Visual Design & Display in Marketing: Functions & Elements

Instructor: Melanie Lawson
In this lesson you will learn about the different types of visual images used in marketing and different techniques for pairing visuals with headlines and other elements. The lesson will also include information about visual hierarchy and artistic elements, such as negative space.

The Role of the Visual

Visuals in advertising take on various roles. Some are meant to raise awareness through shock and awe, others are often use sex appeal to grab attention and sell a product (ladies, we've all seen the advertisements with David Beckham in his underwear). The function of the visual varies, but each visual in advertising is carefully selected in order to help sell a product or service, called marketing.

Before deciding on a visual, as an advertiser you spend time confirming the goal of the campaign. Is the goal of the campaign to sell a product or service? Is the goal of the campaign to raise awareness about a social issue? Or perhaps indirectly solicit donations from the general public to provide assistance to a social or environmental problem. You also spend time researching the competition so you're not duplicating an advertising campaign of the top competitor.

Two Types of Visuals

In general, there are two types of visuals: literal and symbolic. Literal images project real life and the real product. Literal visual images use the actual product and perhaps its everyday function. The visual often includes the brand, company logo and application. Clothing companies and kitchen appliances often use literal images to capture the attention of the consumer and generate interest in the product.

Symbolic images use a metaphor or tell a story. Symbolic images can often include celebrities and portray a lifestyle that is often unrealistic. This fantasy also captures the attention of the consumer and generates interest in the product. Perfume companies often use symbolic visual images to create an idea of a romantic fantasy that supposedly occurs when wearing the cologne or perfume.

perfume ad

Armani advertisement using symbolic visual images

Creating the Advertisement

There is more to creating an advertisement than just the visual. You need to decide if there should be words, a headline or other elements in the campaign. There are three basic categories of visual advertisements:

1. Headline Only - For example. Nike's 'JUST DO IT' or Chase Bank posing a question 'What's in your wallet?'

2. Visual Only - No words, just the image. However, if you decide to use a visual only campaign, limit the number of elements that you use in a single advertisement to six. Any more than this and the viewer can become overwhelmed or doesn't know where to look first. When it comes to visuals, less is often more.

3. Headline & Visual - If you choose this style, the visual has to link directly with the headline. Using the example of 'What's in your wallet?' an inappropriate visual would be a field of wild flowers or a baby. The image doesn't match at all with Chase banking or its credit card reward systems. Additionally, if using a headline with the visual, be careful to not repeat what the visual is saying. Let the visual speak for itself. No need to say what you've already said with a visual.

Visual hierarchy

After you've made a decision on the type of visual (literal vs. symbolic) and whether or not to pair the visual with a headline, it's time to think about visual hierarchy. Visual hierarchy refers to how the elements are positioned in the visual. Where do you want the viewer to look first? If you want one image to be the focal point of the visual and want this image to capture the viewer's attention, make it big. Follow this method for where you want the reader to look second, third, etc. The visual hierarchy refers to images as well as text. If you want the viewer to read the headline first or see the company logo first, then make the logo first in the hierarchy and place it front and center. The goal is to not have various elements competing with one another for the viewers' attention. If every part of the visual is the same size, then the viewer can become confused and isn't sure where to look first which then loses their focus and takes attention away from the advertisement.

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