Maximum Metaphor

Maximum Metaphor

From In These Times, 2009

From In These Times, 2009

No doubt you’re familiar with political cartoons. Traditionally found on the editorial page of newspapers, they’re usually single-panel drawings that use metaphors to sum up and comment on current issues. Cartoonists use labels to make sure we understand immediately what the metaphor refers to– the letters “GOP” on an elephant mean we will never take it for anything else but a symbol of the Republican Party. This sort of labeling, which is unique to the form, can lead to the impression that political cartoons are by nature obvious and ham-handed.Like everything else, though, it takes a lot of skill to to do good ones; great political cartoons use unexpected but apt metaphors to create “aha!” moments for readers, showing them connections that allow them to see the issue being addressed in a completely new light. And as someone who drew political cartoons regularly for almost 20 years, I’ve found that those skills are also very useful in the work of branding and promotion.

Telling a client’s story in graphic form almost always involves metaphor. Sometimes the whole concept is metaphorical–a comic story in which the protagonist is a company’s mascot, for instance, or a superhero the embodies a product’s effectiveness. Other times, the metaphor is more of a framing device, like when infographics wrap straightforward graphs in designs that suggest old postcards or nautical themes. What’s important is, in order for the metaphor to “work”, that is, communicate the intended message, it has to make a connection between viewer’s preconceptions–what they already know about the metaphorical image– and the new concept, in a way that feels both surprising and correct. That is, it has to do almost exactly what a political cartoon does. True, product promotions don’t usually include unflattering caricatures of politicians. But being able to capture a complex current event in an image gives you a big leg up on doing the same thing with a brand.

 

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