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Visualising Metaphors and Analogies


The word metaphor comes from a Greek word meaning to “transfer” or “carry across”. Metaphors “carry” meaning from one word, image, or idea to another.

Metaphors are part of our everyday language and communication to describe a feeling, a particular situation or someone’s behaviour.

For example, feeling ‘on top of the world’, a situation of ‘having one’s back to a wall’ or behaviour ‘like a bull in a china shop’.


Just like a metaphor, an analogy makes a connection between two dissimilar things. The main purpose of an analogy is to bring out the meaning of a concept or idea in such a way that it can be understood with ease.

For these very reasons analogies, just like metaphors, play a significant role in problem solving, decision-making, perception, memory, creativity, emotion and communication and are integrated into the fabric of our daily lives.

Visual Metaphors

Most visual metaphors are derived from the depiction of figures of speech in common usage and as such have the ability to communicate understanding and meaning to a broad spectrum of society.

An effective visual metaphor encourages insight, provides a visual stimulus for thought and ease of understanding.

There is also a creative opportunity for Art Directors and Copywriters to create compelling brand promises that become new metaphors of everyday speech.

1. Bell’s Whisky, The Reader

Advertising Agency: King James, Cape Town

This much lauded, excellently crafted commercial was directed by Greg Gray and struck an emotive chord with many viewers.

The selling line “Give that man a Bell’s” became a metaphor for a well deserved token of honour and a popular South African catchphrase.

2. Electronic Data Systems, Herding Cats

Advertising Agency: Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis

The phrase ‘herding cats’ is a metaphor for the impossibility of controlling the uncontrollable. The analogy likens the chances of finding an effective solution for complicated problems to that of successfully herding cats.

The award winning EDS commercial was directed by John O’Hagen in a rewarding, tongue-in-cheek, documentary style. It was aired during the American Super Bowl to much acclaim and became one of the the all time viewer favourites.

3. Donate Life, The World’s Biggest Asshole

Advertising Agency: The Martin Agency, Richmond, Virginia

The story of Coleman Sweeney, ‘The World’s Biggest Asshole’, was a brave decision by Donate Life to grab the attention of young people by using a crass description for an equally crass character.

To most young people it is a familiar figure of speech used in daily conversations and it seems they did not think the metahor was inappropriate. The commercial was viewed more than 80 million times in 76 countries, was shared millions of times on social channels and received coverage on many news networks.

Donate Life went from 149 to 1,022 registrations per day, an increase of 586 percent. Also noteworthy is that being a nonprofit organisation, Donate Life had no production, nor media budget. The services of the Martin Agency and everyone involved in the production were done free of charge.

Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon with Will Arnett providing the voice-over, the campaign went on to win 10 Cannes Lions last year.

4. Thompson Holidays, Simon The Ogre

Advertising Agency: BMB, London

Directed by Fredrik Bond the commercial was an acclaimed success by viewers and won many awards in the travel and tourism advertising sectors. Simon’s story is very effectively told visually without the need of a voice-over. The ogre analogy is an insightful metaphor for the feeling of mounting alienation from society owing to monstrous pressures of work.

5. Sony Bravia, The Boy Who Stole The Moon

Advertising Agency: Hakuhodo Percept, New Delhi, India

This charming story of a young boy capturing the moon in a jar is a visual metahor for making the unimaginable imaginable.

Film Director Albert Kodagolian; “When I first read the script, I felt an emotional connect. I wanted to make sure that the intimacy of the story comes through and does not get lost in the grand scheme of things.”

“The storytelling is in a very simplistic human emotional zone. Bravia commercials have already set the bar quite high, so my intention was to show India like never before. This commercial is just serendipitous and the little boy is an angel.” (reference: