Borrowed interest better be relevant

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A metaphor is more efficient than a photograph. A metaphoric image tells a story, often in an instant. The challenge to borrowed interest is connecting the image to the product or brand so that the recognition process is almost seamless. When borrowed interest works, it can drive the ad's selling proposition. But when it's clumsy, the selling proposition comes to a sudden halt as readers or viewers are left to scratch their heads.

AT&T's image of a caterpillar sprouting a set of digitized wings works magnificently in conjunction with the headline: "Can your network transform your business?" What better way to say transformation than the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly? It's a process that's universally understood.

The theme of transformation is reinforced at the start of the copy-a critical transition point in any ad. "Evolve at will," reads the copy. "Can your network turn a tight race into a commanding lead? Can it move quickly into global markets, help drive down costs and be nimble in the face of changing competition? ... So not only will your enterprise be able to reach the entire world-it might even be capable of changing it."

ConocoPhillips taps the image of a pot on a stove to talk about the inadequate supply of energy in the world that it's addressing with creation of a new U.S. natural gas facility. But at first glance-actually, it took several-it appears that half the pot is filled with ice. Or are those bubbles on the boil in the right half of the pot?

The copy doesn't help things either. It reads: "There is a gap. The world doesn't produce enough energy today to meet tomorrow's needs. Natural gas is an answer and ConocoPhillips is taking action. Creating a new U.S. facility to deliver new supplies. The first of its kind built in decades, it's just in time. So don't worry. You can always count on us to elevate." Maybe we don't spend enough time in the kitchen, but this image left us wondering exactly what we were looking at rather than absorbing ConocoPhillips' message that it's doing something about the energy shortage.

When speed is the essence of your product, why not use a shot of a kayaker paddling furiously to stay ahead of what appears to be a breaking wave? ViewSonic's ad for what it bills as the world's fastest LCD display sizzles on the strength of the colorful, dynamic image of the kayaker. The entire execution-visual, headline and copy-says speed. Readers would know at first glance that ViewSonic's primary product attribute is speed. The image of the kayaker is smartly duplicated in miniature on the LCD screen in the bottom left. One of the risks of borrowed interest is that the product often gets short shrift, but in this ad, at least, the product itself plays an important supporting visual role.

We also like that ViewSonic came up with the fresh way of presenting speed. The default setting for speed metaphors is the gazelle bounding across the savannah or the fighter jet streaking across the sky. Too often, the metaphoric image is nothing more than a cliche, which will have little stopping power.

Philips stretches the metaphor of the monkeys that see, hear and speak no evil to underscore the flawless nature of its line of LCD monitors. Even with the headline: "See no imperfections. Hear no surveillance worries. Speak no compliance concerns," we doubt that readers will quickly make the connection between the iconic image and the Philips LCD monitor. The product itself looks lifeless in the inset photograph.

More on the mark metaphorically is Aetna. The insurer borrows the image of a batch of fortune cookies to make the point that it can help employers make better work force health care decisions than the catch-as-catch-can nature of the fortune cookie. "There's a better way to make health care decisions," reads the headline, which helps draw a logical connection between the fortune cookies and Aetna's services. 

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