Examples of Surrealism in Advertising

Surrealism can twist mundane objects into unconventional visual compositions.
Surrealism can twist mundane objects into unconventional visual compositions. (Image: Kladyk/iStock/Getty Images)

The surrealist movement began in the 1920s, with artists such asSalvador Dali trying to translate the subconscious mind into visual art. With the belief that unconventional visual imagery could be used to unlock hidden motivations and tap into consumer’s desires, surreal ads are designed to resonate in the viewer's mind. To this day it has been used in advertising as a means to shock, provoke or entice the audience so that they retain the brand information. Many industries have used surrealism in their campaigns -- from fashion to automotive.


Surreal advertisements have been known to shock, surprise and even disgust the viewer -- and the fashion industry is no exception. Unconventional fashion advertisers hope creating a jarring ad might add value to the brand, and make it more memorable. Surreal ads do not always have to be shocking; instead, they might feature a person or thing out of its normal context. For example, a denim manufacturer created an ad that featured jean-clad models upside down so the sky was at their feet, and the brown earth above them. This spring/summer campaign conveyed the idea of a rebirth, but in an unconventional way.


Surreal ads often twist well-known stories, social icons or reality, to tap directly into a specific subculture, or segment of the population. An example of this was a socialist or left-wing party -- looking to secure a younger constituency -- using surrealism to help communicate their party’s objectives. Drawing from the classic Shakespeare play "Romeo and Juliet," the party pegged themselves as the compassionate left side (Romeo), against a conservative right (Juliet's family). The aim was that the viewer would empathize with the plight of Juliet and liken themselves to the socialist side -- Romeo, who was represented as the only one that cared for a dying Juliet. Set on a stage of clear red and blue, the commercial spot articulates the viewpoint of the party in a surreal way.

Consumer Goods

Sometimes surreal imagery can be used to entice its audience. Using sex to sell consumer goods is a common practice in advertising, so it is not unusual that it would be used to sell an alcoholic beverage. Surrealism is sometimes known for its ability to turn a mundane object into something else, causing the viewer to do a double take. In the beverage's advertisements, its can was twisted to mimic the shape of a woman’s lower body -- including the lower torso and legs. Just as the ad's surreal art predecessors, at first glance the audience might just see the beverage container, but when looked at more closely, another more enticing image is visible.


Surrealism and technology seem like a natural advertising match, as video games and new mobile phones tend to promote an alternate, and more technologically advanced view on what reality should be. A mobile phone company, launching a new device, chose an eerie ad for the product launch. In the ad, a young, pale, almost glowing woman was featured on a green pasture background -- the background undoubtedly used brand’s signature colors. In the commercial, she likened seeing a juggler balance balls, to the phone’s multitasking ability. The calm, eeriness of her demeanor and the use of color was what would make the surreal ad stand out.


Surreal art sometimes adds metaphoric images to give more meaning to a piece of art. Taking a page out of Salvador Dali’s book -- the artist who was one of the inventors of displaced and fragmented imagery -- a car company created a series of surreal print ads to launch their new fuel-efficient automobile. The print ads showed gas pumpers waiting for a gas sale, in a desert setting, where an object of time (a watch or hourglass) was either squeezed or discarded. The ads visually communicated fuel efficiency's role in the environment, through a series of symbolic objects and misplaced images.

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