the hidden value of hidden messages

Shew Design - Moria

speak friend and enter

A fundamental principal about marketing communication relates to making it easy for the audience to understand what you’re trying to say. A message that requires serious thought is almost certainly going to be upstaged by less demanding messages.

Yet, as I see marketing as the strategic breaking of rules, I can justify throwing the audience a few challenges from time to time.  Executed effectively, this practice rewards the viewer for paying attention, communicating  substance and depth, a sense that “there’s more here than meets the eye.” In addition, the marketing and design both have traditions of using riddles and visual puns, and I like to think our company’s work continues these traditions.

One such opportunity emerged when creating graphics for the  Bellingham – Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence for the Domestic Violence (or DV) Awareness month. Readers of this blog will know that our take on resolving this issue begins with perception. Learning to see domestic violence – as individuals and as a culture – is requisite for ending it.

Form follows function. Seeing the message as a challenge to perception, we embedded a few riddles into the campaign graphics. The first was a visual pun combing Forget-Me-Nots – a flower that for many is symbolic of dv awareness – with a calendar, highlighting event dates with a larger flower. We liked the idea of combining this concept with buttons people could wear, thinking of each person attending the event as a flower.

Shew Design - DV Commission awareness poster

A second small riddle was a pun in the campaign title “the solution is in sight,” meaning that both the solution was close at hand and that the solution could be found in perception. This was a huge stretch, so we told our client that this message was  something that could be brought up at the events themselves. The graphics, in other words, were part of a larger conversation that included designs, buttons, social media, and vocal performance.

I think the most important part of developing marketing messages with this in mind is moderation – doing it only rarely and making sure that the real message is manifestly clear even if a few aspects of it are lost with some, perhaps even most of the audience. This is the best way to take advantage of the hidden value of hidden messages.


Eric Shew is a graphic designer and front end developer living in Bellingham, Washington.

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