What is a key visual?

Key visual is a combination of graphic elements that convey the essence of a product, tell its story, and show its unique characteristics. Key visual works as a guideline or visual reference for advertising campaigns. It can refer to a single traditional product, a brand identity, or a media release such as a movie, anime or video game. As a visual reference, it sets ideas and items that will be the core components of future ads and designs. Its primary purpose is to establish a communication with the consumers, creating a set of emotional associations they can relate to.

How do you create a key visual?

When you want to establish which visual elements are more suitable to convey the image of a product or brand, you have to highlight the main points of its identity. What is its core value? How is it different from other products or brands in the same market area? What does make it unique? What kind of emotions does it arouse in customers? Is it all about self-confidence, childhood memories, dreams, positive values, exclusivity? Advertising doesn’t sell only a product, but a whole set of ideas and fantasies related to what that product might offer.

Visual strategies in a nutshell

Once you have defined which kind of positive associations you want to trigger, you can start searching the key visual.
There are different strategies to arouse emotions through visuals elements. Some of them may seem pretty technical because they deal with optical perception or layout composition, but there’s also a lot of psychology involved.
The use of color is the most common example. Color is present everywhere in every single advertising. It is in the background, in the focus elements, illustrations, photographs, and fonts.
Each color or color scheme can transmit a message without words, and creative advertising relies on that superpower. When art directors choose to use black and white photographs or find a perfect color to match a product, they can change the destiny of a brand.
How you compose the image is another critical element of visual advertising. You may want to obtain a balanced composition to inspire a sense of harmony or decide to pull the viewer’s eye to a focal point. In this phase, you also decide fundamental questions: the point of view of the scene or the weight of text and images.
Visual advertising can be very conceptual and abstract or display everyday life scenes. They can include people, and in this case, body language is crucial. Whether the person in the graphic is a famous actor, a professional model, or an animated character – the way they stand is everything but neutral – even their gaze matters. Direct gazes make the viewer feel involved, while a three-quarter gaze may transmit a sense of wonder.
Sometimes the message is to be found in images though association or symbolism. For example, an open road to suggest a sense of freedom and adventure or wild animals for power and superiority.
Sometimes, a single element is all you need. Think of the Starbucks green siren or the red sole of Louboutin. They are both potent brand symbols and central features of their advertising communication.