Use of Metaphors in Advertising

consolidates on stereotypes, that it plays on our fears of not being socially tolerable, that it seldom speaks the truth, abuses the ignorance of innocent children, and by and large corrupts the social order. Despite the fact that most of these criticisms are scathing and spoke in a manner of seethe, there is some truth to some of them after all.

Although metaphors are used by advertising creators to convey brand meaning and enhance brand information processing, little is understood with regard to consumers’ comprehension of intended meaning. This research contributes to this body of knowledge by examining the effect ofmetaphor type and hemispheric processing on respondents’ grasp of metaphors in ads. Overall, the findings propose that concrete metaphors are more easily understood than conceptual metaphors.

Metaphors are the transcendence of human understanding from the abstract to the real. Cognitive theory, besides the views on ontological and structural metaphors don’t only aid exploring time metaphors and brand metaphors, but also metaphors of other intangible concepts by grouping them into the dimensions of space or the dimensions of human experiences, so that the intangible nor longer remains elusive.

Metaphors, when presented as an aesthetic form, result in an active and unified apprehension of knowledge. Such knowledge is made up of more than facts and information; it is an affective state that simultaneously invokes cognition and produces a crucial sensory response. Thus, metaphor as consternation of knowledge induces a state of consciousness that produces a physical reaction that creates feeling. Metaphor translates an experienced reality into a perceptible object that has emotive import as well as discursive content, and neither quality is separable from the creative imagination and affective response that produced the object.

This effect is moderated by hemispheric processing such that individuals high in right or integrative processing are more likely to provide valid interpretations of both types of metaphors. These findings are discussed and implications for advertising practitioners are offered.

Every marketer and every advertiser today wants to know what their consumer thinks and how she thinks what she thinks. My thesis would be an attempt to answer at least part of this question regarding cognition and visual perception with respect to the different cultural zones within India. We speak about a united India and unity within diversity; clichéd terms, yet do they really hold ground when one talks about effects of cultural differences on how one perceives and views the world.

Cognition by experts is described as “awareness, one of the three aspects of the mind, the others being affection (feeling or emotion), and conation (willing or desiring). They may work as a whole, but any one may dominate any mental process.”1 With this working definition of cognition one assumes that this is the desired trajectory for any marketer to want from their consumer, with respect to their brand. Another point in question would be – Do metaphors vary from place to place, are our common Indian myths the same universal truths that we hold them to be or is there cognitive dissonance prevalent amongst the cultural zones within India. Visual metaphors in advertising are used to persuade the observer and hence if they mean different things to different people, understanding perception here becomes important.

‘Perception is unavoidably selective, we can’t see all there is to see. There are of course physiological limits and some argue that there are limits to cognitive capacity. And then there are the constraints of our locational viewpoint: we can’t see things from every angle at once. But in addition to such physical limits we focus on salient features and ignore details which are irrelevant to our current purposes or interests. Selectivity thus involves omission. Some commentators use the ‘filter’ metaphor – we ‘filter out’ data, but this suggests a certain passivity and some others talk of ‘seeking out’ data of a certain kind.’

Every individual thus is conditioned by his or her culture and through my research I want to understand the level of this conditioning and its impact on visual perception and cognition and variations within the cultural zones.

Both the objectivity of physical phenomena and the subjectivity of human sentience are fused through an act of immanent apprehension. In short, metaphor has meaning that goes beyond, and is not reducible to, either rational discourse or emotive utterance.The inherent characteristics of metaphors as artful deviations with imagery and decorative properties can be capitalized on to enhance the personality of products that lack such characteristics.

For millions of years, ever since human history has evolved, the world has taken recourse to the usage of visual or verbal metaphors to convey a myriad of topics such from language to philosophy.The fact of the matter is that metahors make life easier. The world thinks differently but is ultimately bound by a singular thought process-cipher and deciphers information within metaphors or analogies.

The central principle guiding campaign communiction and most business communication today is conceptualising the entire structure of communication.Whether it be routine communication by the corporate/government entity/person/people or a major communication project now matter how large or minor, it’s best to conceptualise what best works for the campaign.

The real advantages of conceptualizing communication structure in terms of the metaphor of the campaign are best demonstrated when an organization or any entity is facing no reall challenges either in terms of survival or thriving.A campaign, hence , in terms of a metaphor cn be used for either or both of the following purposes: 1) Inform 2) Persuade.


Till date, no concrete study has been done on the perils or pros of using a metaphor to depict a scenario or imagination and hence there is really no in-depth understanding.None of the research until now shows how a metaphorical statement is a more effective means of claiming possession of some particular attribute relative to a nonmetaphorical expression; more generally, it has not been shown that exposure to metaphors in the context of advertising can produce a change in the degree to which a specific belief is held. In fact, the nature of the research designs used, which pretest for semantic equivalence with respect to a specific attribute, make it impossible to show that a metaphorical expression can be an effective means of altering belief that the advertised object possesses the claimed attribute.

In the paper titled “Cultural Metaphors as Frames of Reference for Nations by MARTIN J. GANNON, EDWIN A. LOCKE, AMIT GUPTA,PINO AUDIA, AND AMY L. KRISTOF-BROWN, a passage explains that “there is only one well-known empirical study advancing and testing the validity of cultural metaphors—Clifford Geertz’ (1973) study of 500 Balinese cockfights as mirroring or representing Balinese culture. It is particularly difficult to test the validity of cultural metaphors. The methodology for doing so is inductive and grounded on close observation and analysis to derive emic dimensions suitable for testing (Gannon and Audia 2000; Glaser and Strauss 1967; Strauss and Corbin 1990). Also, as explained, to test the validity of several cultural metaphors, it is not feasible to use only one general questionnaire, as is the practice when etic issues are explored and profiles of national cultures are developed. Using only one questionnaire automatically excludes emic dimensions.”

An Emic is defined as “behavior or a belief in terms meaningful (consciously or unconsciously) to the actor; that is, an emic account comes from a person within the culture. Almost anything from within a culture can provide an emic account.”At the same time, an Etic is defined as the “observer”-as the person who gives the accounts of the events as he percieves them to be.

In addition, it is not known whether the power of a metaphorical figure lies in its metaphoricity or its figurativeness (i.e., artful deviation), or both. All of these are important questions, certainly for theory, but also for the practitioners who must decide what kind of metaphors to include in ads to shift consumer beliefs in the desired direction. Every marketer is trying to think of that elusive way to tap on to the pulse of the thought process of the consumer.

Not just metaphors, the essence of every figure of speech used in every day ad-parlance needs to be examined closely and documented for our ability to understand the emotions people attach to culture symbols and archetypes.Print ads are most susceptible to use figures of speech as informative ads are copy intensive and getting the point across most effectively requires the clever usage of figures of speech in not just visual terms but also literary terms.


Development communication is a booming sector in the area of marketing and communication and one of the best ways to understand the effectiveness of such communication is by analysing the different campaigns deployed by social institutions, PSUs, NGOs etc. and analyse the imapact of such communication on the intended audience.

This study is undertaken with the purpose of understanding, analysing and evaluating the different advertisement campaigns-their effectiveness, appeal and other such parameters published by the Government of Gujarat. This thesis would be to try and decode the thinking process the advertisers and campaigners and understand the knack of creating succesful metaphorical depictions.It will also try to research and demonstrate these figures of speeches and analogies from literature into every day usage in advertising specifically for print ads and from a metaphorical perspective.

Following are the major research objectives:

Analysing the design, semiotics, code switching etc and symbolism. used in advertisements that give out subliminal messages, and understanding viewer response to these

Using cognitive neurology and primary research to find out the reasons behind the behaviour of the viewers/readers.

Understanding the impact of advertisements containing these elements on the mindset of their viewers

Coming up with a comprehensive list of all elements that explores what makes a good advertisement of metaphors and figures of speech and ultimately helps change or influence reader/viewer behavior.

Literature review:

In order to fully understand or decode an advertisement, or in the words of Katherine Firth in her paper “Undressing the ad-Reading culture in advertising”, it becomes important to fully live each character involved in the process of making the advertisement. She says that “In order to understand how to read advertisements critically we must begin to incorporate “popular culture as a serious object of politics and analysis” ( Giroux, 1988, 164). While all culture is worthy of investigation, popular culture is often devalorized as “sub-literature or para- literature” ( McCracken, 1982, 30). However, in critically reading even something as seemingly mundane as an advertisement we can begin to see “the political, social and cultural forms of subordination that create inequities among different groups as they live out their lives” ( Giroux, 1988, 165). This type of critical pedagogy enables teachers and students to view aspects of popular culture within broader social, cultural, and political considerations. In the

case of advertising, which has historically been linked to marketing and sales, it allows us to discover the broader social and cultural implications of these seemingly simple messages.”

There is also a section of the thinking clan that believes that metaphors are not an academically evolved science of making coveying information to the destination.As pointed out in a paper by Lakeoff and Johnson, states that Scholars reject the objectivist “mythology” and insist that metaphors are a human capability to comprehend and shape experience “like seeing or touching or hearing, with metaphors providing the only ways to perceive and experience much of the world” (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980/2003, p. 239).

In the article titled “Metaphors in advertising discourse” by Luu Trong Tuan, an interesting observation about the novelty that metaphors bring in a dowdy advertisemnt is made.The article says that “There are many advantages linked with the useof metaphors in advertising discourse. First, they elicit more cognitive elaboration than literal messages (Toncar and Munch 2001), presumably since individuals need to comprehend the complex message to draw inferences (Mick 1992). Their artful deviations provide intrinsic rewards that come from processing various interpretations of the text (Barthes 1986). Second, resolving such deviations or incongruities leads to favorable attitudes (McQuarrie and Mick 1999). Third, metaphors inject novelty, thus increasing motivation to read and process the ad (Goodstein 1993). Fourth, promotional metaphors, which are usually apt, comprehensive, and memorable, influence consumer beliefs and affect (Ward and Gaidis 1990).Another advantage of metaphors is their centrality to the process of imagination (Goldman 1986; Oliver,Robertson, and Mitchell 1993). According to Zaltman and Coulter (1995): “Without metaphors, we cannotimagine. They are the engines of imagination.” Finally, McQuarrie and Phillips (2005) observed that consumers are more receptive to multiple, distinct, and positive inferences about the brand when metaphoric advertising is adopted.”

As a figure of speech in which a name or expressive term is transferred to a dissimilar article, a metaphor asserts a semblance between two objects that one does not expect to be associated. In contrast, a nonmetaphor describes the world quite literally.Sometimes this might be required while more often than not, it would not make for effective advertising.

Moreover, it has been suggested that a metaphor is not just a figure of speech, but a mode of thought (Lakoff, 1993, p, 210).

They further go on to state that “Metaphors as an apprehension of knowledge induces a state of consciousness that produces a physical reaction that creates feeling.” What they’re trying to state here is those metaphors and any other figures of speech for that matter have an underlying effect on the cognitive functions of the human mind.

These cognitive effects are briefly covered in an article by some researches.Pleasure can lead to possible pleasure and arousal in response to advertisements (Bagozzi. et al.2000).However, not all emotions are posilive and can encompass sadness, anger, fear, disgust, embarrassment, fright, guilt, shame, envy, jealousy, regret and disappointment. Moreover, Grafton-Small and Linstead (1989) have showed that advertisements require creative interpretations by consumers on the basis of their social experiences and understandings.

As discussed earlier, metaphors can be depicted pictorally, literarily or verbally in the headline and/or copy. As has been mentioned in a journal published by Frank Cardes and Mark Tomar at different time zones of their research, there are numerous compensations linked with the use of metaphors in advertising. First, they extract more cognitive amplification than literal messages (Kardes 1988; Toncar 2001), most probably because individuals need to grasp these multifarious messages to portray inferences. From a more interpretive outlook, metaphors are studied as taken-for-granted aspects of everyday interface that are constitutive of social and organizational realities as observed by (Cunliffe, 2002).

From their article titled “Cultural Metaphors as Frames of Reference for Nations”, MARTIN J. GANNON, EDWIN A. LOCKE, AMIT GUPTA,PINO AUDIA, AND AMY L. KRISTOF-BROWN say that “Most people in the Indian culture would agree that this nation’s culture revolves around religion and family/kinship groupings. The major themes in the culture are predetermination of life (destiny), cyclicality of life activities stressing origination, existence, chaos, and destruction, and then reorganization.All deeds and acts are seen as having consequences that can extend beyond earthly existence. Duties associated with kinship groupings are clearly defined. There is a strong in-group orientation based on kinship groups that emphasizes the hierarchical relationships within the group based on age and gender.”

To understand the evolution of this cognitive process of comprehending metaphors in advertising, a paper by Mark Johnson and Pascual-Leone has discussed about how children at 11 and 12 years of age can interpret reliably most types of metaphors, even ones that are fairly precise and abstract.The article states that “Younger children have problems interpreting most standard metaphors, and only with facilitation of the task can they partially understand physical- or action-based metaphors “(Johnson and Pascual-Leone 1989).

Prototypes of metaphor understanding seems to be a sign that older children have more abstract thinking abilities to understand metaphors, which reflect a higher level of cognitive growth. What hypothetical elucidation can be offered for age-related differences in metaphor command?

Undoubtedly the most basic principal theory for explaining metaphor understanding is Piaget’s theory of cognitive growth.Jean Piaget’s theory is the most inclusive for intellectual development because it addresses all levels of education and provides a broad calendar for reaching formal operational thinking, which is the main goal of all cognitive processes. Piaget’s theory posits four main developmental stages.

Children in the preoperational stage have mental representations and a basic understanding for a single division of objects, but cannot combine classes (e.g., physical features such as size, color, and shape) and cannot differentiate one class from another at the same time.At the same time, as they grow up, it becomes easier for them to formulate a certain set of inferences and judgements associated with any depiction-a process we like to call “reading between the lines”. Most researchers (e.g., Ault or Johnson and Pascual-Leone 1989) agree that cognitive development is in part responsible for children’s comprehension of metaphors and those older children seem to comprehend metaphors better than younger children. Though young children may be competent enough of interpreting the metaphors, we hypothesize that seventh graders should exhibit a better ability to construe metaphors than third or second graders.Fact is, this is infact true.

In the research paper titled “Indirect persuasion in advertising”, Edward F. McQuarrie and Barbara J. Phillips (2002), the researchers talk about how people feel an intrinsic need to differentiate the obvious from the murky.They quote from “Consumers will first search for a simple inference that associates the two objects; if no simple inference can be found, consumers will entertain multiple alternatives.” This clearly demonstrates how effective advertesing can become by engaging consumers in an intelligent manner.

In contrast though, other researchers, especially semioticians, suggest that ad messages presented in pictures are more “open” to multiple interpretations than similar messages presented in words because the visual message is entirely implicit (Eco-1976; Marchand 1985).

This tell us that pictoral representations, though could show the importance of the comprehensive abilities of the readers or the viewers, what it does tell us is that there is still scope for the copy or the verbal depiction of the advertisement if we were to construct prose in terms of art.

In a paper titled the “Power of persuasive metaphors on consumer buying” by Barbara J. Phillips and Edward F. McQuarrie, it is quoted that “metaphors in advertising will be of less relevance to communicating a concrete product fact (e.g., “these chips contain no trans fats”) and of greater relevance when the goal is to communicate an attitude or perspective (e.g., “regular exercise is the key to good health”). However, it is important to note that the idea that conceptual metaphors can have a persuasive impact via processes of highlighting and masking is not universally held.”

The above findings are in sync with the cognitive studies of Lankoff that was discussed earlier.The reason for such findings can be attributed to the fact that the human mind cannot distinguish between what is directly told to it and what it has trained itself for cognitively and intuitively picking out what lies between lines.It automatically attaches certain qualities it percieves to be negative with words that it is trained to hear and respond to.

For example, Lakoff and Johnson (1980) argue that because Western culture commonly asserts that argument is war, we believe that to argue is to “attack” our opponent’s position, to “defend” our own, and to try to “gain ground.” This conceptual metaphor highlights the goal of “winning” the argument and masks other beliefs, such as compromise. A competing conceptual metaphor, such as argument is dance, would make the ideas of cooperation and compromise salient, whereas the ideas of winning and losing would decrease in salience and be masked.

Taking this view of conceptual metaphor foraward, to answer how consumers cheat themselves into believeing what they wish to perceive to out of an advertisement, a paper on “Openness in Metaphorical and Straightforward Advertisements” by Luuk Lagerwerf and Anoe Meijers talks about how “more open advertisements will probably render more weak implicatures, because visual cues invite the consumer to elaborate on possible interpretations. In general, we assume that weaker implicatures lead to more appreciation.

If advertisements lead to interpretation problems, however, appreciation decreases (Giora et al. 2004; Lagerwerf 2002; Phillips 2000; Van Mulken, Van Enschot, and Hoeken 2005).

In essence, what this demonstrates is that consumers or readers tend to directly or indirectly tie up gratification of a decipher being achieved to that of the appreciation of the advertisement itself.It is presumably safe to assume here on, that in order to create advertisements wih enhanced recall value of creativity , the cipher needed to enclose the message within the envelope needs to be in perfect balance.One wrong move could lead to consumers not accepting the beauty of the advertisement and wilffuly disengaging themselves from the message.

The distance between the artful deviation and the identifiable template should be optimal (Giora 2002; Groupe-μ 1992; McQuarrie and Mick 1996).


The research will be conducted in the following 2 phases:


In the first part of the research a total of 2 advertisement campaigns excluding advertisements within campaigns will be studied and analysed for the presence of the above mentioned factors and results would be sought to understand how deeply ciphered or unciphered these different metaphors and figures of speeches exist for the end consumer to be engaged. This part of the research will be completely qualitative.The method used for research ana analysis of these advertisements will be Frith’s model of analysis.

Katherine T. Frith is an associate professor in the College of Communications, Pennsylvania State University, University Park. She has been Chairperson of the advertising major for five years. Her effort has appeared in Journalism Quarterly, Current Issues and Research in Advertising, and Media Asia. She is currently the editor of Advertising in Asia: Communication Culture and Consumption ( Iowa State University Press, 1996).

Katherine Frith is known to emphazize the need to “undress” the ad, to “read” the culture of advertising.  As Brazilian educator Paulo Freire ( 1997) called for the “reading” of the

world — analyzing the texts presented within culture ; Frith calls for deconstruction and political reading of promotional propaganda involved in the economic dynamics of the late twentieth century.

The conceptual framework of the existence of these figures of speech needs to be set and we shall try to move from the general to the more specific as we shall try to establish a rationale for this particular study.

Once the Firth’s model of analysis is implemented, a further analysis shall be undertaken using Jib Fowles’s method of advertisement evaluation (1996).

Jib Fowles, Ph.D., Professor of Communication at the University of Houston Clear Lake, is the author of a new and controversial book, The Case for Television Violence (Sage, 1999), which discusses the social benefits of violent drama.

Fowles’ six previous books include Starstruck: Celebrity Performers and the American Public (Smithsonian Institution Press) , Television Viewers vs. Media Snobs (Stein & Day), and Advertising and Popular Culture (Sage).

His articles have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, TV Guide, Advertising Age, and many scholarly publications. He has testified at U.S. Senate hearings on the topic of television violence.

We shall continue to discuss metaphors and symbolic references to cultures, archetypes and stereotypes and we shall try narrowing things to a point where we shall arrive at a specific issue or area. That then becomes the purpose of the study you propose. This section will conclude with the specific research questions.


Having gained a good perspective from the analysis of the advertisements based on parameters provided by esperts and by minute application of metaphoric theory, the second stage will involve detailed interviews of respondents from different groups of the TG and a comparative analysis of all advertisements within a campaign shall be performed. The objective will be to look at my findings (from stage 1) through the viewers’ prism and understand which advertisement was the most preferred and why. For primary research, I will use the following methodology:

A primary research will be conducted, wherein qualitative data will be collected.

Methodology: In-depth interviews with a sample of respondents from the population of interest. ( 18-55 year olds, any income group, readers of news papers and magazines)

Sample Method: Purposive

Sample Size: 5 respondents

Sampling Unit: An individual respondent belonging to the target group

Place: Ahmedabad/Nadiad/Vadodara

Information Areas:

Emotional appeal of the advertisement

Comparative gratification between visual and verbal appeal

Favourite print recalls

The use of brand ambasaddors as cultural stereotypes and archetypes

The purpose of this section is to make explicit some of the issues related to qualitative research. Many readers do not have a background in the field and it is a researcher’s responsibility to provide information about the field. Explicit assumptions of qualitative research shall be made.

Phase 1:

The Firth’s model of advertisement analysis is a group of questions on subjects that demands the decoding of every criterion of advertisement evaluation of a particular ad.

In the book titled “Advertising and popular culture”, Jib Fowles explains the nuances and the intricacies of decoding an advertisement.His questionnaire template to judge ad effectiveness and quality will be used once the Frith’s model of analysis is undertaken for each advertisement.

Campaign 1: “Garib Kalyan Mela”( Underprivileged development fair)

Client: Government of Gujarat

Creative and Copy: Department of Information, Government of Gujarat

Advertisement 1:

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Frith’s Level of Analysis

Analyses of Camapaign 1, Advertisement 1

The Surface Meaning

The advertisement consists of 4 distinct sets of pictures, each carrying a story but all of them have an underlying common thread.That poverty exists but can be tackled.

The Advertiser’s Intended Meaning

The advertiser is trying to point out the humanitarian activities work of the government’s poverty eradication and empowerment schemes by highlighting the three most crucial needs of the poor common man in the village: shelter, electricity and sanitation. The advertisement intends to capture the essence of the government’s vision, visually and through extensive copy.

The Cultural or Ideological Meaning

All figures mentioned are in rupees lakhs red font color and emboldened. This creates a significant impact of the amount of funds garnered through negotiations and dealings by the government expressed in the ad through the terms “beneficiaries” and “financial assistance”

The specific use of the phrase “my own house” connotes a number of ideological meanings

At one level, the phrase also speaks to the ego of the Indian middle class for whom owning a house and escaping the “tyranny” of the landlord is a “once in a lifetime” achievement. At the other, it talks about the status of owning your own home by depicting a poor family brimming with pride.

The visual composition and poses of the two figures also speaks of the shift in the dominance of males over a household.In each picture, a female protagonist speaks of a story either by receiving an award or feeding her child while the man of the house eats.

The advertiser wishes to also benefit from the association of the female bread winner of the family when more educated women read the advertisement in papers or elsewhere.

Advertisement analysis based on Jib Fowles’s model of evaluation (1996):

What exactly is being advertised?

The government’s hard working involvement in the welfare of the underprivileged.

Where and when did the ad appear?

Winter of 2009. On billboards in important cities in Gujarat, newspapers and brochures circulated independently by private players or through the Government.

Why might it have appeared there and then rather than elsewhere?

The places where it appeared had the most chances of being noticed by the intended target audience.

What appears to be the intended audience?

Educated english knowing people having access to local media , involved or caring about the development of their state and deeply intrested in understanding the initiatives and allocations of tax funds in the state.

What drives this understanding of the TG?

The use of rich words deep in metaphoric meaning such as “illuminating” for electricity and “developing” the quality of life and “beneficiaries” etc. suggests the intended TG

In what ways does it utilize features of the particular medium used (poster, television, film, radio or magazine)?

Poster, brochures, pamphlets, Inserts and magazines

What graphic mode(s) is/are used (e.g. still photography, drawing, animation, live action)?

Still photography and copy writing.

Describe the overall design.

The advertisement is a collage of different photographs belonging to a similar sect, consisting of the perceived difficulties of the underprivileged

The mood or the tone of the main photograph in the middle is dark but the lantern sets a mood of hope within despair.

Copy is emphazised when talking about figures and is shown in red when explaining the brevity of the impact of the government’s actions on the “lives” of the common man.

Where is it set in space and time?

Rural, earthern India seperated from the might of some of the bigger cities not very far away where people have very little idea of the advan

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