As the turn of the millennium nears, branding images rule.
Branding images are simple, often stark in composition. They occur when form and content collide. They associate a single, distinctive idea with a product, news event, or person. Branding images provoke a visceral reaction.
According to Stanford University professor Hazel Markus, Americans are exposed to 3,500 such images a day. Both advertisers and the news media are trying to attract our attention in the midst of this cacophony of images.
September's Vogue announces on its cover that it totals "700 plus pages of glorious fall fashion." The season's fashion magazines are the size of New York City phone books, not because their editors have decided to put a tome-worth of stories into their publications, but to accommodate all the ads.
ABC, which will air January's Super Bowl, has already sold 90 percent of the game's commercial spots - at $1.9 million for a 30-second ad. Monster.com is buying two slots. "The cost of impressions is huge. But the opportunity," USA Today quoted Monster.com CEO Jeff Taylor as saying, "is even larger."
And this month, The New York Times dedicated an entire Sunday magazine to the "Triumph of the Image," as its lead article announced. "Imagery has reached such a throbbing pitch that it is understandably likened to noise," wrote Luc Sante.
And while place-explicit, detail-driven, content-banal images are out there in force - think advertisements for dish detergent or photographs of last night's city council meeting - the images that surmount the hoi polloi of pictures to be remembered are the branding ones.
The news media understand the power of images that embody a plain message. Disasters have their signature notes: earthquake images of pancaked buildings and the frantic digging out of a dirt-encrusted hand; hurricane images of wave-racked shorelines and the waterlogged rescue of a small child.
Giving the public such pictures is an attempt at branding. Images of trauma are intrinsic to the marketing of the news.