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Ways to Create a Great Ad #5: Visual Metaphors

In '100 Ways to Create a Great Ad' Tim Collins offers an overview of a hundred tried-and-tested approaches used by advertising creatives to create great advertising campaigns. Tim has selected 10 of these to be featured by D&AD, which means there's 90 more in his book.

Visual Metaphors

A visual metaphor communicates a benefit by showing something different with the same quality.

Visual metaphor is sometimes regarded as a primitive technique, and it’s not hard to find examples of ads where cheetahs are used to represent speed, or tailors are used to represent ‘bespoke solutions’.

But it can make for simple, impactful visual advertising ideas when used well.

D&AD Great Ad Campaigns
Advantage Sampras, Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson / Nomination / Posters / 1995 / Tennis star Pete Sampras was renowned for his explosive serve, as brought to life in this visual metaphor for Nike.

The classic ‘Cages save lives’ poster for Volvo showed a cage protecting a diver from sharks. A TV execution developed the metaphor by dubbing traffic noises over the sharks. It was a compelling argument to buy, and gave the ads a dark, murky tone that was unusual for the sector.

When they’re executed well, visual metaphors can be so simple they don’t need any words at all. An award-winning ad for Thailand’s News Channel 1 replaced a camera with a viewer to show how their coverage places you at the centre of the action.

D&AD Great Ad Campaigns
Housewife, Euro RSCG Flagship / Yellow Pencil / Poster Advertising / 2006 / News coverage that places you right in the action. Some visual metaphors are so simple they work without any copy.

Some visual metaphors stand out due to the sheer amount of care that goes into crafting them. JWT Shanghai’s ad for Samsonite shows the torture that luggage endures on an aircraft in contrast to the heavenly treatment passengers enjoy.

D&AD Great Ad Campaigns
Heaven & Hell, JWT Shanghai / Yellow Pencil / Outdoor Advertising / Press Advertising / Art Direction / 2012 / Your luggage goes through hell. A metaphor that could have seemed familiar is brought to life with great craft.

The idea that luggage goes through hell could have been executed in a clichéd way, but the ad brought the metaphor to life in intricate detail.

For those looking for advertising art direction courses, there can be none better than Alexandra Taylor’s. 

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