What Are the Different Uses of Metaphors in Advertising?

Geri Terzo

The use of metaphors is pervasive throughout the English language. This figure of speech draws a comparison between two separate ideas or things that ironically share an underlying meaning. The use of metaphors in advertising is a common way for marketers to communicate a point to a demographic. Advertisers frequently use metaphors with words or visually with pictures.

The use of certain metaphors in food advertising may ultimately lead to false advertising.
The use of certain metaphors in food advertising may ultimately lead to false advertising.

In the business of advertising, it is important to be accurate with any statements so that a message is not misconstrued. Otherwise, marketers could be liable for false advertising. As a result, when there are metaphors in advertising, the marketers often tread creatively around the truth. One way to do this is to use phrases with nouns only instead of full sentences when incorporating metaphors into a message.

A visual metaphor composed of a clock with a dollar sign may be used as a way of expressing the verbal metaphor "time is money."
A visual metaphor composed of a clock with a dollar sign may be used as a way of expressing the verbal metaphor "time is money."

Metaphors in advertising are greatest when the term is original and has not been used elsewhere. Visual metaphors in advertising can be most effective when they are part of a global marketing campaign. The use of metaphors in advertising is likely to evoke some type of emotion out of an audience and make the message memorable, which is the outcome in a successful ad campaign. Ideally, a visual metaphor will capture the attention of a demographic and will lead to product sales or generate revenue in some other way.

A risk in using any type of metaphor in advertising, whether in a headline, body of a message, or as a picture, is that the point may be misunderstood by the audience. Picture metaphors tend to be the most obvious, and in print, the more precise a metaphor is, the more likely that the desired audience will interpret the message clearly. Success of a print metaphor in advertising can be whether or not a control group understands the true meaning of the language used.

Creating a metaphor that properly identifies a company brand, product, or individual is a process. The advertiser is often taking a chance that an audience will correctly interpret a comparison or label that is being placed on the subject. One way to begin the creative process is to start by writing a simile. A simile is a comparison that incorporates the word "like" into it so that the similarity is clear. Subsequent to determining what a subject is in fact "like," the advertiser can go on to create an illustration or a phrase that is a metaphor and takes the message to an even higher level.

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Discussion Comments


@Mae82 - I remember reading about the Dove commercial scandal in the newspaper. I honestly think people were just being a bit too sensitive. The image could have been a metaphor for the superiority of the Caucasian race, and how everyone should strive to be clean and white, but I really think it was just poor layout and not a metaphor in advertising. When I saw the ad I wasn't the least bit offended.

Can anyone think of another case where a metaphor in advertising has lead to a lot of problems or been seen as inappropriate? Did you think it really was a problem, or were people just being too excitable?


It seems to me that metaphors in advertising are most used to get away with "saying" something that the advertisers would normally get censored or in trouble for. I can think of a few ads where companies have just shrugged their shoulders when it came to taking responsibility for the ideas that their images invoked. Very few have ever been caught using metaphors in negative or controversial ways.

There was a pretty famous case in regards to a Dove soap commercial that was pulled from television because their perceived message offended too many people. Basically it showed a before, middle and after using the soap and the before was an African American, the middle a Latino and the after was a Caucasian person. The transitions through different colors by race were seen as offensive to many, though some believe it was just an honest mistake.


I worked at a gift shop for many years, and we sold everything from flowers to chocolate. We had one brand of chocolate called "Treasures" that came in a metallic gold colored wrapper.

The chocolates came in coin shapes, gold bar shapes, and big ring shapes. Customers could either buy a small burlap bag filled with different pieces or the big treasure chest with more in it.

We used metaphors in our advertisements of this product. We called it "Solid Gold Chocolate." Our ad around Valentine's Day said, "Give Your Love Treasures of Solid Gold."

This product became most popular as a gift from parents to their children. I would have loved to receive a treasure chest full of chocolate as a child, and I can just imagine the squeal of delight when a kid opens one.


When I worked as a graphic artist designing advertisement campaigns, I had a furniture store that wanted to run an ad about their "naked furniture" sale. This just referred to things like leather sofas and recliners that didn't have any prints or patterns.

The store owner wanted to incorporate the shock factor into her ad, so she had me put a large leather sofa on a white background and a big red "censored" stamp across the sofa. Underneath that, I typed "Naked Furniture On Sale Now."

Lots of people got a kick out of the ad. This lady is quirky and often likes to showcase her personality in her ads.

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