Ad Breakdown: Dunlop Tyres’ ‘Life Ring’

Picture of Lewis Folkard

Lewis Folkard

Suffolk-based conversion copywriter.

Dunlop Tyres' ad of life rings

“Think visually. Ask someone to describe a spiral staircase and they’ll use their hands as well as words. Sometimes the best copy is no copy.”

In The Copy Book, David Abbott shares, despite not being much of a copywriting theoriser, 5 things he thinks are more or less true about writing copy. The above quote is point #2. And since the book’s release, the “sometimes the best copy is no copy” has become synonymous with the copywriting world. 

Because who’s to argue with David Abbott? Not me. Hopefully, not you either. 

But I do want to probe a little and give you some food for thought. And use one of AMV’s ads to help. In particular, in what scenarios might no copy not work? And why? 

In today’s breakdown, you’ll find out. Let’s take a look.

Dunlop Tyres' ad of life rings

Who’s responsible?

This 1988 magazine ad was created by the following folks:

Art Director: Robert Oliver | Copywriter: David Rossiter | Agency: Abbott Mead Vickers/SMS Limited | Client: SP Tyres UK Limited 

The idea

What’s the message? And how is it being communicated? An easy way to piece this together is to simply state what you see. Or map out the dots so you can better connect them. 

But we need to be mindful of something. Because visual ideas better speak to our old brain, our newer (language-processing) brain sometimes scans over impactful details, deeming them irrelevant when really they’re not.

So, to really grasp what’s going on here, we have to look carefully.

What can you see?

There’s a car. A very moody background. Water on the ground. The Dunlop Tyres logo. And buoy rings as tyres (with Dunlop written on them). 

Okay, let’s look closer. 

There’s a strong contrast between the dark, moody background and the bright, silver car (focusing the attention on the car). The orange/white on the rings make them stand out too. 

There’s then a gentle mist around the car and a puddle beneath it, making the road being wet more obvious. Also, note how the puddle is carefully positioned between the ‘attention-grabbing’ rings (so you definitely see it).

What about looking closer still… 

Is that a (very) slight glow around the tyres? (Or is that my eyes/bad photography?…) And a coincidental rope around the ring? Keep these in mind as you read the next section.

How does it make you feel?

Remember, everything in an ad is (or should be) there for a reason. So, the moody background has a meaning, and I don’t think it’s to solely draw your eyes onto the car. Rather, I think it’s the emotion it generates. 

Objectively, moody weather (especially at night) makes us feel tense. If you’re driving a car in it, even more so. But what piles on the tension is the fact you’re driving your car at night… in the wet… with nobody… or nothing… around. In other words, if things go t*ts up, you’re stranded without any help. 

Fortunately, you have a saving grace. And they’re glowing, almost like a halo, in front of you.

Now, of course, the rings already have associations with saving people in water. And they’re important for the metaphor. But it’s the little details that speak to the old brain that elevate the message’s impact.

The persuasive levers

If you cast your mind back to the last breakdown, you’ll remember we had a push, pull and solution in the ad. This time, we have a pain, agitation and solution in the ad… just here, they’re wrapped up without any words.

The pain: the wet road

The agitation: the wet roads at night (with nobody around)

The solution: the halo-esque buoy tyres

And I think that sums up the idea well. Dunlop Tyres will save you on scary, wet roads.

Understanding visual metaphors

There are a lot of benefits to visual metaphors. They remove clutter. They make complex messages easy to understand. They encourage you to show the message rather than tell it. But, most importantly, they leverage the “Generation Effect”.

Messages that we have to solve – or figure out – ourselves are more enjoyable and memorable than their spoon-fed counterparts. And then when the conclusion we come to is also the product’s main value prop, we build a very rewarding connection between the product/brand and our memory.

So, it’s no surprise advertisers use them a lot. According to Linda M. Scott and Rajeev Batra in their book Persuasive Imagery: A Consumer Response Perspective (Advertising and Consumer Psychology), advertisers benefit from visual metaphors in three different ways. 

Let me share them with you.


Visual metaphors take an object’s existing meaning and put it in a different context to imply a new meaning. In essence, they break a pattern. Or, as Scott and Batra put it, they create a “deviation from an expectation”. The pattern is the expectation. The deviation, the break. And it’s this deviation that hooks your attention.

But by itself, attention isn’t enough. For your ad to be effective, you need to hold your reader long enough to deliver your message. Fortunately, visual metaphors have us covered there too.


Because the reader wants to complete the message, their mind is actively trying to find the connection between the deviated objects. “Is this it?” “Or this?” “What about this connection?”

And it’s this process of check-testing inferences that helps the message stick. 

But interestingly, Scott and Batra also suggest that whilst our mind is actively making these inferences, it inadvertently has fewer resources to find counterarguments to the ad’s claims. In other words, visual metaphors help side-step sales resistance and slide our claims into the “well-believed” section of our brain.


Now, if you’ve read some of my other ad breakdowns, you’ll know I love visual metaphors. However, a possible pushback to using them is that they require too much effort from the reader.

Think, when people are selling their kidneys to avoid advertising, why would you then go and ask for more from them? 

The answer? Because they’re bl**dy fun to solve. Scott and Batra share how consumers get a sense of pleasure from figuring out the meaning of visual tropes. And it’s this same inherent entertainment value that all puzzles bring which makes them so effective in advertising. 

(Besides, when you’re engulfed by mundane advertising, something with a little spark makes a nice change.)

The little moment of joy helps the positive feelings you generate rub off onto the brand. And these positive associations are what’s going to help Dunlop come to mind when you need tyres in the future. 

Finding the balance

As you’d expect, there has to be a balance with visual metaphors. Too obvious is boring. And too far-fetched is unenjoyable. Get the balance wrong, and you run the risk of generating negative feelings (which are still arguably better than no feeling, though).

But advertisers are clever folk. Because there is a way you can minimise the complexity risk… and it comes back to Abbott’s “Sometimes the best copy is no copy”. 

…or, rather, sometimes the best copy is copy. 

In their book, Scott and Batra then explain how we can use words to help anchor implicit meanings and effectively give our reader another dot to connect to. And that makes sense when you consider this ad and this ad, which both do exactly that.

However, we have to keep in mind that although adding copy minimises the risk of the reader not solving the ad, it also requires less elaboration from them. And less elaboration means less enjoyment. 

So, finding the balance really is everything.

In a nutshell?

Think visually, and try using a visual metaphor. Layer in the persuasive levers so your product is the solution. And if you’re struggling to get the complexity right, try using copy to bridge the gap.

That’s everything for today. Hope you enjoyed it. 

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