Too Much Manipulation

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Great campaign went a little
too far with Photoshop

Off the top, let me say this: Im a big fan of the provincial tourism advertising campaign.

A while back, I linked to this TV ad in facebook, and remarked on how much I loved it. However, discussion ensued immediately about the amount of enhancements, such as special filters, colour saturation, and so on, applied in post-production to tart up our land and cityscapes.

Some people felt these enhancements made the place look unnaturally beautiful. Blogger Craig Welsh had some fun with it, bemoaning that the ads were less than honest because they didnt show our rain, drizzle and fog. He was probably being tongue in cheek.

I do think the city shots are selective, in that there are no images of Atlantic Place, for example. But again, why would they show that? Would an ad for a restaurant show a person with heartburn?

What sets the ads apart, however, are the remarkably strong compositions. These shots werent grabbed in a couple of days driving around the northeast Avalon. Every frame is meticulously composed by someone with a very good eye. On that level, these ads are world class - as much as I dislike that term.

The other ad, highlighting Gros Morne National Park, also caught my attention. Go watch it. And then tell me: how could you not resist coming to Newfoundland and Labrador, after seeing that?

Creative and technical credit for these brilliant ads goes to the folks at Target Marketing.

Chances are, you wont hear much about that. In fact, you likely wont hear a lot about the ads in other media, because the Minister of Tourism insists on doing all interviews. I know a journalist who tried to interview Target about the ads, to talk about the creative vision behind them, the shooting process, and so on.

I was told that the minister would be discussing everything about the tourism ads, said the writer. Which basically defeated the purpose of me writing the article because who wants to talk to the minister about that? I was doing something about the creative concept of the ads, where the ideas came from, which he didn't do. It would've just been free government advertising, and not a profile piece on the spark behind the ads.

In other words, governments insistence on taking credit winds up with them getting no credit at all.

Getting to the point of todays post, the tourism campaign is also supported by other media, including a direct mail campaign that features some of the lovely images youll see on TV. One of those images, of downtown row houses, has been heavily manipulated in Photoshop. It raises the question: how much is too much?

The image above contains two different views of Kimberly Row, a gorgeous trio of houses just above Duckworth, and off Henry Street. The top photo is the manipulated image; the bottom is a photo I took a couple of days ago. (This photo is small. To see it full-size, please click here.)

The differences between the two are remarkable.

Now, I am fine with the bumped up colours. It makes sense to do that (and, to be fair, the real houses have just endured a miserable, paint-murdering winter). I dont mind that they removed the telephone pole and wires, street sign and handrail. I could be convinced that these are visual clutter.

However, the Photoshopping doesnt stop there.

To the right, theyve removed the old CBC Radio Building which admittedly is not a pretty sight from that angle and dropped in a pine tree, and a random house.

To the left, theyve removed the houses of Henry Street and replaced them with what appears to be an oak tree.

The cumulative effect of these changes is to create a scene that, in reality, does not exist at all. I have spent a lot of time looking at row houses in downtown St. Johns. Try though you might, you will not find a configuration of three houses together that looks anything like this; that protrude so cleanly from their surroundings the way these do.

Imagine a tourist, lured here in part by the enchanting effect of this photo, who actually seeks out and finds Kimberly Row. I think they would be profoundly disappointed especially if they had the postcard image in their back pocket.

The unfortunate thing is, we dont need to create downtown street scenes that dont exist. There are more than enough colourful row houses to come up with something real; something that wont leave a tourist feeling as manipulated as the photograph.

Thats my view. Whats yours?

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Recent comments

  • Ed
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53


    First of all, you're absolutely right about the Gros Morne spot. It's probably the most effective one target has done over the past couple of years.

    Having the people who actually worked on them talk about their work might actually ad a strong geek -appeal or just wow appeal to the spots in much the same way that Sony uses the making of videos to support their Bravia spots.

    It makes no sense to have the minister talk about any of this stuff but then again, if you look at it the department has been taking credit for years for stuff they had nothing to do with.

    This sort of stuff is infinitely more appealing than having a cab toodling around downtown Toronto or hiring some guy to paint a billboard on the Gardiner and trying to invent a story around it. (That was last year's schtick, incidentally.)

    Second of all, you raised the point about photoshopping. Again I think you've hit the nail on the head. The photoshopping - which is present in all the TV work to a greater or lesser extent - goes completely overboard in this example. There may well be others.

    Ironically, one of the lines used last year or the year before was about being as far from Disneyland as you can get. Well, this sort of stuff makes the place look cartoonish or caricatured. Gros Morne may be tweaked but it doesn't appear to be so grossly over-the-top.

    Ultimately this harkens back to an issue the last time Target had the province tourism contract. There was a kerfuffle about the use of a stock shot of a humpback breaching. The same shot was used in an NB poster and to make matters worse, the humpback was from the Pacific.

    In this case, the still shot winds up being so manipulated they've got an end-product that doesn't exist. What good is a toruism ad that markets a place which is entirely fictional?