas mattered.


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