Surrealism in Advertising: Meaning with Examples

Surrealism is an avante-garde art movement that began in the 1920s. More research went into it in the first quarter of the 20th century through the increased study of surrealist art in relation to the human psyche. Artists like Salvador Dali have some of the best surreal art pieces, paintings, and other forms of media.

Surrealism is a style in literature, art, and media that strangely combines ideas, objects, and images.  

Surrealism uses easily identifiable imagery. It provokes the human psyche by challenging the workings of the subconscious mind. Surrealism displays information in surprising ways, often using items consumers see every day. In connection with that, advertising in surrealism aims at informing, persuading, and reminding consumers about a product or a service. 

What does surrealism mean in media and advertising?

Surrealism in advertising uses thought-provoking images and text to promote a product or service. Traditional forms of advertising are outdated. Luckily, surrealism offers a conventional way for brands to relay messages about their products. An advertisement lasts about 30 seconds, and there is a need to make an instant impression. That is where surrealism comes in.  

Every advertisement needs to provoke the human mind to leave a lasting impression and influence the purchase of goods where products are involved. Also, some surreal advertisements aim at disgusting viewers. 

This approach is unorthodox, but it works. Adverts need to jerk viewers out of their seats. Therefore, seeing surreal advertisements that poke at their subconscious mind is a welcome form of making brands well-known. 

Surreal ads do not have to be disgusting, shocking, or surprising. However, they feature things or people out of their normal context. Such advertisements are often whimsical. Their mix of bold graphics and bright colors appeals to today’s audience in more ways than imaginable.

Advertising is all about selling, with a lot of focus on aspects of desire. Emotive advertising (basically surreal advertising) reaches the audience more than any other kind of advertising. When a certain advert invokes your emotions first, whether happiness or shock, you are automatically going to remember it in detail. 

What makes surreal ads more effective?

Surreal ads think out of the box, unlike ordinary ads. Traditional ads are no longer intriguing. The human mind is accustomed to processing unexciting and predictable images, causing viewers to lack interest in many advertisements. On the flipside, surreal ads are not boring. They shock, surprise, and excite the viewer into investing in a brand. 

The unpredictability of surreal ads leaves viewers asking questions, translating to sales. Digital marketing experts report that Americans access 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements each day. These advertisements are useless if they do not provoke the audience to invest in a brand. Surreal ads are more effective due to the following features:

Esthetic Value 

The manipulation of text and images in surreal ads creates exciting advertisements. Surreal ads create an environment promoting reflection, reaction, and action on the viewer’s end. The psychological influence prompts the action, which in this case involves purchasing a product on the ad.


One surreal ad is understood differently by various groups of people. One image passes different messages to the viewers. Therefore, surreal ads get to touch on different aspects simultaneously. Unlike traditional advertising, surrealism encourages freeness and unrestricted artistic expression. 


Surrealism pokes the subconscious mind to react to the advertisement. More often than not, the ad will influence viewers to form an association with the brand. Once consumers relate with the brand, they will find usefulness behind what is on sale.  

Aesthetic Appeal 

Inarguably, ads have to be aesthetically appealing. In surrealism, image composition and arrangement of different elements, such as fonts, have distinctive and exciting impacts. These images provoke the audience and play with their imagination through their surreal nature.  

Examples of surrealism advertising

Surrealism lends itself to advertising in many ways. Its effectiveness in significantly spreading a brand’s message has helped companies achieve success to great extents. 

Benson & Hedges 

These British tobacco giants contracted Salvador Dali in the 1980s to make a unique advertisement. In Hollywood, cigarette ads were the norm. As a result, making an advertisement to capture the viewer’s attention helped Benson & Hedges stand out of the pack. 

Salvador used surrealism by creating an ad with ants carrying a packet of cigarettes up a hill. The result was an eye-catching ad, which demonstrated the company’s hard work and resilience to produce an outstanding product. 

Cadbury’s Gorilla 

In the 2000s, Cadbury, a popular British Confectionary company was in the woods. Several public blunders led to a crisis, and a product recall costing them £20 million pointed them in a different direction. 

Juan Cabral’s advert, Gorilla, flipped the company’s image by featuring a gorilla playing the drums to Phil Collin’s ‘In the Air Tonight.’ The song plus a fully-grown gorilla drumming captured the audience’s attention. 

The ad entered the audience’s psyche to change their attitude towards the brand leading to instant reinvention. 

Betway’s the Hunch 

The hunch was a Betway advertisement by London’s Saatchi and Saatchi released in 2018. The ad instantly challenges the subconscious mind by offering a surreal explanation for the hunch. 

Through the ad, viewers see the importance of self-belief and one’s own convictions indirectly. The surrealism in the ad goes ahead to push bettors to trust their gut and make their best bet. 

Welcome to the Third Space – PlayStation 2

To announce the release of a new games console, Sony (a Japanese electronics giant) employed the services of David Lynch. His surrealist experience in film and advertising pushed them to create a 60-second ad that came out in 2000. 

The advertisement was in black and white and featured fire, smoke, a talking duck, and floating limbs. These elements in one ad are thought-provoking and surprising. There is no better way to introduce a new product. It stays on the viewer’s mind, and that’s the point of advertising. 

Tango’s Orange Man 

This advertisement earned a spot among the best British advertisements in the 20th century. In the advertisement, a man dressed in orange goes about slapping all individuals drinking the orange-flavored beverage. 

The ad came out in 1992, but the phrase “You know when you’ve been tango’d” lives on years after release. People continued Tango’ing each other, pushing the brand’s surreal advertising agenda forward. 

The viewer’s reaction made marketing viral without the company putting too much effort into it. 

‘Mr Strings’ by Cheesestrings 

This 2009 advert by Fallon is a more recent example of surrealism at work. ‘Mr Strings’ is an ominous character in the advertisement that is bizarre enough to remain in viewers’ minds and promote sales. 

Not all surreal ads are bizarre. However, outlandish advertisements, like this one,  capture more attention and provoke thoughts. 


Raqee Sabah: The Role of Photo-Surrealism in Print Advertisements

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *