Metaphors make your ads more memorable
Metaphors make people process ads more deeply - and made them 24% more likely to remember ads one week later. Use metaphors related to your brand.
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An ad is effective when people are able to remember the brand - and brand benefits - once they decide to make a purchase.
If your target customer doesn’t remember your ad you are wasting time, money, and resources.
So how do we make ads more memorable?
We’ve seen before that people remember print ads better than digital ads.
Today’s study focuses on the content of ads.
Researchers used fMRIs to scan people’s brains one week after they were shown different types of ads. They measured how their brains recalled different types of ads.
Here’s what they found.
P.S.: A functional MRI (fMRI) is similar to an MRI but is used to measure people’s brain activity in real-time.
The technology uses our blood’s magnetic properties to observe which parts of the brain require more blood and oxygen - showing that they are active.
People are usually asked to think about or look at something while they are lying in an fMRI machine, and scientists then observe what happens to their brains.
Use metaphors in your ads to make them more memorable
Channels: Ads | Image ads
For: B2C. Can be tested for B2B
Research date: August 2022
Use metaphors in your ads. They should connect with and highlight your brand benefits (e.g. a lighthouse to show how powerful Maglite torches are).
People will be more likely to remember your ad, your brand, and your brand benefits.
This study analyzed three different types of ads:
Functional. Rational descriptions of the product (e.g. all-electric Chevy Bolt with 259-mile range for $25,600; removes 100% more plaque, by Oral-B)
Emotional. Trigger emotions, without necessarily being connected to product features (e.g. “Because your family matters” with a photo of a child and parent, by Wells Fargo; “Live your life” with a photo of a couple kissing, by American Eagle)
Metaphorical. Create relevant parallels between products and different objects or scenarios (e.g. “Leave the noise behind” with a photo of a screaming child, by Bose headphones; “For skin as smooth as a peach” with a photo of a peach, by Olay skincare)
People remember both metaphorical and emotional ads better than functional ads, but remember brand details best when the ads are metaphorical.
For example, as part of two experiments, researchers found that one week after seeing ads people:
Were 24% more likely to recognize a snippet of a metaphorical ad, compared to a functional ad. Emotional ads were similar to metaphorical ads.
Had higher activity in the left hippocampus region of their brain (associated with memory) when recalling metaphorical or emotional ads
Esselunga, an Italian supermarket chain, has used metaphorical ads since 1995 - featuring the likes of John Lemon, [Mozzarella di] Bufala Bill, Cherry Christmas, and Van Melonen
🧠 Why it works
Functional ads activate smaller parts of our brains because they only relate to a specific product or feature.
Metaphorical and emotional ads activate a higher number and more complex parts of our brains. For example, they tend to activate the precuneus, which is what we would use when thinking about socializing with a group of friends.
Metaphorical ads require us to more actively think about and understand the ad to resolve it (e.g. why is there a screaming kid in a Bose ad? Why is there a peach in an Olay ad?). Reaching this “aha” moment forces us to further process the ad, which makes us more likely to remember it better.
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The study focused on understanding how well people remember different types of ads. But functional ads could still be the best option for other purposes. For example, metaphorical ads may be great for brand building while functional ads might be best to convert people that are ready to buy. This was not studied.
Participants were asked to pay attention to and rate the ads that they were later asked to remember. The focus of this study was not on which ads attracted more attention.
Ads don’t necessarily need to be strictly in one of these three categories (functional, emotional, metaphorical) - especially if they are video ads. For example, they could start as metaphorical and end as functional. This was not tested.
🏢 Companies using this
The use of metaphors in ads has been increasing since the 1950s.
A broad variety of B2C brands have used metaphorical ads, from Pringles to Playstation to Oreo.
Heinz plays with the metaphor of fresh tomatoes and ketchup
⚡ Steps to implement
Look for metaphors that connect to your product and highlight one or more of your brand benefits (e.g. fresh, fast, social, warm).
Present them in ads in a way that is obvious enough but still makes people reach an “aha” moment when seeing them, so they process the ad and remember your brand.
🔍 Study type
Lab and online experiments
Making Ads Stick: Role of Metaphors in Improving Advertising Memory. Journal of Advertising (August 2022).
Elizabeth Beard. Fox School of Business, Temple University
Nicole Henninger. Fox School of Business, Temple University
Vinod Venkatraman. Fox School of Business, Temple University
Remember: This is a new scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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