Advertisement Hack 03: The Power of Literal Expression

Have you met the Lamb which was overly attached to a frying pan? No? Then here’s an image of that for you.

Advertisement Hack 03 Marketing on the Mark
Sunlight Liquid Detergent: Lamb
Advertisement Agency: Lowe, Bangkok, Thailand, Global Creative Director: Basil Mina, Chief Creative Officers: Eric Yeo, Dominic Stallard, Creative Directors: Ricardo Turcios, Ruchi Sharma, Copywriters: Ej Galang, Sarah Ko, Gabriele Espaldon, Art Director: Katrina Encanto, Photographer: Surachai Puthikulangkura, Illustrators: Surachai Puthikulangkura, Supachai U-Rairat, Account Managers: Blair Wang, Yarita Witoelar, Retoucher: Naphaphorn Jaengsri, Print Producers: Piyachat Cholasap, Nuch Lertviwatchai

You will, probably, never see a lamb doing that in real life, because lambs don’t get attached to dishes in that way.  But you will see images like this used in advertising every now and then, because advertisement like this are the most powerful in attracting consumer attentions.

Now, if you’ve followed my earlier write-ups, you have already guessed that I am going to introduce a pattern/trick that can help you recreate advertisements like this. But before we move on to discuss that pattern, let’s go through another example to see if you can guess what the pattern is going to be about.

Advertisement Hack 03 Marketing on the Mark
“When you use a mobile while driving, your head is somewhere else”
Fundación Seguros Caracas: Head Advertising Agency: La Cocina Publicidad, Caracas, Venezuela
Creative Directors: Gina Strusi, Art Directors: Gina Strusi, Copywriter: Florencio Ros, Photographer: Gustavo Dao

So, what is the common element in these ads? Is it the presence of living beings in both of them? Or Is it the fact that they have very few elements in them? Actually it’s neither. This pattern is about the mind-boggling way the visuals connect with the tagline. This pattern is about the absolute synergy between visual and copy.

In this kind of ads, the job starts with developing the tagline/slogan. Once the tagline is set, the visual artist’s job begins. The artist start by taking the tagline almost by the word, and then develop the advertisement by converting parts (or all) of the tagline directly into visuals. And the resulting advertisement, more often than not, is an outstanding piece of work.

Method 3. Convert the Literal Meaning of the Tagline into Visual- Power of Literal Expression

Copy and Visual both are equally important


  1. Select a focused and to the point tagline
  2. Identify the two parts of the tagline
  3. Take the words of the main part of the tagline (Literal Segment), and use the visuals which portrays the literal meaning of that

This method is in fact my most favorite of the 11 Advertising Tricks; probably because I have used it in a couple of occasions in the past. And I loved the fact that using this method not only ensured astounding results but also made it a very easy to follow method.

What I have learnt from using this method firsthand is that the copy (tagline/slogan) is THE foundation of such ads. It’s essential that the copy is developed before any thought on visual is given. The copy also has to be quite focused, and to the point. More importantly, the copy must have one special segment, which should include at least one of the following:

  1. At least one word which inspires an image in the readers’ minds, or
  2. An action verb/noun

Let’s call this segment “Literal Segment” for understanding and future reference.

In addition to the Literal Segment, the copy may also have words which will complete its meaning. I am going to call this part “Secondary Segment”. “Secondary Segment” is a very rarely used segment, as most ad’s copy is made of “Literal Segment” only.

I am going to introduce an example here to further illustrate this method. Suppose we have been assigned a job to develop an advertisement to create awareness of the practice of Preserving Energy. We start, by developing the tagline.

Literal Segment: Save

Secondary Segment: Energy

Tagline: Save Energy

Once the copy is completed, comes the exciting part of converting it to the visual. In the ad, both the Literal and the Secondary segment  have to be represented by an image or visual. So it’s essential to convert them both, but in a different way:

  1. Literal Segment: Start by taking a moment to think what this part’s literal meaning is. Then think of how just that literal meaning can be expressed visually. The visual expressions, usually, won’t have any connection with the advertised product. That is what makes such ads so successful; because your audiences will still understand what you are trying to say. And as you are going to say it in an unexpected way, they are going to remember the advertisement.
  2. Second Segment: This part should be used to connect with the core offering of the advertised product. You will still need to convert it to an image or visual element, just not in the way you converted the Literal Segment.

Let’s go back to the example. We were assigned a job to develop an advertisement on Saving Energy, and we came up with a straightforward tagline: Save Energy

  1. Literal Segment, “Save”: The word “Save” can be associated with many things including saving money, saving computer files, or even saving a life. We are going to take the first one and use it as the main image.
  2. Secondary Segment, “Energy”: We are going to use an image of lightning which symbolizes Energy.

And once you are done with this process, et voilà! You have your ad.

Advertisement Hack 03 Marketing on the Mark
Save Energy: Marketing on the Mark- The Power of Literal Expression
Photo Credit: Jacob Edward,

In this ad, with the tagline of “Save Energy, I have used an image of a piggy bank (used to save money), and have shown that Energy is being saved instead of money.

In this method, you get the certainty to break through the advertising clutter, because the visual is very likely to be different from what the readers are used to. I am going to say this once again; the beauty of such ads are that though the visuals don’t have any direct connection with the product advertised, the reader still get what is being promoted.

Best if used by: Almost any brand can use this. It’s only important to make sure that the audiences get the connection between the tagline and the visual after literal translation.

Let’s look at a few more advertisement example of Power of Literal Expression:

Advertisement Hack 03 Marketing on the Mark
Penguin Audiobooks: Moby Dick Advertising Agency:Y&R, Beijing, China Executive Creative Director:Nils Andersson Creative Directors:Ronnie Wu, Chen Lei Art Director:Bruce Xie

In this ad, the tagline is, ” Captured in Audio”. If you look closely, you’ll see a penguin is standing with a microphone on its hand. It is in fact literally recording whatever’s happening in the book.

Literal Segment: Captured in Audio

Advertisement Hack 03 Marketing on the Mark
Advertising Agency: Lowe, Bangkok, Thailand, Creative Directors: Ricardo Turcios, Ruchi Sharma, Copywriters: EJ Galang, Sarah Ko, Gabriele Espaldon, Art Director: Katrina Encanto, Photographer: Surachai Puthikulangkura, Production Company: Illusion, Production Company Producer: Somsak Pairew, Agency Producers: Piyachat Cholasap, Nuch Lertviwatchai, Illustrators / Retouchers: Surachai Puthikulangkura / Supachai U-Rairat, Chief Creative Officer: Eric Yeo, Account Managers: Blair Wang, Yarita Witoelar, Global Creative Director: Basil Mina, Global Business Director: Richard Ellis, Global Account Director: Liann Al Chami, Computer Art: Naphaphorn Jaengsri, Chief Executive Officer: Jeremy Hine, Media: Josephine Lim, Chief Creative officer: Dominic Stallard

Another advertisement from the Sunshine “Separate Them” Series; this time featuring a cow. This ad is talking about separating the Cow from the dish, or in other words cleaning the dish after eating beef.

Literal Segment: Separate Them

If you can develop a tagline that can be converted into visuals in this way, never miss the chance use the Power of Literal Expression. The results are always brilliant and people will consider you to be a very creative person; and they will be right.

This article, The Power of Literal Expression, is part of the “11 Advertising Trick to Make Good Ads Great”. Check the earlier parts here. Part 1 has talked about the Power of Exaggeration in advertisement and  Part 2 discussed the Power of Absence. Subscribe to get updates when new articles are posted.

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