Gold winner Kleenex Feeling-campaign: excellent use of universal visual language.



The Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival has announced the winners for the Outdoor category. Gold goes to the ‘Feelings’ campaign for KLEENEX (KIMBERLY CLARK Company) done by JWT, London advertising agency. It was released in June 2010. Business sector is Toiletries & pharmaceuticals. To my opinion and to that of many others, the Feelings campaign for Kleenex really deserves its gold.
feelings campaign
The idea highlights that no matter what you are going through, good times and bad, Kleenex will mop up your tears. The illustrations, each sculpted out of paper, are splendid and the campaign has a relieving feeling of honesty and simplicity without moralising. The idea to work with contrary meanings is refreshing and creative. It became GLORY/FAILURE, KING/FOOL and YES/NO.
And here it becomes interestingly for us as design semantics researchers, to look at how those opposing terms are pictured by the artist Gail Armstrong and to what extent the used colours and symbols refer to universal concepts.

In general

Gail Armstrong explains that she got a restricted choice of coloured paper to do the job. Reason for this was to preserve a certain unity in the three advertisements. A unity she also obtained by placing uniform white clouds in Kleenex paper in the three illustrations, as a reference to the products of Kleenex.
The white clouds reduce and soften the functioning of the pessimistic colours that were coupled by the artist to the negative words such as “fool”, “failure” en “no”. That’s why the connotation with Kleenex products remains light-hearted and fresh and a feeling of hygiene is called. Emotions, which Kleenex gladly sees associated with its products, I presume. (find more about white-on-white in the blog ‘Schiphol new logo: Shape: The starting shape‘)
In spite of the restricted colour palette where the illustrator disposed of, each of the three posters became a feat of semantically meaningfully colours and symbols. For instance the Glory/Failure poster where Glory in white-on-blue, refers to success and to reach the top (see Schiphol new logo: the shape and The Knight, the Dragon and the Battle, part 1: The Knight) and Failure, black-on-red, refers to hell. Since these colours were already discussed, I stick to a thorough analysis of the YES/NO poster.


The YES-side shows a soft pastel-pink on the background and the keyword has been put in yellow on a red heart. The smaller symbols are related to family life: marriage, birth, house. A matrimonial cake, a ring, a crane, a teddy bear.
The NO-side has a darkened grey as a background. The heart is now broken. We notice as symbols black birds, an elderly person, a mailbox with cobweb, a black cat and an empty table with one person who portrays loneliness.
‘Yes’ means in this context the yes-word at the marriage and ‘no’ is the rejection or leave of a partner.


The background colour is ambiguous rosy. Some people will recognize a soft pink, a combination of red and white. Others see a lilac tint, white with some purple. Both colour tints are discussed below.

The codes in this text refer to the used analysis method of Genetic Semantics.

Pastel pink (white with red added)

(WT5, code 100.001) pastry, cake, virtuous, good, honest, poetic, embellish
Colour which we retrieve at the bakery, department of cakes and pastry. The pink sweet substance is decorated on the cake.

Pastel pink is a sweetish poetic colour, associated with love poetry.

By its lightness it is a female colour which refers to delicacy and softness.

In the Old Testament, in songs such as the Song of Solomon 2:1-3 “I am the lily of Sharon” the fragrance, the delicateness and the beauty of these pink coloured flowers is linked to love and to the sweet taste of fruit.

In Japan the colour ‘cherry blossom pink’ is associated with soft-core pornographic films also called pink movies.

Pastel pink is a virtuous colour, which call feelings of righteousness. A certain Marlene describes in her completely pink web site “Virtuous Secrets” her love for god.

The woman international conference “Virtuous 2007” in the USA is organised by World Changers Church International.

De goodness is sublimated in the image of a sweet little girl. Soft pink is the favourite colour of teenage girls and younger.

Pastel purple, lilac (white with purple added)

(WT3, code 110.101) family, family circle, household, fiction, fairy tale

The pink Barbie dream house uses a mix of pink and lilac. On the one hand, it attracts the feminine and sweet side in young girls; on the other hand, it provokes a fairy tale atmosphere, which is aroused by the purple pastels.

An unreal fiction that in its extreme form can be a hallucination (eg. the legendary lilac elephant seen after heavy alcohol abuse). The dream house also says something about family life that the children copy while playing with their dolls.

The family organisation and division of roles is compared to that of a company and the colour is often used in subjects such as business management. A lilac shirt is often worn as part of a business outfit.

Lilac is also the colour of the cow in the ad and packing of Milka chocolate. The colour refers to the Suisse milk produced by the Alp cow.

There is a family link with milk and breastfeeding.

Visual communication of milk products is also commonly used in the connected colour combination white-on-red.

Red heart

(code 101.101) love, merciful, unselfish
Red is the colour of unselfish love capable of giving. The concept of charity is known in all major religions. (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, in Chinese philosophy, in humanism). Charitable societies like the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Médecins Sans Frontières, Salvation Army, La partita del Cuore, and so many others all use the red colour in their logo. The red noose tied around a gift is a sign of that altruistic love.

The heart sign can be found as a symbol in all the major cultural spheres. It appears with a religious or positive meaning among Aztecs, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Celts and Taoists. The devotion in the Roman-catholic church to the sacred heart is formed out of love and mercy, symbolised by the heart of Jesus. Representations for prayer show the red heart often in combination with a flame and sometimes pierced with a sword or arrow.

The red colour stands for passion and purposefulness. A passion that is attaching like fire does. The arrow pierced heart refers to that purposefulness, the arrow is shot home, the target is hit. The shooting with an arrow is related to the hunting. The Greek god Eros, son of fertility goddess Aphrodite, is a personification of the universal, all-embracing love, the force that keeps the universe together.

When red is combined with other colours, other aspects of love are expressed. F.i. red-on-black: romantic love, purple-on-red: eroticism. And as stated above, when red is whitened to a pastel pink it becomes a naive, soft sweet love.

For the sake of clarity, it does not concern the Christian description of the heart as the inner human (1 Samuel 16:7), nor the Islamic version as a seat of spirituality and contemplation, nor the Aztec version as a seat of life and soul, nor the symbolism of the Buddhist heart-shaped leaf from the Bodi-tree. In all these interpretations it is about an inner, spiritual centre, the self, the essential sole, devoid of all emotionality, expressed by the green colour.

When the heart is seen as the seat of feelings and emotions (first description from ancient Egypt) and as a symbol of attachment to earthly love with her inclination towards the flesh (like in medieval love lyrics) she gets her bossom shaped roundness, referring to the alchemistic sign for fire, and her red colour.

The most literal meaning of the heart as a blood pump, as the motor of the body, with associations such as force and perseverance lead to the metaphorical use of the symbol in contemporary advertising.

One of the largest banks in the world during the latter half of the 20th century, the Japanese D.K.B. bank, used the heart-shaped logo in white-on-red.


(code 111.101) circle, ring, seal ring, succeed, success, advantage, winning, profit When white-on-red or the associated colour lilac expresses the family circle, so does yellow-on-red the same for a larger group of people. Yellow-on-red stands for clans or groups of people.

Sitting together around a fire, around a table.

The symbolic form is the ring, also the ring or seal ring. A popular subject in fantasy games and tales. It can also be the marital ring, which symbolizes an alliance between two families or clans.

The colour combination stands symbol for Communism, a political system of social organization that strives for a classless society in which property (especially real property and the means of production) is held in common.

A general positively sensed combination calls emotions of solidarity and success.

Winners of casinos and awards.

To make economic profit but also to win socially, e.g. non-profit promises profit. To be successful and to succeed in ones undertaking.

White crane or stork

It is unclear which bird is pictured here. According to the shape and colour, it is a crane. Carrying a newborn is done by the stork. Both animals have overlapping meanings. Just an overview:

The white colour within the context of newborn means a new beginning.

General meaning of a floating bird. (code 110.000):

  • messengers of Gods, angels, holy spirit, bird of omen (World, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greek, China)
  • fidelity, honour, nobility, purity. Killers of snakes, enemies of Satan (Japan, China, Christian symbolism)
  • high class, pedigree, making a career Feudal Japan (World)
  • freedom and peace (code 110.000 > 000.111) (World)

Special meaning according to the different aspects of the cranes’ or storks’ appearance and behaviour.

  • prosperous or fortunate, lucky, happy marriage, loving couple (code 110.010) (China, Japan, Ancient Greek, Ancient Egypt, Korea, Vietnam, Western countries)
  • longevity, long life, (re)born (code 110.010) (China, Japan, Western countries)
  • long leg, cross-border, bridge (code 110.011) (Native American)


The emotional content at the No-side is much heavier and it is thanks to the ever-present white clouds that this darkness comes to the viewer as in a fairy tale.


(code 001.000) depression, suicidal, pollution, wasteland, poverty, slavery, old age, death
Starting with the background colour, dark grey sets immediately the general feeling. Grey is a dreary colour that calls a suicidal state of depression.

In images which handle depressions and borderline disorder this (non)colour is often used. In general, grey as such is experienced as boring.

As a metaphor for pollution and for its impact, a desolate landscape is often used. A wasteland that became infertile caused by pollution too far progressed.

Poverty leads to homelessness and an uncertain roaming existence. Begging homeless or poor refugees are considered as a social pollution.
The advertisement “where lies the border?” uses the dark grey shade as a background colour and refers this way to what lies behind the border, namely slavery and exploitation.

Old age is the situation that precedes dying. It is the end of living and this end is usually coincided with sickness, depression and the breakdown of functions.

Undertakers choose in their imaging for the dark grey colour. This Internet page of a supplier of coffins wants to emphasise the desolate feeling of decease by showing a photograph of a wasteland.

Kaze-no-oka Crematorium – Nakatsu, Oita, Japan puts a damper on the atmosphere by using gloomy materials like the concrete walls and floor.

Read the full text on dark grey and the associated colour combination black-on-bleu.

Broken heart

An intolerable situation in the form of pressure and overload results in the breaking (code 011.110).

A broken heart is a symbol of the loss of love, most often of a spurned or rejected lover, and the pain of this. The term ‘heartbroken’ is used for extreme sadness and grief.

Images expressing the split up often combine purple-on-white, or the red heart, with the dark grey colour, connecting the emotion with depression.

When placing the dark grey tint on top of purple you enter the era of pain (code 110.001), which is another emotional result of a broken heart, a different feeling besides depression. Black-on-purple is very suitable for picturing torture and often used in the context of SM. Although the artist did not use these colours, the cracked shape does the work.

Black cat

(code 000.110) mischief, heresy, hard labour
Even in the oldest ages, black cats were said to posses supernatural powers, and were sometimes viewed positively. Their spread ash would keep out e.g. vermin. On ships, for sailors or sailors wifes, black cats would bring good omen. The previous century anarchists used the black cat as a symbol in their fight for better social rights for the workers. The cat symbolized disobedience and scuttling activities of the activists.

(code 001.101) demonic, hunter
The animal, seen as female, had the reputation to conspire with the powers of darkness. In Western history, she was the familiars of witches. In the folk devotion of most countries, the black cat is still a symbol of misfortune. However, in some places in Great Britain, black cats are a symbol of good luck. In the heraldry, she has also a positive meaning as a cunning hunter.

Back birds

Although birds an sich are a symbol of freedom, peace and a sort of happy feeling, in the black version they become predators (code 001.101) or messengers of death, animals living in a lost world (code 001.000).


Gail Armstrong has evoked on the YES-side the fairy-like little girl dream of a happy family. The image is a visual plunging in love and success, in solidarity feelings that are contrary to loneliness.
The NO-side shows especially loss, old age, depression. The broken heart as a symbol calls pain but this feeling is further not reinforced in the colours.

These advertisements show that the semantically correct use of image language can contribute to the success of a campaign. Kleenex stands not for control, but for the release of human emotions.

Feelings and emotions, that’s what it’s all about in visual communication.

Download a PDF of this article for better printing


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