Ad Breakdown: British Airways’ Yo-yo

Lewis Folkard

Lewis Folkard

Suffolk-based conversion copywriter.

British Airways Yo-yo ad

Most of you have seen Uncommon’s British Airways campaign. Advertisers – including myself – thought it was pretty special.

But, flicking through the 1998 D&AD annual, I spotted this and thought it was clever. There’s one main technique at play – with a couple supplementaries that make the ad work a little harder.

This was created by M&C Saatchi, in particular, Simon Roseblade (copywriter), Tony Barry (copywriter), Glenn Gibbins (art director), and David Gill (photographer). Simon Dicketts and James Lowther were the creative directors, too.

For context

In the 70s, 80s and 90s, British Airways ran regular walk-on flights from London to Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast (and potentially others). You could rock up just before the take-off, buy a ticket and head on. Easy. 

It was named the British Airways shuttle – and, for a little while, the “Super Shuttle”.

These routes still exist, of course, but they’re no longer walk-on.

So, with that in mind, how would you ‘dramatise the benefit’ of these flights, showing where they go and that they’re quick, easy and regular?

There’s one technique that stands out to me.

The Main Technique: Visual Metaphor

If you’re familiar with my blogs and emails, you’ll know visual metaphors aren’t uncommon in advertising. But that doesn’t make it any less clever.

They’re good because they invite the reader to participate in the communication. They take existing thoughts, feelings, or knowledge and twist it onto the product. 

Luke Sullivan says visual metaphors are like a conceptual shorthand. 

And they are. Because you don’t need to explain how a yo-yo moves. You trust the reader already knows. 

That way, (although not done here) you can use your copy to add context, morph the message or deliver something unexpected.

It’s also worth remembering we process images faster than words. This means the reader onboards this metaphor faster than its text-based equivalent.


Another benefit of visual metaphors is that they demand we (creatives) to really simplify our message. If we try cram too much into our art, we lose the reader. The metaphor looks forced – and becomes messy. 

This, though, is the opposite. There’s one clear takeaway, which comes from putting together the movement of a yo-yo and British Airways. This missing dot lets us complete the message. 

However, without the help of the other techniques, the reader might not donate enough time to actually ‘get’ the message. They’re next.

Add-ons: Bendy text

It’s subtle, I know, but notice how the text bends around the yo-yo. It’s easy to overlook, but small details like this really change the “feel” of the ad and how it’s received.

It almost acts as a little challenge – which inadvertently lures you in. And when it does, you’re given another dot to connect to.

Add-ons: The ‘a-ha’

Now you have all the dots you need, you can complete the message. I’ve broken it down into a seemingly mechanical process, I know. But in reality, it’s much smoother.

Overall, it’s an easy “get” – but fun nevertheless. These positive feelings of achievement rub off onto the brand, aiding future mental availability.


You can use visual metaphors to simplify your message and say lots with little. Then, with clever art direction you can pull the reader into your copy so connecting the dots is easier.

You could have had more

There were two other British Airways ads in the 1998 annual that also used visual metaphors – one to Manchester and another to Glasgow. Email subscribers got them. 

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Other visual metaphor breakdowns include: Kellogg’s or The Economist

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