The Power of Images & Digital Media

In the late 19th to early 20th century, when new forms of capitalism were on the rise, so too were competitive efforts by various producers to instill a common desire for its goods and services among the public. As this advertising trend continued, the need to maintain a competitive advantage became more widespread and in turn meant finding new strategies to achieve that goal. From that, what ensued was a renegotiation between the use of verbal and visual elements, which led to the increase in creative attempts to use different styles and images instead of a greater textual reliance (Bolter, 2011).

Since then, the development of images over text has only grown stronger with the advent of technology, the World Wide Web and digital media. Moreover, whereas these trends may have once mainly been the case within certain fields, today it is representative of every profession in society with media saturated on television, websites and street billboards as well as at malls, restaurants, schools and even in public transportation (Parkinson, 2012). In fact, the public has become so bombarded with advertisements, news updates and other marketing messages that “in 2007, the writer David Foster Wallace coined a more ominous name for this modern condition: ‘total noise’, created by ‘the tsunami of available fact, context, and perspective” (Gleick, 2011, p. 30). Consequently, it comes as no surprise that many people have come to learn how to quickly sort the over abundance of information from what is and is not intriguing to them. However, while these efforts do create setbacks for those producers, it has also translated into an even stronger drive to find new innovative methods of reaching their target market, such as through attractive visual and digital media. Thus, it can be said that one of the main reasons for the rise in power of visual communication is from a greater need for immediacy so as to capture the public’s attention at the expense of the printed word.

Long before the advertising epidemic and information age, visual communication had already been deemed highly meaningful because, as Lapp et al. emphasize, it has the innate ability to grab the viewers interest and elicit a response by promptly and effectively communicating a messages, regardless of the particular form (Bamford, 2003). Moreover, even though written text does also have the capacity to appeal to a reader, the fact is it cannot be done in the same short time frame therefore making its use potentially less successful. Among other things, what makes this realization so substantial is that the more technological communication continues to rapidly develop, the more people require information to be delivered just as swiftly (Bramford, 2003). To better exemplify the reasoning behind this, in the words of Detavio Samuals, EVP and Director of Client Services at a leading advertising agency called GlobalHue, “the need for publishers to get to the point quicker than ever came about as humans became more pressed for time and content became more finite. For publishers, it was evolve or risk losing their audience, and the only thing shorter than a tweet or post is a picture” (Walter, 2012, para. 6).

For some time now producers have been adhering to the public’s reliance on the instantaneous distribution of information by focusing on the nature of the visual, but recently this job has become that much easier since most things can be found online. As such, various interactive digital media techniques have come to be expected since it can provide a more authentic experience for its viewers in a manner written words simply cannot. More specifically, communication messages that utilize visual imaging in addition to audio, video, and multimedia are now being applied to create online newspapers, magazines and business profiles as well as to an endless number of other web pages because of the large influence it bears (Bolter, 2011). Evidence of this is the sizeable amounts of money wealthy government sectors and profitable companies spend on creating such messages like how “the United States Military spent $598 million in 2003 on advertising to increase ‘brand identity’ and meet their annual recruitment goals. Nike spent $269 million in 2001 on its image to sell their products…and Pepsi budgeted over $1 billion in 2001 on its image” (Parkinson, 2012, para. 20). As such, it is quite clear that the use of images and visual media has not only become popularized but commonplace because unlike with text, it truly has the capability to creatively and immediately meet the desires of its audience.

Since the use of visual communication has become dominant over text, it is that much more important for prose to compete in order to stay relevant. In doing so, as Bolter (2011) points out, attempts to ‘speak the language’ of that media, both on and offline, are more obviously being made. Some of the strategies employed in that endeavor are to increase the presence of pictorial writing or pure textual imagery within other media messages (Bolter, 2011). Yet even though the many great efforts made have not gone unnoticed, the reality is the existence of prose will never disappear but it will most likely continue to be marginalized; at least as long as the impact and power of visual imagery, in all its forms remains in control.

Bamford,A. (2003). The visual literacy white paper. In Adobe, Retrieved October 24, 2012, from

Bolter, J.D. (2011). Writing space: computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Gleick, J. (2011). Drowning, surfing and surviving. New Scientist, 210(2806), 30-31.

Parkinson, M. (2012). The power of visual communication. In Billion Dollar Graphics, Retrieved October 24, 2012, from

Walter, E. (2012). The rise of visual social media. In Fast Company, Retrieved October 24, 2012, from

This entry was posted in Commentary 2. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Power of Images & Digital Media

  1. Deborah S says:

    You raise some good points about the bombardment of advertising images. I look at this trend with my students from a business perspective when we discuss the marketing mix. As you’ve noted, a tremendous amount of money is spent on advertising and brand recognition in an effort to get a share of the market and an opportunity to get into the consumers’ mind.


Leave a Reply