According to behavioral economist Dan Ariely, “Human beings are about 97 percent the same.”
A boatload of researchers and academics share this perspective and as marketers we owe it to ourselves to become conscious of the potential this particular attitude holds for global marketing communications. A relatively small set of root concepts represents shared experience, emotional significance and hold potentially profound persuasive power for us all. These “deep” metaphors are embedded or embodied in us as human beings. Universally across languages and cultures, these metaphors are used to simplify complex concepts tied to imagery, to experiences and to emotions.
According to researcher Zoltán Kövecses, “universal primary experiences produce universal primary metaphors.” Presuming they are used in a relevant way, metaphors engage us because they spark imagination and extend meaning far beyond words.
Hardly a new idea, metaphors in communications from speeches to campaigns have been argued to have great influence on how we think and act, and they can substantially affect how we reason about complex issues and gather information to make decisions (P.H. Thibodeau and L. Boroditsky, 2011). For example, in 1946 when Winston Churchill sought to paint a clear picture of what was happening in Eastern Europe and to warn the Western world about the spreading threat of communism, he said:
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”
With these very simple and powerful words, Churchill created a shared image that transformed American feelings and changed the course of history.
If metaphors can unite us, can reach us at an emotional level and can influence our decision-making, why don’t we see more of them in global advertising? The answer is they are being used successfully by many global marketers, although we may not all consciously realize they’re there. In his recent blogpost, Pete Healy of gyro discusses the art of creating messages that can resonate with audience members across languages and cultures. And his blog raises the question, “Are we to the point where this can be done with standardized content, or must it be localized?”In response, I’d pose that relevant “deep” metaphors have the power to do both.
Gerald and Lindsay Zaltman explain in their book Marketing Metaphoria that there are seven “deep metaphors” that provide a bridge to unconscious imagery and emotions that unite us as humans. These seven—balance, transformation, journey, container, connection, resource and control—can be experienced at the same basic level by people worldwide and can offer unifying insight to inform global marketing strategy.
For example, take the metaphor of transformation, which Zaltman says “may be the most pervasive deep metaphor among consumers.” In the book How Customers Think, Zaltman writes, “Transformation involves moving from one state of being to another, with each state having both desirable and undesirable qualities.” An example of a transformative metaphor used globally but adapted by culture/region is the Effie award-winning Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese campaign. For the years that this campaign ran, the brand held the position of “indulgent heavenly experience” on a global basis. In execution, the campaign metaphorically struck a balance between the transformative experience of blissful indulgence and of divine goodness. At the same time, because heaven is viewed differently in different cultures, executions were appropriately localized. For example, the kinds of angelic beings employed were modified by cultural norm, i.e., angels used to represent heaven in ads running in Christian but not in Muslim cultures (Kates and Goh, 2003).
Metaphors serve as a practical and powerful bridge linking imagery and emotion in ways that can be both universally and locally relevant. What we must keep in mind as marketers is that the audience is not going to simply absorb and accept what we say at face value. They will, if we successfully engage them, interpret, interact and apply their own judgment to what we say. The audience drives the conversation and owns the understanding. In today’s dynamic and global world of marketing communications, metaphors can be powerful vehicles of persuasion, but communications have become a two-way conversation where the audience controls the script.
by Judy Rudolph Begehr
Senior Vice President – Account Planning
Cross posted at Ignite Something on the Forbes CMO Network