What lies beneath: Brand Metaphors

Aristotle is one of the earliest known researchers who used metaphor. According to him Metaphor is “the application of an alien name by transference either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or by analogy”.

 Human conceptual system is fundamentally metaphoric in character. There are                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           primarily two types of concepts which form the basis of human conceptual system:  Metaphorical and Non-metaphorical. Concepts which emerge from a person’s direct experience are defined in the same manner are Nonmetaphorical. Most of the concepts of humans are abstract like ideas, emotions, relationships, time, and communication. While defining these concepts, we use metaphorical language in terms of concrete and structured terms like food, objects, space and motion. The base of these concepts is physical and cultural experiences. Different metaphors are understood differently across divergent cultures (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980).

Each metaphor consists of two parts a target and a source. The target is called as tenor; we try to describe its meaning by the use of metaphor. The source is a vehicle, the concept that is used to predicate about the target. Example: “Tata Ace: Small is big (Chota hathi)” in this Tata Ace is tenor and Chota hathi is Vehicle.

Metaphors can be verbal and non-verbal. Most of the studies of metaphor focused on the verbal component only few researchers focused on non-verbal component. Metaphors are also classified on the basis of Literal and Non-Literal or theoretical or scientific metaphor. In literal, the message is conveyed vividly and dramatically and it loses its value after sometime and become cliché e.g. “Marketing is Myopic”. The other is non-literal metaphor which encourages a researcher to explore different literature and theories of different field to form a concept or a strategy.  It stimulates creativity thus results in long lasting effect e.g. “Strategic Alliances are Marriages” (Hunt and Menon, 1995).


Metaphor is not a figure of speech, but a mode of thought. Metaphor is at the core of language and constitutes one of its most dynamic parts. Metaphors pervade our everyday life; we really ‘live by’ them (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980).

Metaphors are the key mechanisms for viewing consumer thoughts and feelings and for understanding behaviour. Metaphors actively create and shape thought.  Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation technique (ZMET) provides deep and useful insights about consumers and their latent and emerging needs (Zaltman and Coulter, 1995).

Marketing language is more metaphoric than social sciences. Brand is identified with three root metaphors: brand as differentiating mark, brand as person and brand as asset. The word ‘brand’ is itself a metaphor. One of the most common metaphors in the branding literature is that of ‘brand as person’ where human characteristics are ascribed to a brand. ‘Like people, brands can have emotions’ and ‘Like people, brands can have personalities’ (Davies and Chun, 2003).

Metaphors are the ‘ants of advertising’ because ‘just as the tiny insect can support many times its own weight, a single metaphor can be worth a hundred words of copy’. Marketers use metaphors in slogans (Idea: An Idea can change your life, Radio Mirchi 98.3 FM: Its Hot), names (Gillette, Garnier) and other promotional devices (Ward and Gaidis, 1990). Marketers use metaphors to achieve many objectives; i.e., to gain consumer attention, evoke imagery, provoke comparisons, suggest similarity between a product and a concept, explain a complex or technical product, or influence consumer beliefs and attitudes (Bremer and Lee, 1997).

Metaphors are on exploration since ages and the trend continues. World’s population have experienced poetry now are more likely to be exposed to creative and innovative metaphors through marketing and promotions.

Contributed by Anjuman Antil, my research scholar at FMS


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