Visual Metaphors: the importance of visual communication

Jun 1, 2022Santiago Alvarez Tocalli

We can say that an advertising campaign is successful when the audience remembers it and talks about it with other people. There are many ways of achieving this but visual metaphors are one of the most common.

In this article, we are going to see the importance of visual communication and how visual metaphors, when correctly used, can enhance the message effects that you want to send to a determined audience.

Importance of visual communication

Visual communication is extremely important for your business and that is undeniable. The human brain can process images up to 60,000 times faster than text, and we remember the 80% of communications that we see but only the 20% of those which we have to read.

If you want to succeed in communicating your message you must use visual communication, but in a context of hyper information where users are exposed to a big amount of messages every day, it is important to find creative ways to make your message memorable.

What is a visual metaphor?

A metaphor consists in a representation of a thing or a person with something symbolic. When we talk about a visual metaphor we refer to the same but exclusively in visual representations.

This game of associating different elements with some similar characteristics can be an incredible tool in advertising to communicate a message in an effective, clear, and memorable way.

Visual metaphors work according to the way each person perceives the world, that is why it is not an easy method to dominate because it has to be created particularly for a certain target audience that has a similar way of perceiving the world.

The power of visual metaphors

Amazing examples

There are plenty of excellent examples of visual metaphors in advertising. Let's have a look at some successful campaigns that famous brands made:

  • Tabasco

Probably we all know Tabasco, one of the most popular hot sauces in the world. In this advertisement they present a very creative way of communicating how spicy their sauce is: comparing their classical bottle with a fire extinguisher.

This ad worked really well because of the clearness in the comparison. When we eat something very spicy we say like our mouth is on fire. The intense red they chose and the incorporation of a fire extinguisher bring us to our mind the comparison of the heat from the sauce and the heat from the fire.

  • Smart

One of the big attributes of Smart cars is the small they are. This is a car created for use in crowded cities. So, why not make a comparison about the difficulty of threading a needle and driving a car in a city?

  • Nivea

An excellent example that shows you don't need anything too complicated to create a good visual metaphor. Just a half-opened can of cream that looks like the moon to present the Nivea cream for night. Simple and brilliant.

  • United Nations
united nations design
united nations design

At the beginning of 2020, we were all worried about COVID 19. The United Nations found a creative way of delivering the “keep your distance” message in an effective way and without drama to give tranquility to society.

  • Starbucks
starbucks design

Starbucks and a creative way of presenting its holiday drinks. With three cups they created a similar shape to a Christmas tree, something that almost everyone associated with the end of the year holidays.

  • Floslek
flos lek design

Summer, beach, sun, and sunscreen are words that can be easily linked. In this image is interesting the metaphor that Floslek used to communicate how effective its product is. A giant sunscreen bottle is creating a big shadow so everyone on the beach can be protected from the sun. Sometimes you can find some good alternatives to tell what the aim of your product is without telling it literally.

  • Burger King
  • IKEA

How to create a visual metaphor

Every designer can have their own way of creating a visual metaphor, and there are no right or wrong answers, but methods that work for some people or not.

In this article, we will share some steps that you can follow if you want to start creating some visual metaphors. Remember that this is not an infallible method (there is no such thing) and that it is probably that on many occasions you won't get any good metaphor, but frustration is part of the process.

  1. Establish the main message: it is very important to start with the main message that you want to communicate. Let's pretend that we work for an air conditioner company and our main message is that our products are the best for cooling your house.
  2. Potential familiar elements: brainstorm some potential familiar elements. Remember that they have to be clear so your audience can comprehend them and decode the message correctly. In this case, we will establish a relationship between the cold and polar bears.
  3. Combine the elements to create the message: once you are happy with your familiar elements combine them to create your message. Our advertisement from our air conditioning company will be a living room from a standard house, the air conditioner on, and a polar bear chilling on the sofa.
  4. Ask, ask and ask: always ask for different points of view of your final product. It can happen that the message is clear for you (because you created it) but it can be confusing for those who weren't in the creative process.

Final thoughts

Visual metaphors can be a powerful tool when it is correctly used, but they can easily ruin your communication if it is not clear. The job of a creative designer is very important to create a proper visual metaphor that can boost the communication of your business, minimizing the risk of doing a bad job that can ruin your whole campaign.

If you see an advertisement with a visual metaphor but you are not sure who the sender is, what it is trying to sell or what the metaphor is, then you are probably in front of an unsuccessful visual metaphor ad, or maybe it is not directed to you.

Santiago Alvarez Tocalli

Santiago Alvarez Tocalli

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