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Image collage by Johnér Images

Time to raise our dopamine levels!
Forget realistic everyday images and stiff office images for a second. Things are about to get crazy. We have fallen for a new trend: absurd images! The Swedish brands Liseberg, St1 and Klarna are just a few of the companies who use absurd images in their communications. To a great degree, absurd images build on unexpected contrasts and surrealism. Semiotic research* shows that images that go viral have one common denominator – they contain an element of surprise, something unexpected that combines a truth with a contrast. Depending on your brand identity, you need to balance your levels of surrealism and contrast.

We talked to semiotics specialists Karin Sandelin and Hanna Stolpe at Kantar Sifo to learn what signals absurd images give off and how best to use them in your communications. Come along!


Ima isris098yw6i Girl with breakfast flakes in her face
Playful expression
Does your brand stand for playfulness and spontaneity? Then you can go all out when it comes to absurdity. Speak to your target group's need of stimulation and surprising experiences by challenging their focal point or by toying with norms, all depending on your brand identity. Avoid uncomfortable and frightening motifs and go with flirtatiously playful and naive images.
Ima plap8290108 Human vid a face of a pig
When you want to show your edge
Or does your brand stand for confrontational challenges? Here too you can let loose into absurdity. Perhaps you want to take a stand on an issue – absurd images are perfect. In this way, the effect of absurd images builds your brand on several levels. Avoid clichés and stereotypical motifs.
Ima plap4370007 Washbasin with swimming fish
Secure or competent
Does your brand stand for guiding stability or structured skills? Which provides the target groups introspective and thoughtful needs? Then the absurd image can be directly harmful to the image of your brand. Instead, work with small contrasts in the form of empathetic reminders or intellectual, smart points. Avoid abstract and untrue motifs.
Ima plap5810025 Absurd illusion of a hand that at the same time is a crocodile mouth
Uncomfortably absurd
Is yours a rebellious lifestyle brand that aims to "shake up" the viewer? Then you can use absurd images that are frightening and uncomfortable to reach a target group that has a need to display its rebellious, unrefined and uncensored nature. Avoid offensive images with stereotypical ingredients that can seem objectionable and inappropriate to a group.

Analyze the past and current times
When you work with shocking, absurd images, you not only need to be secure in your brand position and tonality, but you also need to have good knowledge of the past and present. The Internet is an unstructured archive with no ties to time and space. Digital material can easily be used for purposes other than what it was originally intended for. Old submissions that never meant to offend anyone at the time or in its context can be rehashed in ten years or in other contexts and have a great negative impact – particularly because the world is constantly changing. Digital material collides with other places, times and cultures in which the contents take on a new meaning.

In fast-paced information flows such as on Facebook and Instagram, the user reads images like text – the image becomes the message and the sender's intention can easily be misinterpreted or misconstrued. In this day and age, when trust and authenticity are high on the agenda, it is wise to think, and think twice.

Image collage by Johnér Images

Do you dare be absurd?
If you answered yes, then you have come to the right place. We have collected our favorite absurd images in the hopes of inspiring you. Your communications are guaranteed to draw attention if you use absurd images. If nothing else, we are sure that it will spark creativity! Click your way in and be inspired.
Ima cai412-23607 Hands behind white cloth
Our thanks to Karin Sandelin and Hanna Stolpe at Kantar Sifo for their cooperation on this article.
*Professor Emeritus Paul Bouissac (University of Toronto).