Manipulating Images to Convey Meaning

Instructor: Melanie Lawson
In this lesson you will learn how visual images are manipulated and selected for advertising campaigns. The lesson will include images such as symbols and shapes and also discuss the use of color, perspective, style, and content.

Ads Everywhere

As you're walking down a busy street you might not notice the hundreds of advertisements that are all around you. They're on billboards, posters, magazines, and even coffee cups. Without giving much thought to it, you notice several brands within a matter of seconds.

With just once glance at a disposable coffee cup, you see an abstract green circle and instantly know it is Starbucks coffee. Your brain processes these visual images quickly within a single glance and, if the visual marketing is executed effectively, you absorb the advertisement and the brand.

Starbucks coffee cup


All visual manipulation is designed to appeal to your emotions, not the rational thinking side of your brain. What we see on ads isn't processed logically, but rather emotionally, since we are exposed to the material for such a short amount of time.

Thus images used in marketing should connect with the masses on an emotional level. Non-profit organizations are extremely good at manipulating images to provide 'perspective' and connect emotionally.

What is commonly known as the 'Mother Teresa effect' is when non-profit organizations use individual stories or pictures of individuals to connect emotionally with donors. You're less inclined to provide a financial contribution when you see a group of individuals in poverty than when you see one small emaciated child. Groups of people are difficult to create an emotional connection with, but one lonely child easily tugs at our heartstrings.

Non profit hunger campaign

Symbols, Colors & Shapes, Oh My!

Symbols, colors and shapes are all extremely important in print marketing because they're easily manipulated to make your print materials stand out from the competition. When people walk or drive by your billboard or poster, you want them to notice it.

Colors are one of the easiest ways to make your image stand out from the crowd. For example, if everyone is using purple in their marketing materials and you pick the same color, how would you expect your poster to stand out? A different color scheme is more unexpected, catches the eye, and is memorable.

However, using traditional colors in the logo of the company that will be used repeatedly in marketing materials is recommended. This is because our brains associate certain colors with traits. For example, red is often associated with strength or power and blue with security. Thus many logos, such as Chevron and Pepsi, use these two colors together.

Symbols and shapes, specifically when used with the company logo, also build credibility regardless of color. Symbols are used to create a visual metaphor or association and can quickly communicate an idea.

Symbols can also be used in visual advertising to replace people, as they are often easily associated with certain individuals and their personality traits. For example, long beards are often associated with ZZ Top or more recently, Duck Dynasty. Another example is the Nike swoosh. The swoosh is often used by Nike in print advertising without the word 'Nike,' as we all know the symbol by heart.

Style & Content

Choosing the right style and content for your marketing campaign relies heavily on knowing the target audience. Who are you trying to reach? Knowing the target audience will help you decide which medium you should use (print, mobile, television, radio, social media, etc.) and how to best capture their attention.

For example, because seniors tend not to be as technological savvy, advertising prescription drug coupons for them through a mobile app might not be ineffective. Television commercials during the news broadcast or early evening hours might be a better match.

Once you know your audience and medium, then you can begin working on style and content. This is extremely important in print advertising because you have to communicate quite a bit of information in a short amount of time. You cannot talk directly to the consumer, as you can in TV or radio advertisements, and you cannot make images move to capture attention.

Thus, you have to select your style and content very carefully. Style can include colors, shapes, and symbols, but also includes tone. Is the campaign confident or humorous? Deciding on a tone and using it throughout the campaign is important.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account