Infographic Overload?

Viewed by some as the scourge of the Web, a well-executed infographic can effectively tell a marketer's story

The Web has been deluged with infographics in recent months, as more news sites and blogs (including Adweek) embrace them as part of their editorial mix. But some journalists and bloggers have had enough.

The Atlantic senior editor Megan McArdle published an article in December decrying what she called “the infographic plague”—and the phrase may stick. Her big complaint: Most infographics are created by “Internet marketers who don’t care whether the information in their graphics is right just so long as you link.”

These marketers amp up their claims to grab your attention, McArdle said, leading to infographics that are misleading or outright wrong. Even those who create infographics sound ambivalent about their popularity. Josh Jones-Dilworth, for example, admitted his Jones-Dilworth, Inc. tech PR firm creates its fair share of graphics, making it “as guilty as anyone for our share of the infographic explosion.”

So why are they flourishing, and why now? Jones-Dilworth said it’s a confluence of several factors, including an increasing interest in data, the development of data visualization tools (in fact, the goal of year-old startup is to create these tools) and the “withering” of art departments at many publications.

“And there’s the overarching, more straightforward reason, which is that good infographics drive pageviews,” he said.

John Boitnott is the vp of business development at Hasai, a firm that once focused on promoting publishers’ presence on sites like Digg and Reddit. Increasingly, Boitnott said his company is putting energy into creating infographics.

“I think of an infographic as just another type of content,” he said. “There are some lousy picture posts, some videos that are not compelling , some articles that are not well-written. But the cream will rise to the top.”

What’s the difference between the good and the bad? Boitnott said a well-made infographic tells a coherent story, rather than just presenting a collection of facts. As for the charge that they are developed by marketers with no real expertise, Boitnott acknowledged that’s sometimes the case—but at other times, the designers do their research, or they’re created in partnership with a client who’s deeply knowledgeable about a subject matter.

Jones-Dilworth, meanwhile, argued that the appetite for infographics signals a broader appetite for data.

“Look at Nielsen, look at FICO, heck, look at our favorite topic of debate these days, Klout,” Jones-Dilworth said. “Data is one of the biggest brand opportunities out there right now, and yet so few brands are thinking this way.”