Stop lying!

Seriously, what is wrong with marketing people? Do they think we're all stupid or something? Maybe we are. I dunno. Maybe we've all become so pacified that we'll accept anything they say, as long as it's said with confidence.

Take this bit of promotional blurb from a company that promotes content marketing (I won't name them; I don't wish to be cruel):

"THE NUMBERS DON'T LIE... A photo is worth 1,000 words, and a video is worth 1.8 million!"

OMG! That sounds so good, doesn't it? And it has an exclamation mark. You could almost believe it. Except it's misleading nonsense.

For a start, pictures don't always speak for themselves. Many don't make sense at all without some accompanying text that provides context. That's because the context is lacking in the picture itself. Either because the picture cannot show what the audience needs to know, or because the picture is a rotten one in the first place. Claiming pictures are better than words is plain wrong.

Who came up with this silliness in the first place? Would you be terribly surprised if you learned it was probably a marketeer? Of course you wouldn't.

Although attributed to the ancient Chinese, the phrase "A picture is worth 1,000 words" can be traced back to the more likely source of a 1927 print advertisement developed by Fred R. Barnard for Royal Baking Soda. Incidentally, when translated, the Chinese script used as an illustration in the advert places the word count at 10,000. Over time, depreciation has clearly set in.

Possibly, Barnard based his proverb on a quote by newspaper man Arthur Brisbane, who is credited in 1911 with saying, "Use a picture. It is worth a thousand words."

Either way, there is no science behind the number. It just sounds good.

As for the notion that a video is equivalent to 1.8 million words, spare me! 1.8 million?! Where to start with this lunacy?

The English printing of War and Peace, a book often cited as "quite long", is only 561,000-587,000 words (depending on the edition and translation). So, apparently, a video will tell you three times as much as Tolstoy could. The King James Bible comprises a shade over 783,000 words. Still nowhere near what a video can tell you.

And how long is this blessed video, anyway?

A popular frame rate is 25 frames per second. Purists will insist on 24, but, for ease, let's just stick to 25 frames. If a single frame is the equivalent of a picture, and a picture is (shiver) worth 1,000 words, here's the equation:

1,800,000 words / 1,000 words = 1,800 frames

1,800 frames / 25 = 72 seconds of film

So, one 72-second video is, by this reckoning, able to convey three times the complexity of War and Peace.

That's some video. The current BBC TV adaptation of the book is running at 382 minutes. What the hell are they playing at? By marketing standards, they only need 24 seconds to tell the story. Have they added bits on?


Take it from me (or don't, see if I care), the numbers do lie.

By now, you're hopping up and down and wanting to tell me that these figures should be taken figuratively, rather than literally.

I don't think that helps matters. As mentioned, without context, standalone images can be just that. Standalone, isolated and meaningless. As for video, there are so many awful and meaningless videos out there, it beggars belief. They say nothing. Not 1,000 words' worth. Not 1.8 million words' worth. 

Can an image be effective? Absolutely. So can a video. But only if the message is meaningful. Without meaning, pictures and video are both hollow. The same goes for words.

Neither pictures nor videos are inherently better than words. And trying to quantify the impact of visual content over text in such ridiculous, inflated terms makes everyone look stupid. Here, let me paint you a picture:

Only one word needed: Ass.

Only one word needed: Ass.