Metaphors part 2: Metaphors and Marketing

Shakespeare was the master of metaphors, but today’s modern metaphor masters work in marketing and advertising.

Marketing, advertising, and the Arts

One of the questions that most Arts graduates are familiar with is, “A Bachelor’s of Arts, what are you going to do with that?” Yet Arts graduates are keenly familiar with the art of persuasion, rhetoric:

  1. Arts students write persuasive assignments such as personal essays, research papers, and text analyses.
  2. Arts professors critique students’ assignments based their persuasive ability.
  3. Ideally, Arts students improve their persuasive abilities.

So Arts students learn rhetoric, and great Arts students become great rhetoricians. Let’s return to the original question, the question an English major, like me, is used to hearing from his computer programmer friends, “what are you going to do with that?”

What are you going to do with the ability to persuade others?

rhetoricThe art of persuasion

Every business needs to convince consumers (the public or other businesses) to buy their products. Marketing agencies create advertising that sells products, and effective rhetoric is the backbone of great marketing.

Think about those catchy ads that stick with you over the course of days or weeks, or the humorous ones that have you and your colleagues doubled over at the water cooler. Those ads stimulate your emotions, which persuades you to purchase a product or pay for a service. That’s advertising.

But every ad must relate back to the product or service it’s selling. That relationship between the product and the advertisement is inherently metaphorical—the ad carries the meaning of the ad beyond its referent.



Metaphors in advertising

caveman2 Some of my favorite commercials are for the Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO). The GEICO commercials are examples of really great advertising, especially in how they’ve created two excellent company mascots: the Caveman and the Gecko. And, to illustrate the purpose of this post, the GEICO Caveman is a metaphor for an ancient being, incapable of modern human understanding. Yet the caveman uses GEICO because they want to relay the message that they’re services are “so easy even a caveman can do it.”

So the caveman metaphorically stands in for two things: something pre-modern and GEICO’s simplicity.

Advertising does this ALL THE TIME.

Nike’s “Just Do It” advertising fuses their athletic products with speed, fame, and success; Tony the Tiger does the same thing with Frosted Flakes; the new RBC claymations fuse banking with something fun, animated, and unique; and the list goes on and on.

Good Marketers take one central idea that metaphorically represents the perceived benefits of using a product or paying  for a service. They then fuse that idea with the content of their communications, and create themes or storylines amongst—a process called branding.

This process of allowing symbols and words to carry different meanings is just another way metaphors pervade our everyday lives.


4 thoughts on “Metaphors part 2: Metaphors and Marketing

  1. I suppose in a way having an arts degree frees you from the confines of what can be done with a specific credential.

    Example: Someone who goes to school for aeronautical engineering would most certainly be expected to get an engineering job in the aerospace industry.

    Having an arts degree provides you with a higher degree of knowledge and understanding than a GED yet provides no real definite direction in career selection. Good or bad, I suppose it is what you make of it, or what you can convince people to make of it ;-).


  2. Like our common friend Marek, I too am an arts graduate Poli Sci many years ago when one did not think about work :-)
    Another persepctive to your ad scenario is – does an ad reach its ultimate effectiveness when a product becomes generic ?
    I saw a gecko in Florida and immediately thought of the ad


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