Animals in advertising — Fish
Fish can sell a surprisingly wide range of products and services: cars, drugs, computers, pension plans, steel, e-mail outsourcing, etc. All feel like a bit of fish wouldn't harm their case.

Fish stand out because they are not used to add a green touch. Copywriters never find any strong point of fish in their subject. And they almost never suggest a link between the animal and a feature of the product. Many fish are in fact completely superfluous in their own act.

first published: vi.2001; latest update 03.v.2020

The language expressed
by fish is not very rich. No brand seems eager to add something fishy to their products — except for swimming gear perhaps. They keep thus quiet about the goods proper and sell the warm feeling that will flood us after the purchase.

The fish favoured
by most writers is the Goldfish. Other colourful fish come second, sharks far behind and other fish like sardine, herring and piranha are only rarely called upon. When Goldfish are used it is often not the fish that counts, but their living quarters, the bowl.

(1) 2001 – Feeling oppressed by turnkey solutions? — Private Banking
(2) 1999 – Complete freedom with our drive technology
(3) 1995 – This is no carreer.

Goldfish stand for
something valuable is missing. The vessel, which may be a bowl, a bag, or a screen, impersonates restrictions, confinement, unhappiness in several situations. Nos. 1 – 4 show some typical examples.

(4) 1988 – Giving more room (inside) without taking more (outside) — car
The car (4) illustrates the straighforward approach: we are talking physical space, ample elbow and leg room. The juxtaposition in (2) speaks for itself: a sea of possibilities. No. 3 is a very common and easy approach. Imprisoned in your current job? Goldfish transmits the idea. Often seen with IT-jobs, but can sell many products.

Sometimes the fish
escapes (literally) from the jar and then stands for freedom, challenge, improvement, the future (5, very obvious 6 and, in another way, 7).

We have several similar advertisements for other products in our archives.

(5) 2000 – Fan out for innovation
(6) 2002 – Leap ahead of your competition
(7) 19?? – Air … Now! — inhaler

The story of
Air … Now!, the asthma inhaler (7) is a jumble. The poor animal somehow got out of the bowl and desperately cries for air while it is surrounded by a massive volume of the stuff ! This fish needs water much more than air to get the necessary oxygen. But strangely enough, the message is sound and clear, because it evokes very well the feelings an asthma sufferer experiences.

of (8) is remarkable because it is clearly directly referring to the colour of the fish. Observe how in this case the reader (you!) is sitting inside the bowl. The designer unknowingly signals a not so positive appreciation of our wheeled living quarters.

The Household fuel
(9) is a tell-tale sign about the attitude of the copywriter against the animal world. You need only so much to feel comfortable (or at home). The man (no doubt about that) seems to know that the fish feels entirely happy in a empty bowl crunching crumbs. I sentence him to some weeks of community work in jail.

(8) 1995 – Clearly the best – the human touch — GOLD SERVICE
(9) 1997 – Household fuel
(10) 2000 – Some floors catch all attention.

The fish staring
at the floor (10) do not add anything to the message. They could have been replaced by almost everything equiped with eyes and living inside our homes.

My favoured fish
advertisement is the one for the Citroën (11) taking a bend in the road. In any other car the boy would be soaked. There is no direct connection with the fish, yet nothing else would perform better.

In 2005 a bus company brings an advertisement (12) which is quite similar at first glance. The new lines of the urban network will move everybody to everywhere everyday which means that the standard conventions apply: the fish bowl stands for the restricted freedom of movement soon to be remedied.

The next goldfish
is hilarious (13). The brochure opens with a small world … and on the inside continues with Everyday surprising facts can be discovered in the fascinating richness of the living world … Guess what, we are talking about coated paper for presses ! The same supplier has a weak spot for bears also.

It is perhaps time to take a quick look at advert 15. The job advert states that this communication agency is looking for out-of-the-bowl thinking people who help our customers to have a sharp image. If you have to transmit out-of-the-box would you end up with the result of No.15 ? And if playing with sound had you brought to the bowl idea, in what way is the goldfish of (15) thinking out of the box ? Is it pure coincidence that both adverts (13 and 15) feature the same image and both are failing to make a connection with the text ?

(11) 1991 – The Citroën XM taking a bend
(12) 2005 – Mobility for everyone — urban transport
(13) 1998 – A small world … — printing paper

The dazzling colours
advertisement (14) for fast colour printers is packed with ideas. The bright fish (the colours) jumps out of the ordinary (the cloned plants) with the bleak colours (the dark pool). The water is frozen in action and in this way is proof of the speed of the system.

Bright colour is good, but realistic and reliable colour is better. There is only one professional way to plant that in our mind : a white sheet with a colour reference bar. We will see the same approach repeated several times (f.e. in No. 13 on this page. See also Colourful fish No. 5).

(14) Dazzling colours

(15) 2005 – Out-of-the-bowl thinking — job advert for a communication agency

Other sections in
this chapter: