Analogies. Good, bad or who the hell knows?

When I started at AMV way back in the last century, a creative took me aside and explained that no good ads have ever come from analogies. I think we agreed that the classic ad with the tortoise making love to an army helmet to denote some form of compatibility was the only one (shit; I can’t even remember what that was for. IBM?).

Anyway, fast forward to 2011, and a huge proportion of the major UK ads of the 21st Century have been analogies: Balls, Gorilla, Cake, Mountain, Running Through Walls, Twisted Levis etc.

Why? Well, I’d guess that it could be a consequence of globalisation, where a visual analogy can be understood, no matter where the viewer comes from. This then extends to advertising awards, where the effect has been exacerbated by the increase in mixed-nation juries (incidentally, the analogy virus doesn’t seem to have extended to the US where the great Skittles and Old Spice work have been straight product benefit stories).

But then I was reading a story in today’s Sunday Times about the new Adam Curtis documentary series All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace (best title, ever. Fact.), which starts tonight on BBC2 at 9pm.

Apparently, Adam eschews all forms of analogy, believing that they are not a good method of explanation.

And that got me thinking…

Analogies are kind of odd when you look at them closely: I’m not going to demonstrate that a chocolate bar makes you happy; I’m going to show you how a gorilla enjoys drumming to suggest such a thing. I’m not going to show you how loose our new cut of jeans is; I’m going to show people running through walls to imply this. I’m not going to tell you why a TV set has amazing colour; instead I will give you the impression of this by chucking thousands of bouncy balls down a hill.

I suppose they provide an opportunity to be more interesting than the proposition might otherwise be, but if Cog, T-Mobile Dance and Skittles Touch don’t need to do that, why do so many others?

Is it a sort of patronisation? Here’s the proposition all chewed up and easy to digest.

Is it a sort of laziness? I can’t make a chocolate bar interesting, but I can make a drumming gorilla really cool.

Is it a sort of genius? I can make a car ten times more memorable by making it out of cake (bit of a leap, that).

Of course, almost all great art contains an element of analogy. If your book, movie or song is about exactly what it appears to be about, then it’s unlikely to be thought of as any good. Which begs the question, why has advertising taken so long to adopt this, and why are so many great ads not analogous?