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UCLA Interpreting Visual Metaphors Discussion


Class Discussion 5B: Interpreting Visual Metaphors

Research has shown that the use of metaphorical images (or “visual metaphors”) in advertisement invites audiences to process the necessary information in a more intense way. This can be explained by the fact that in many cases, metaphorical image is easy to recognize and that it is more central to the audiences’ lives than literal images or than verbal descriptions of the same things (see, for example, McQuarrie and Mick (1999), Bulmer and Buchanan-Oliver (2006), Jeong (2008) and Stathakopoulos and colleagues (2008)).

For example, the advertisement presented below is intended to convey the message “an unwashed vegetable can become a deadly weapon”:

A visual metaphor displaying a burning tomato and implying that “an unwashed vegetable can become a deadly weapon.”

(Taken from: (Links to an external site.).)

Here, instead of using a plain image of unwashed vegetables with the verbal message, the advertisement employs the metaphorical figures of a grenade, an explosion cloud and a time bomb, embedded in the literal tomato image.  The shocking and deadly atmosphere implied by the weapons creates a strong impression in the audiences and make the ads more memorable and the message more explicit. As tomatoes are central to everybody’s meals, and the metaphorical images are familiar and recognizable, the advertisement aims to evoke more thoughtful consideration from the audiences. By using the metaphorical image and minimal text, the ad manages to make audiences wonder what the message is and capture their attention longer.

Two examples of advertisement presented below are also aimed at conveying the message “an unwashed vegetable can become a deadly weapon”. Based on the information provided above, how would you interpret the visual metaphors presented below? From your point of view, what visual tricks do the creators of these ads use to increase their influence on the audience?

A visual metaphor displaying an artichoke and implying that “an unwashed vegetable can become a deadly weapon." A visual metaphor displaying a mushroom and implying that “an unwashed vegetable can become a deadly weapon."

2:The ice-cream displayed below should not be treated in its normal usage as a sweet, cold dessert; instead, it is the visual metaphor of the Earth. What exactly about the Earth does it symbolize you think (e. g. the problem of overpopulation, pollution of environment, climate change/global warming, animal extinction, etc.)? Please explain here why you tend to think so.

A visual metaphor displaying a melting ice cream and symbolizing the process of global warming on Earth.

(Taken from:


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