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Ways to Create a Great Ad #4: Visual Puns

In '100 Ways to Create a Great Ad' Tim Collins offers an overview of a hundred tried-and-tested advertising techniques used by creatives. These include some of the best design ads and feature great advertising visuals for inspiration. Tim has selected 10 of these to be featured by D&AD, which means there's 90 more in his book.

Visual Puns

Visual puns bring metaphorical figures of speech to life.

Everyday language is full of metaphors we take for granted. Showing the literal meaning of such phrases creates a visual pun. It’s a familiar technique from broad comedy, as when Ted Striker in Airplane! says, ‘the shit’s gonna hit the fan’, and we cut to some actual excrement splatting on to a fan.

Visual puns can be relied on for a quick gag. A poster for the UK listings magazine Time Out showed a candle being burnt at both ends. An Australian ad for the sportswear brand Skins featured an uneven playing field, implying that the clothing gives you an unfair competitive edge. A poster for Fiat cars showed a wolf disguised as a sheep.

D&AD Great Ad Campaigns
Fiat, Collett Dickenson Pearce / Visual puns can make for quick, clean posters. This Fiat ad plays on the phrase ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’.

As in the Fiat example, visual puns can sometimes communicate the benefit without the need for an explanatory line. This creates clean, simple ads that can stand out among cluttered competition.

Sometimes big-budget TV ads are built around a single visual pun. A Super Bowl ad for the IT company EDS brought the phrase ‘herding cats’ to life by showing cowboys leading cats across desert plains.

D&AD Great Ad Campaigns
Skins, The Furnace, In Book / Poster Advertising / Poster Advertising Campaigns / 2009 / An uneven playing field. Visual puns bring to life the bizarre imagery we take for granted in everyday expressions.

Similar to the visual pun, the ‘stealth pun’ is a visualized phrase that’s hidden to give an extra layer of humour. For example, a Charmin toilet tissue campaign featured animated bears in woods. This is an obvious reference to the rhetorical question ‘Do bears shit in the woods?’

Watch out for stealth puns if you’re a client buying work from an ad agency.

D&AD Great Ad Campaigns
Harvey Nichols, adam&eveDDB / This poster for the Harvey Nichols sale brings the phrase ‘catfight’ to life in an entertaining way.

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

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