Is it possible to learn from emptiness? My answer would be yes.
As a modern marketer, you also wear the hat of a communicator. As such, you need to evaluate the effectiveness of diverse communication elements to ensure your marketing objectives are achieved.
Some elements of silence and emptiness can become powerful tools to inform, persuade, and motivate our target audiences. That is the case of the video ad created by the British Advertising Agency: J. Walter Thompson, for KitKat. This communication piece was named KitKat: Christmas break, and it is a good example of emptiness as the primary source of communicative information.
This piece has the format of a 30 sec TV commercial, where there is a male voice speaking like a narrator. The background the designer has chosen for the ad is a neutral gray color. Even though the composition is displaying a single, solid color, somehow the evenness of the gray is not evident on the screen due to the use of a visual effect of lightning. The lightning effect looks like is coming from the top right, making some corners and edges especially susceptible to look darker. The presence of dark and light areas denotes an attempt to provide contrast in the composition. However, the contrast is not high between these shades of gray, which produces a calm effect. The ad maintains a uniformity of the design, as it keeps this pattern on the screen for the entire duration of the video, with no variations.
The lack of other visual elements on the screen makes us think of emptiness as a deliberate way to convey the message of this campaign. It is a strategy to remove “the holiday noise” as it is an opposite way to communicate during Christmas when viewers are bombarded with multiple ads. This 30 seconds of blankness that KitKat is proposing serves as an antidote to the craziness of the holidays. The nothingness in this piece is attention-getting. Visual hierarchy then becomes “audio hierarchy” as it is the voice of the narrator and the storytelling what moves the audience to what is next, not the empty screen. Although, we can consider there is a visual hierarchy present too, as the gray color remains quietly in the background, having no need to compete with any other element. Its role is to be quiet, timeless, and impartial.
The emptiness of this composition is enhanced by the power of the narrator. The advertising agency used a professional male voice with a British accent, which was appropriate for the commercial being aired in the UK. The voice-over narrator helped create a more natural feel of the communication purpose. Without the voiceover, the commercial would not have been a success, because nobody would know what the empty screen was about.
The narrator starts with an interaction in the first five seconds of the ad, by saying “Ahh…welcome to nothing” with a slow and relaxed pace, to get the audience to engage immediately with curiosity. The intonation used evoked a peaceful and stress-free emotion. Then, he continues to recreate the idea of “nothing” as no need to deal with the holiday traditions of the gift purchasing, jingle bells, family dinners, people dancing at supermarkets or silly Santa hats, etc, all of these that suggest almost like a chaotic feeling. This light storytelling was told in an informal manner, similar to the way the narrator would have shared this message with family or friends. It was spoken with an almost whispering voice, leading the audience to perceive the composition as pleasant and inviting to take a break. The narrator overall demonstrated good articulation and pronunciation. The pauses in the speech, the narrative and the decreasing volume of the voice of the narrator, along with the empty visual display allowed the listeners to use their mind to create the visuals associated to the relaxation moment.
The ad ends with the narrator saying the famous KitKat tagline “Have a break…Have a Kit Kat!” With minimal use of elements in this piece, the designers were able to enhance brand awareness by using this tagline as call-to-action.
On another aesthetic note, the emptiness of the ad was challenging to define boundaries in the composition. No sound effects, just the voice-over narrating was the only approach to set boundaries with pauses and changes in the inflection of the voice. It is yet considered an “active space” because has been consciously created as an empty shape to arouse the viewers.
Overall, the KitKat Christmas Break campaign is an example of an original use of emptiness and nothingness to communicate with the target audience.
On the positive side, it has been said that emptiness helps the brains process information faster. So, the use of a professional voice-over and an engaging story that the customers might connect to enhance the effectiveness of the communication in a static empty background with a solid monochromatic color. It definitely showed a designer’s intention to establish a relationship with the viewers, inviting their interpretive response.
While some may say that the stylistic choice of gray as backdrop might be interpreted as sad, conservative, formal, indecisive, boring, even lonely and depressing; I believe the use of a neutral color was appropriate for the mood and theme of the ad. The whole idea of taking a break is associated with peaceful and cool color palettes, and gray gave credibility to the emptiness because empty spaces are often associated to calm as opposed to chaos. Also, the use of different shades of gray gave this palette a polished and cohesive look since they are formed from the same base color.
There is a good visual hierarchy in the design of this composition because voiceover and visuals did not compete for attention. The muted tones of the backdrop helped the speech stand out while giving the support of a relaxed and calm background. Both elements, the neutral backdrop and the slow and soothing tone of voice of the narrator, established the peaceful and comforting mood of the composition. The gray palette also gives the storytelling context, reinforcing the existing theme of simplicity and nothingness.
The use of a male British voice-over to represent the brand in the storytelling was suitable for the launch of this ad in London, where the target audience can relate to this accent. I think it is vital to use a professional voiceover artist that is similar to our audience demographic, in order to persuade viewers to buy our product. The proper articulation, tone, pitch of the narrator was very helpful to convey the message and the intention to grab a snack (a KitKat) to rest from the madness of the Christmas holidays and just lay down and enjoy the simple pleasure of a chocolate. The fact that he used his soothing voice in a nothingness background somehow added more authenticity and genuineness because I felt the brand did not saturate the composition with too many elements to sell their chocolates; on the contrary, they kept it simple and meaningful with a minimalistic aesthetic.
On the negative side, what I consider to be sincere and trustworthy, others may believe that this composition is lacking in visual variety or detail. Monochromatic color schemes in a backdrop that stays static with no effects or texts, may appear as uncomplicated, dull and unattractive design. Some viewers might consider that there is a wasted space or that the look is incomplete, as the role of nothingness is often subtler than images and words. That is why is so important the use of the voice-over and the storytelling to be able to explain it and justify it. Despite the unity in the design where all its elements are in agreement, some may say that the design of this ad is rather lifeless and inert due to lack of variety and too much similitude of its elements. For example, similar color, saturation, backdrop, same tone of voice.
I would recommend keeping the aesthetics of this composition. In my opinion, the emptiness in this ad reflects silence and peace, which is what the target audience might feel they want in the middle of a very busy holiday season. KitKat is offering a simple pleasure, no complications, no high expectations, no activity, just quietly appreciating the bliss of eating a piece of chocolate. This is the message, “have a break”, so I consider that an empty background with neutral color and no visual elements competing for attention becomes a natural setting to communicate this to the target audience.
Emptiness’ aesthetic qualities intrigue viewers, so it is a great approach to grab their attention and engage them in the storytelling. The voice-over and narrative are in harmony, forming an integral part of a design that just works as it is.
I learned concepts about aesthetics mostly in the book “Visual Design. Ninety-five things you need to know. Told in Helvetica and dingbats.” by Jim Krause.