The Subtraction tool works by removing elements generally considered essential to the situation. The tool can be used in any marketing communications medium (television, print, and so on).  The tool works by drawing your attention to the missing component.  As a result, the ad is more memorable.

Subtraction is one of eight patterns embedded in most innovative commercials. Jacob Goldenberg and his colleagues describe these simple, well-defined design structures in their book, "Cracking the Ad Code," and provide a step-by-step approach to using them. The tools are:

1. Unification
2. Activation
3. Metaphor
4. Subtraction
5. Extreme Consequence
6. Absurd Alternative
7. Inversion
8. Extreme Effort

Here is an example from the French multinational, Saint Gobain, a manufacturer of construction, materials, and packaging products. To highlight the superiority of one of its product lines, it released  a series of commercials including this one:

What makes this example more interesting is the “fusion” of the message and product. The glass is so superior that it seems “subtracted” from the situation.  Only until we see the surprising fog on the glass do we realize the message. The commercial not only has this nice element of humor, but it also has a sense of simplicity and “ideality” – the solution appears only when needed.

To use the Subtraction tool, make a list of the components of the situation. Remove what seems to be an essential one.  Imagine telling the story without this component and test how strongly the viewer’s mind will interpret the situation with the component. Make the message, brand, and missing element fuse together into one memorable visual experience.