Steel bullet in a velvet glove?

Harnessing 'visual metaphor' in brand building

Alexander L Biel and Judie Lannon

Metaphor - the use of one image to evoke another - is one of the distinctive traits of mankind through the ages. In this important paper it is suggested that the apparently 'soft' quality of much of the world's most effective advertising is founded on the resourceful use of visual metaphor, and the avoidance of its antithesis - campaigns based on direct verbal exposition. In hard times, the temptation is to retreat to good solid product-based stuff; 'the hard sell', with plenty of 'copy point recall'. In the face of such knee-jerk client reactions, their advertising agencies can find it difficult to rationalise the alternatives. Both need to reconsider what is 'hard' and what is 'soft'. One thing is certain: 'soft' does not mean 'easy'.

A picture tells a thousand words. This must be one of the most enduring and yet frequently ignored truisms ever minted. Anthropologists tell us that primitive tribes communicated by means of parable, myth and metaphor to manage and make sense of the world around them. It is ironic that, in modern life, the use of metaphor is thought to be a particularly sophisticated, 'educated' way of communicating. Is it really?