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See It, Touch It, Taste It, Smell It, Hear It:
The Use of Visual Metaphor in Sensory Advertising Strategy
Edgar Huang Associate Professor New Media Program
School of Informatics Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
535 W. Michigan Street, Suite IT 481
Indianapolis, IN 46202-3103
[log in to unmask]
University of Tennessee – Knoxville
Advertising & Public Relations
April 1, 2005
The importance of visual messages in modern society is undeniable.
However, in spite of the centrality of the visual, a large gap exists
between the wealth of visual media and the research's ability to
analyze it (Rice 2004, Mirzoeff 1999). This assertion is true for
modern print advertising. Although the visual element of advertising
has increased in sophistication and prominence, many facets of
advertising aesthetics have yet to be explored. Recently, more
attention has been given to the increasingly complex role of the
visual in advertising. Researchers have applied analyzing frameworks
that examine rhetorical devises (Birdsell & Groarke 1996; Blair 1996,
Stafford, Spears, & Hsu 2003; van Mulken 2003) and metaphor (Phillips
1996, Kaplan 1989) to interpret advertising visuals. The purpose of
this paper is to examine visual metaphors in women's magazine
advertising that utilize a sensory approach and position sensory
depictions as important complex visuals within the field of advertising.
Much of the current research focuses on the interpretation of images
in print advertising centers on gender issues. In fact, an extensive
literature across the fields of psychology, communication, marketing
and gender studies has evolved over the past 30 years that describes
how gender portrayals in advertising mirror gender roles in society
at large (Frith, Cheng, & Shaw 2004). The current research in print
advertising examines: international comparisons of gender portrayal
(Frith, Cheng, & Shaw 2004; Das 2000, First 1998), celebrity gender
issues (Stafford, Spears, & Hsu 2003), eroticizing men in advertising
(Rohlinger 2002), female same-sex eroticism (Reichert 2001),
marketing normality to the gay community (Kates 1999), images of
domestic ideals (Kitch 1998: Scanlon 1995), advertising targeting
African American women (Mayes, 1997), depictions of women in lingerie
catalogues (Valdivia 1997), and images of feminine beauty (Wolf
1991). However, in spite of the vast and rich research findings
regarding gender and cultural portrayals in print advertising,
relatively few studies have centered on the meanings of other
varieties of complex visual themes.
Part of the reason why it is difficult to find a broad field of
research relating to interpretation of complex visuals is the bias
toward the spoken and written word in Western culture. This bias
originates from Plato's distrust of our senses, specifically our eyes
(Collinson, 1992). This bias continued with Aristotle's verbal
paradigm for the argument (Blair 1996). Hence, subtle and perhaps
unintended biases against the visual sensory experience creep into
our current texts (Rice 2004). However, at a time when technological
and cultural developments are revolutionizing communication, studying
the visual aspects of communication becomes increasingly
important. Sensory Approach to Advertising:
Researchers who study creative or message strategy have recognized
the importance of a sensory approach to advertising. For instance the
"grid model" developed for use by Foote, Cone, and Belding (FCB)
includes a "low involvement/feeling" quadrant that refers to items
that cater to personal tastes or "life's little pleasures." Decision
making in this category is low involvement and driven by personal
satisfaction. Products that fall into this category include beer,
cigarettes, and candy (Vaughn 1986; Ratchford 1987).
Drawing from the FCB Grid, the powerful appeal of the senses is
specifically addressed in Taylor's Six-Segment Message Strategy
Model. The first subdivision of the model divides persuasive tactics
according to whether the product is advertised using a "Transmission
view," which centers on the message or claim, or a "Ritual view,"
which centers on product-image and emotions (Taylor, 1999). The
second subdivision of the wheel divides it into quadrants based on
the audience's involvement level. The first quadrant involves
"informative strategy" for products that require a high level of
involvement. The second quadrant, "affective strategy," is for
highly involving and emotional purchases that fulfill self-esteem
needs and ego related impulses (Taylor, 1999). "Habitual strategy,"
quadrant three, includes low-involvement, routine products that
evolve into habitualized purchasing patterns. Quadrant four,
"satisfaction strategy", corresponds with low-involvement emotional
products (Taylor, 1999). The Six-Segmented model is created when
the original four quadrants are further divided to include a total of
six-segments that include rational needs, acute needs, and routine
needs on the transmission side of the wheel and ego needs, societal
needs and sensory needs on the ritual side of the wheel (Taylor, 1999).
According to this model, the sensory segment falls in the
low-involvement and ritual-based side of the strategy wheel. The
sensory segment provides consumers with "moments of pleasure" based
on appeals to the five senses. Although there is not a formal
strategy associated with this segment, the appeal is quite common and
is derived from Cyrenaics philosophy (Taylor, 1999). The role of
communication in this model is to "transform the product into a
'pleasurable moment' by showing us how the use of the product
produces sensory pleasure" (Taylor, 1999 p. 13). Products that often
fulfill this type of need include music CDs, fragrances, and clothing
Cyrenaics and the Historical Roots of the Sensory Approach
The Cyrenaic school was a fourth-century B.C. philosophical
movement, associated with Socratic tradition and Greek skepticism. In
ethics, Cyrenaic hedonism is seen as one of many attempts made by the
associates of Socrates and their followers to endorse his ethical
viewpoint and investigate the implications of his methods. Cyrenaic
skepticism is expressed by the idea that we can only know our own
experiences but cannot know anything else, including objects in the
world and other minds (Tsouna, 1998).
The subjectivism of the school is based on the concept of the
pathe (singular pathos), or undergoings produced on a subject through
its contact with an object. Central to the analysis of the concept of
the pathe are their physiological and psychological
characteristics. For instance, pleasure and pain are both considered
to be pathe. Although the Cyrenaics centered on pathe in connection
with perceivers, their analysis preserves physicalistic overtones.
These are reflected in the definition of pleasure and pain as smooth
and rough motions in the flesh or soul that are somehow related to
pleasurable or painful feelings (Tsouna, 1998).
The pathe of pleasure and pain have an informative aspect as
well. Each pathos of pleasure or pain is further defined by the type
of pleasure or pain experienced. For instance, when pleasure is felt
the subject is aware that the pleasure comes from a sweet sensation
on his or her tongue and not a soft touch at the tip of his or her
fingers. On the other hand, when pain is experienced, the subject
can differentiate between the pain of a burn and the pain of a cut
(Tsouna, 1998). Therefore, the subject associates the pleasure or
pain with a specific object or experience.
Having approved the pathos of pleasure, the some of the followers of
the Cyrenaics movement believed that happiness is the moral end. And,
that pleasure or happiness is unitemporal. Therefore, in this manner
of thought, the experience of pleasure in the moment became more
important than past or future pleasure (Tsouna, 1998).
Like this vein of Cyrenaics, hedonism also is an ancient philosophy
concerned with the amount of happiness that results from a given
action. This philosophy is one of the oldest philosophies and, as
such, precedes the ancient Greeks. Hedonism asserts that the idea
that happiness is the ultimate good and that, conversely, unhappiness
is the ultimate evil. Because of its beautiful simplicity and because
it asserts the intuitively plausible notion that things are good or
bad based on how they make us feel, it has always been an attractive
theory (Rachels, 1993).
Hedonism's understanding of reality contains an element of optimism
that is not unrelated to a somewhat shallow understanding of human
sensuality that is centered on pleasure in the utilitarian sense (Ci,
1999). The utilitarian view that developed from this vein of
hedonism became popular among the philosophers of the late eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries. During this time Jeremy Betham refined the
"The Principle of Utility." This principle requires that whenever we
have a choice between alternative actions or social policies, we must
choose the one that is best for everyone concerned. John Stuart Mill
then refined this principle into "the Greatest Happiness Principle."
According to this principle, the primary goal of an action is to
bring about the most pleasure or enjoyment. Therefore, when deciding
what to do, morality requires that we take the action that creates
the greatest amount of happiness (Riley 2003; Rachels 1993).
The Sensory Experience as Communicated Through the Visual:
Although all of the five senses are essential to the perception
process when compared to other senses (hearing, smell, taste, and
touch), which are like "narrow alleyways paved in cobblestones,
vision is like a superhighway" (Few, 2004). Understanding the power
of the visual is essential. Because the human is a pattern-seeker,
the visual process is capable of enormous power and subtlety. At the
highest levels of processing, perception and cognition are closely
interrelated, which is the reason why the words "seeing" and
"understanding" are often considered to be synonymous (Few,
2004). Therefore, we thrive in information-thick worlds because of
our capacity to select, edit, single out, pair, structure, merge, and
harmonize information. For this reason, visual communication is
frequently optimal (Few, 2004).
Several psychological theories help explain how and why humans are
able to process visual information efficiently. For instance, Loftus
and Ruthruff created a theory of visual information acquisition and
visual memory (1994). Loftus and Ruthruff designed a framework in
which the visual system acts as a filter operating on a stimulus to
produce a function relating to a sensory response. In their research,
they discuss the perception of and memory for complex visual stimuli.
The results of this research included the finding that subjects
process higher intensity visual more quickly than lower intensity
visuals. Therefore, if the visual is considered to be high-intensity,
less time is needed for the visual to be remembered. However, if the
visual is low-intensity, more time is required (Loftus & Ruthruff, 1994).
Another theory that expresses the importance of the visual is the
likelihood principle of visual form perception. Helmholtz and
Hochberg were considered to be the primary initiators of the
likelihood principle (Leeuwenberg & Boselie, 1988). The principle is
We perceive the most likely objects or events that would fit the
sensory patterns that we are trying to interpret…If perceiving the
object requires some guessing, we may think of sensory stimulation as
providing data for the hypothesis considering the state of the
external world. The selected hypotheses following the rules are
perceptions (Leeuwenberg & Boselie, 1988).
Basically, the likelihood principal states that visual perception is
organized to achieve the interpretation most likely to match the
source of the stimulation, even when the visual provided is incomplete.
Although humans are gifted at gathering and interpreting visual
data, sensory overload is still a problem. A significant amount of
cognitive and intellectual impairment occurs when individuals are
exposed to too much sensory information. Research has found that
sensory overload results in social alienation, slower information
processing, and personal disorganization (Gottschalk, 1994).
Because of the importance of visual communication, it has come to be
understood as a meaningful and culturally embedded characteristic of
contemporary persuasive communication (Trumbo, 1999). Visual
communication involves, "the use of visuals to express ideas and
convey meaning to others" (Trumbo, 1999, p. 13). The study of visual
images in communication has traditionally focused on various
entertainment media and advertising. Studying these images resulted
in the creation conceptual distinctions between the visual and verbal
elements of persuasive communication (Trumbo, 1999).
One specific area that has emerged from the study of visual
communication is the concept of the visual argument or rhetoric
(Blair, 1996). There is no doubt that images can influence attitudes
and beliefs. A single visual image can probably be more powerful than
a single verbal assertion. At a time when technological and cultural
developments are increasingly enhancing visual communication, we
ought to consider how the visual relates to argumentation (Blair,
1996). One key element of the visual argument is the emotive nature
of images. This emotional quality of the visual argument is often
used in advertising through the implementation of evocative symbols
that disarm the consumer by encouraging them to identify with a
pleasing visual rather than a rational argument (Blair, 1996). For
instance, a visual itself cannot make a claim that can be contested,
doubted or improved upon by others (Birdsell, 1996). It is also true
that visual elements influence an audience in predictable ways. For
instance, appealing to the senses through colors invoke feelings of
warmth (reds, oranges) or coolness (blues, greens). Certain scenes,
such the desert, mountains or the seashore, evoke feelings of escape
and freedom (Blair, 1996).
The verbal metaphor is an essential element of verbal rhetoric that
is often studied by advertising researchers (Phillips 1997; Stern
1990). A metaphor shows a similarity between two objects by stating
that one object is like the other even though the two are actually
quite different (Stern 1990). It has been theorized that advertising
visuals create metaphors in much the same way as advertising words
(Phillips 1997). However, relatively few studies address the
importance of visual metaphors in the sense making process (Phillips
1997; Kaplan 1990). According to Kaplan,
Metaphors are so pervasive in thinking and behavior that their power
as interpretive systems may extend beyond general discourse and
everyday thinking about one's experiences to the more rigorous modes
of observation and analysis that are characteristic of scientific
work (Kaplan 1990 p. 39).
Perhaps one reason for the lack of attention given to visual
metaphors is the limited amount of theory relating to metaphor in
visual media. Another probable reason is that visual metaphor is
seldom found in photography and representational art. However, modern
advertising frequently employs "nonrealistic" presentational codes
that lend themselves to visual metaphor (Kaplan, 1990 p.41).
In the realm of advertising, the sensory metaphor is a powerful
persuasive device. For instance, slogans such as "Taste the Rainbow"
for Skittles and "the Loudest taste on Earth" for Doritos urge
consumers to experience cross-sensory perception –to see and hear a
taste (Nelson & Hitchon, 1999, p. 354). The experience of "joint" or
"cross-sensory perception" is called synesthesia. Although the
majority of the population are not synesthetes, synesthetic
expressions abound in mass communication because we can all
"experience synesthesia metaphorically" (Nelson & Hitchon, 1999, p.
354). Using a cross-sensory approach in advertising often attracts
attention because of the novelty of the experience and may even
enhance persuasion due to an expectancy violation (Nelson & Hitchon,
1999). In addition to being persuasive, synesthetic visual metaphors
enhance comprehension when they are used to associate abstract
concepts with the familiar (Nelson & Hitchon, 1999).
Although synesthetic references can be surprising because often
produce expectancy violations (Nelson & Hitchon 1995), it is
important to note that sensory systems do not function independent of
one another physiologically or culturally (Higgins 1995). However,
many specialized art forms including high art such as classical music
tend to require the isolation of one particular sense. For instance,
a symphony requires a restrained audience in rows chairs suggests a
sense of physical control over the audience (Higgins 1995). In spite
of the desire to isolate the senses in certain cases, synesthetic
expression has been present in the arts since Aristotle who wrote
"the harmony of colors is like the harmony of sounds" (Nelson & Hitchon 1995).
In spite of the importance of the visual metaphor in print
advertising, the research has focused more on the verbal
manifestations synesthesia such as headlines (Nelson & Hitchon 1995)
and television and radio advertising (Nelson & Hitchon 1999). On the
other hand, research that addressed visual metaphors in print
advertising did not address synesthesia specifically (Phillips 1997;
Kaplan, 1990). In spite of the various approaches to interpreting
complex advertising visuals, research has found that audiences
respond favorably to metaphor (Stafford, Spears, & Hsu 2003; Nelson &
Hitchon 1999, Phillips 1997; Nelson & Hitchon 1995; Kaplan 1989).
Whether synesthetic nor not, there is no doubt that images can
influence attitudes and beliefs. A single visual image can be more
powerful than a single verbal assertion (Blair 1996).
Sensory Marketing and Advertising:
Increasingly, marketers and advertisers are becoming aware of the
power of the senses. In the past, the five senses were an essential
part of the shopping process. For instance, when an individual
shopped he or she could easily smell, taste, and touch the product
(Childress & Goldschmidt, 2004). However, due to the proliferation of
product packaging, consumers have become increasingly separated from
products. The resurgent popularity of in-store food demonstrations
may be a reaction to the lack of sensory stimulus in the modern
supermarket (Childress & Goldschmidt, 2004). In recent studies,
researchers have found that people want a sensory experience when
purchasing a product. People are less likely to buy if they cannot
touch the item. For this reason, jewelry stores sell more when less
of their items are enclosed in glass cases. If people cannot touch
the item, they cannot relate to the item on a sensory level and they
will not buy it (Childress & Goldschmidt, 2004).
This sensory trend has also inspired a number of retailers to create
"experiential retailing." This approach to retailing is centered on
fantasy and fun (Ivey, 2004). The goal of this approach is to
encourage consumers to interact with the retail environment using all
five senses. For instance, the retail floor of one department store
covers a full city block and looks like a gigantic market with small
boutique stores. Each boutique is highly interactive and encourages
consumers to sample the various products being sold (Ivey, 2004).
This sensory approach has even influenced product design. According
to Dan Hill, the president of Sensory Logic in St. Paul, MN, people
purchase items based on the sensation or feelings that the product
generates (Rechtin, 2004). Altering the design of the car can
encourage the buyer to perceive the car as expressing an emotion. For
instance, an automobile that has angles is perceived to communicate
anger, tension and masculinity. On the other hand, creating an upward
sweep of an automobiles headlights and grill will cause the car to
exhibit happy characteristics. If consumers relate to the emotion
being communicated, they are more likely to buy (Rechtin, 2004). This
movement in the automotive industry has become an industry trend and
is being applied to everything from staplers and other household
products to computers (Rechtin, 2004). Therefore, sensory appeals
are powerful motivators from advertising, marketing, and retailing
Based on preliminary observations and the literature in the field the
following research questions were generated for this study:
R1: How are the senses depicted in women's magazine advertisements
that use a sensory approach?
R2: How do these sensory depictions relate to the products they promote?
R3: How is visual metaphor used to create a sensory experience?
The study of metaphor complements constructivist-informed study that
employs the person of the researcher as the primary research
instrument (Paztor 2004). Constructivist paradigms function from the
assumption that knowing is not matching reality, but rather "finding
a fit with observations" (Paztor 2004 p. 320). Because images within
visual text rather than personal experience gathered from an
interview transcript is the unit of analysis for this research, it
lacks some of the perspective that is gained through the lived
experience and personal meaning that is normally the focus of
interpretive research (Denzin, 2001). However, because the research
methodology stems from textual observation and is inductive by
nature, it is inspired by the philosophical underpinnings of the
In spite of the fact that visual images rather than personal
experiences are analyzed in this research, many qualitative
researchers view visual imagery as a rich and neglected source of
information (Silverman 1993). However, there are some methodological
and cultural reasons why visual imagery is not usually a primary
source of qualitative data. First, social scientific research is
normally considered to be verbal rather than visual (Rice 2004,
Silverman 1993); therefore, we instinctually associate social
research with what we can read (texts, statistics) or hear
(interviews, conversations). Thus, we privilege the verbal over the
visual (Silverman 1993). Second, because there is little research
and theory that relates to the analysis of complex visual imagery,
the analysis of images raises complex methodological and theoretical
issues (Silverman 1993). Third, researchers argue that attention to
the visual alone can detract from the social processes involved in
image-production and image-reception (Silverman 1993).
In spite of the methodological issues it presents, visual culture is
an essential area of qualitative research given the importance of
images in modern society. According to Mirzoeff, "the fascination
with the visual and its effects that marked modernism has engendered
a postmodern culture that is most post modern when it is visual"
(1999 p.3). Furthermore, Denzin observes that postmodern theory
preoccupies itself with a visual culture. "Postmodern terrain is
defined almost exclusively in visual terms, including the display,
the icon, the representations of the real" (1991 p. viii).
In keeping with the constructivist-informed nature of the research,
the research method that is used is the constant comparative content
assessment. Compared with the traditional positivistic content
analysis, this study uses a relatively unstructured approach in its
analysis of the data. Content analysis is a popular method of
textual investigation, particularly in the field of advertising. This
method involves establishing categories and then counting the number
of instances when the categories are used within a specific item of
text such as a newspaper headline. However, because the categories
are usually preconceived, it often risks imposing extra-textual
realities on the data through its methods of classification (Maykut &
Morehouse 1994; Silverman 1993). Unlike the traditional content
analysis, this study employs categories that emerge from the data
itself. Using the constant comparative method of analyzing
qualitative data, categories were coded inductively. As each new unit
of meaning was chosen for analysis, it is compared with all other
units of meaning and consequently classified (Maykut & Morehouse,
1994). (If no new units of meaning were found, a new group is
created. In this process there is continual categorical refinement as
initial categories are changed, merged and omitted (Maykut &
Morehouse, 1994). Through this grouping and coding process the
research creates a set of categories that provide a "reasonable"
reconstruction of the data collected (Lincoln & Guba 1985
p.347). As categories are developed, rules for inclusion are
created in the form of prepositional statements or a general
statement of fact that is grounded in the data (Lincoln & Guba 1985 p.134).
Because magazines provide such rich and colorful visual information
and because they are a source of information regarding the
introduction of new products to the market, magazine advertisements
provided the visuals needed for this research. A purposeful sample of
365 advertisements that use a sensory appeal as their primary
persuasive approach were collected from nine months (July 2004-March
2005) of Bazaar, In Style, Lucky, Vogue, and W. These magazines were
selected based on their reputation for high fashion and trend
conscious content. Women often read magazines for fashion trends and
to gain information about new products on the market. These messages
are particularly strong when found in magazine content because women
look to magazines to set beauty ideals (Pompper & Koenig 2004).
The purposeful sample of five magazines (Bazaar, In Style, Lucky,
Vogue, and W) contained a total of 250 advertisements that contained
sensory metaphors. The breakdown of sensory metaphors by magazines is
as follows: Bazaar 52, In Style 50, Lucky 50, Vogue 64, and W 34. The
metaphors fell into two primary categories sensory dominant and
metaphor dominant. The sensory dominant category in which the sensory
experience serves as the dominant metaphor was comprised of
advertisements that appealed primarily to taste and touch. Taste
metaphors use the sense of taste to entice the consumer to purchase
the product through the use of a pleasurable taste. Touch metaphors
use the sense of touch metaphorically to express a favorable product
quality. Taste was represented as a product metaphor in 55
advertisements and touch was represented in 27 advertisements. On
the other hand, metaphors were also used to describe a sensory
experience. In this case fantasy, water, color and floral metaphors
were used. In each of these instances, a metaphor is used to impart
the sensation that the use of the product creates or a sensation that
is associated in some way with the product. For instance, flowers
might communicate a light or smooth texture. On the other hand, the
color blue might be used to communicate the essence of a clean
fragrance. The most prevalent metaphor was the fantasy metaphor with
a total of 56 images. Water was used metaphorically a total of 47
times. Color was the dominant metaphorical element in 38
advertisements. And, floral metaphors were used a total of 27 times.
Using the Sensory Experience as a Metaphor:
Metaphors Relating to Taste:
The sense of taste is usually easily captured through the use of
visual, as long as it is a taste that the viewer is familiar with.
Taste was used in several product categories including fashion,
cosmetics, automotive, and health and beauty.
Advertisers can associate their product with the sense of taste by
creating an advertisement that includes a reference to food. Cherries
are a popular food to use because not only do they imply taste but
they also can be used as a sexual reference. For instance, in an
advertisement for Guess by Marciano Paris Hilton enjoys a maraschino
cherry while lounging across a bar. In an advertisement for Lip
Miracle by Avon shiny cherries are used to show the color and shine
of Avon lipstick. In these cases, advertisers are using the qualities
of a cherry to describe their product. In both cases the sweet taste
of cherries creates a pleasurable taste sensation. Cherries also have
a smooth juicy texture that might be a good product reference for lipstick.
Advertisements become more metaphorical the more strongly they
relate their product to another item or idea. Mitsubishi Motors
creates some strong metaphorical associations by placing its
automobiles within another form such as the shape of a piece of hard
candy. The candy metaphor seems to suggest that driving the car is a
fun and carefree experience like eating candy. The pink background
that forms the candy shape also would appeal to a youthful
market. Another advertisement from this campaign relates the
Mitsubishi Eclipse sports car to a chili pepper by placing a red
Eclipse within the form of a chili pepper. By making this association
the advertiser is saying that their car is hot and spicy like a chili
pepper. This metaphor would imply that the driving experience is
exciting and perhaps risky. Chili peppers can also have connotative
sexual meaning. The copy reinforces this connotation by calling the
The way to create the strongest visual metaphor is by substituting
one visual element for another. Several cosmetics companies used
substitution to create comparisons between the qualities of their
product and taste. For instance, Physicians Formula substituted their
bronze colored eye shadow pallets and powders for cookies in a cookie
jar and cookies on a cookie sheet just out of the oven. Likewise,
Lancôme's Juicy Wear Duo lipstick substitutes its product for the
candy coating on a candy apple to create a sensory comparison between
the product and the sticky, shiny, and sweet qualities of the candy
coating. In addition to cosmetics, hair products also use
substitution. An advertisement for Phytocitrus Shampoo substitutes a
bottle full of halved grapefruits for a bottle filled with the actual
product to demonstrate how the product takes on the qualities of
citrus. Garnier also uses substitution and the sensory appeal of
citrus. In its ad, Garnier uses images of various citrus fruit as the
backdrop for Garnier Fructis Fortifying Deep Conditioner. On the
opposite page it shows a woman's hair with a spoon substituted for a
hair clip. This ad seems to imply that just as your hair will get
strength from the vitamins in citrus it will also feel like the taste
of citrus. In each of these cases, the metaphor was created by
substituting a food with a sweet flavor for the product described in
the ad. This seems to reinforce the idea that these products are
treats or indulgences that produce a pleasurable sensation that is
equivocal to eating something sweet.
In a couple of cases the taste metaphor was taken beyond
substitution. In these cases the ad seemed to imply that not only
does the product assume the qualities of taste, but also that the
product will make the user taste good. The fragrance line Dessert
and Dessert Treats by Jessica Simpson substitutes the term flavor for
scent. For instance, the copy states, "These are my yummiest flavors
yet…Try mouthwatering Whipped Body Cream, pout-perfecting Lip
Plumping Candy, decadent Body Frosting or other body beautifying
yummies." Therefore, there is a strong association between the scent
of the product and taste. Further, the advertisement suggests that
using that the user will take on the flavor of the product. The
headline reads, "Be deliciously flavored, irresistibly sweet and
scented." The fragrance Be Delicious also in its very branding
suggests that not only is it delicious but it will make the user
delicious as well. This advertising campaign uses strong references
to taste through out by showing models seductively biting into apples
and substituting perfume bottles for apples in apple cartons. In
addition to fragrance, cosmetics also make claims that the user will
take on metaphorical sensory qualities through the use of the
product. For example, benefit georgia features a peach on the powder
compact and the headline reads, "georgia radiate sunshine!" The copy
says, "Sweep on a smile …it's peach perfection for a happy
complexion. This delightfully scented peach powder leaves skin warm
and vibrant. Georgia's dream…it's peaches and cream." The
advertisement suggests that by using the product, consumers will take
on peach-like characteristics. The Cointreau Liquor advertisements
go one step further by actually placing a woman inside of an orange
rind. Instead of implying that an individual will take on a
particular product's qualities, the Cointreau ad shows a woman
actually wearing an orange. Therefore, in these situations, the woman
using the product becomes a desirable sensory experience. By becoming
an indulgence herself, the woman feels that she becomes desirable to
others – specifically men.
Using Touch as a Metaphor:
Various textures can also be used to visually communicate product
qualities. Textures can be soft, fuzzy, smooth, or sharp. Tactile
metaphors are often used to show the luxurious qualities of jewelry,
perfume, liquor and clothing.
Sexual touch is often used to show the warm or soft feel of a
product. Fragrances often use this appeal. Models either engage in
sensual touch with another person or they touch the product to
themselves. The fragrance Attraction by Lancôme uses the metaphor of
a naked man and a woman touching against a warm, sunny gold
background to provide a visual representation of the fragrance.
Likewise, L'Instant de Guerlain uses the warmth of the sun and a man
touching a woman's skin to show the feel of the fragrance. On the
other hand, some advertisements for fragrances show a woman touching
herself or the product and herself. For instance, J'adore by Dior
shows a woman in gold satin sheets with a bottle of perfume against
her breast. Likewise, Dolce & Gabbana shows a woman with a bottle of
perfume against her chest however, the color scheme in this ad is
much darker and the focus much closer to show the model's skin.
Sexual touch is also used for clothing. Calvin Klein uses Hilary
Swank in an advertisement for Sensual Support Underwear. In this ad
she is wearing only her underwear as she touches her skin. Likewise,
in Guess clothing advertisements Paris Hilton is shown wearing only
underwear clutching a soft teddy bear. In another ad she is topless
with a snake slithering across her breasts. In each of these ads
sensual touch is used as a metaphor for the product. Touch was also
used metaphorically in Godiva's GODIVA Campaign. In this series of
advertisements, women who think of themselves as divas, wearing
lingerie or lounge wear place the chocolate against their skin or
hold it in their hands while touching their mouths. In this way the
feel of chocolate is equated with the model's smooth skin giving the
experience of chocolate a sensual appeal. In each of these cases, the
product is equated with the pleasure that is aroused from human
touch, specifically sexual touch. By equating itself with sexual
indulgence the product becomes desirable to the audience.
The texture of fur is also used metaphorically. Fur or an animal
skin is often used to communicate the luxury and quality of a brand.
For instance, a wooly sheepskin is used as the background for Hugo
Boss shoes. Similarly, a fur backdrop is used in the advertisement
for Jezebel Lingerie. Cartier watches also place their product
against a lush fur backdrop. Fur coats or apparel is also used
metaphorically to communicate luxury. Fendi and Louis Vuitton use
models in lush fur coats to express the quality of their accessories
and handbags. David Yurman also shows an image model wearing fur to
reinforce the high-end nature of the product. These advertisements
seem to be using the trend of marketing luxury to consumers. Although
luxury can often be expressed in an ego-gratifying manner, it can
also be related to the sensuous feel of high quality goods.
Textures can be used in unexpected ways. Metaphors for undesirable
textures can serve as attention grabbing expectancy violations. For
instance, advertisements for TechnoMarine watches use the textures of
sea creatures such as octopuses and other creatures to show the
edginess of the brand. Silk Cream Whisky uses the smooth texture of
skin juxtaposed against the sharp quality of barbed wire necklace on
a model's neck or rose thorns on sandal compared with the smooth skin
on a model's foot and leg to show the beverage's creamy smooth and
sharp qualities. On the other hand, the Lays Potato Chips
advertisement shows an image of chips floating in the air to
demonstrate the light texture of the new Light chips. In each of
these advertisements, texture is used in an unusual way to
communicate the novelty of the sensory experience.
Metaphors used to describe a sensory experience:
When dealing with a taste or fragrance that an audience is not
familiar with, often abstract metaphors are used to express the
unfamiliar taste or fragrance. This type of metaphor was frequently
used to advertise fragrances, cigarettes, and toothpaste.
Balloon metaphors were a common devise to show the light quality the
product. An advertisements Physician's formula substituted makeup
pallets for balloons to demonstrate the light quality of the
product. The use of substitution creates a strong association
between the product and the object being substituted for the product,
in this case balloons. Fragrances also used balloons to communicate
the light quality of the scent. For instance, Lancôme uses pink
balloons to promote its fragrance so magic! In addition to using
balloons, the fragrance used sparkling ribbons and sparkling balloons
to express the idea of the fragrance. Likewise, Clinique Happy also
uses balloons to express the light feeling of the fragrance. However,
the orange balloons in this advertisement are more realistic than in
the so magic! advertisement. In each of these cases, it seems that
balloons are referring to the light feel of the product. This light
feeling can be both physical and emotional. For instance, the product
texture might be light or the product may create a feeling of
happiness that is represented metaphorically through the use of balloons.
Some advertisements appeal to pure imagination in its depiction of
fantasy. One common fantasy appeal is a reference to paradise. Estee
Lauder's fragrance beyond paradise uses abstracted images of tropical
flowers and the sea to create an image that is "an intoxication of
the senses" as the copy reads. Likewise, the advertisement for Lolita
Lempicka perfume also uses a fantasy fairyland garden to communicate
a lush scent. Jewelry and watches also use fantastic imagery to
market their product. The advertisement for Piaget watches also
alludes to paradise through its lush garden imagery. Likewise, the
advertisement for Gem International compares a lush waterfall oasis
to a diamond ring. Tiffany & Co. also uses a fantasy approach to
market its jewelry. However, instead of using allusions to paradise,
this advertisement used a lunar backdrop. Like the metaphors for
balloons, the use of idealized fantasy surroundings hints at the
pleasurable feelings that the product will create.
Cigarette companies are using sensory fantasy to appeal to their
consumers. Camel has created a variety of new flavors to entice
people to try smoking. For instance, Camel's Black Alley Blend is
flavored with Bourbon. The flavor of the cigarette is communicated
through the use of a Bourbon bottle and a nightclub singer. Likewise,
the flavor of the Mocha Mint cigarettes is expressed through the
image of a beautiful female ice skater in a wintry scene. This
advertising campaign seems to suggest that smoking tastes good. Salem
Cigarettes also use sensory metaphors. For instance, one
advertisement for Salem features a women soaking under the stars with
candles floating in the waves. The black and green color scheme adds
to the fantasy appeal. This advertisement seems to suggest that
smoking feels relaxing. Unlike Salem, KOOL cigarettes appeal to
sensory overload. KOOL advertisements use fields of computerized
digits and a KOOL cigarette box created from cell phones and
electronic devices to give the impression that smoking KOOL creates
sensory overload. The use of visual metaphor in this case creates a
fantastic visual to familiarize the viewer with a pleasurable taste
that he or she has never experienced. Once again, the use of fantasy
creates an idea of perfect sensory indulgence. However, because in
many cases the reader has not experienced this taste, the
advertisement should create a feeling of curiosity about the product
People are generally very familiar with various flavors and tastes.
For this reason, taste is not usually depicted metaphorically.
However, if the taste of an item is a bit more ambiguous, a fantasy
metaphor can be used to visually depict this sense. Crest introduced
a new line of whitening toothpastes that use flavors other than the
traditional mint that is the standard in Western culture. In
addition, the new colors such as orange and yellow could violate
consumers' expectations of toothpaste. Therefore, to communicate the
flavor of Vanillamint toothpaste, vanilla candles are pictured
burning on a window sill as snowfalls outside. The scene is framed by
a yellow swirl of toothpaste. This image conveys the flavor and
freshness of Vanillamint toothpaste.
Water is a universal symbol that can be used to communicate a
variety of meanings or product characteristics. Water is used to
visually describe product cleanliness, shimmer or shine, refreshment,
or moisture. Water was used metaphorically across a variety of
product categories. Water was a major visual element in
advertisements for jewelry, cosmetics, fragrance, health and beauty
items, liquor and fashion.
Water was often used metaphorically to communicate the function or
benefit of a particular item. For instance, water was used in
toothbrush or toothpaste advertisements to show the cleansing quality
of the product. For instance, in an advertisement for Aquafresh
Extreme Clean Toothpaste a woman is pictured brushing her teeth in a
reflection in a showerhead. The image and the copy compare using the
toothpaste to experiencing the cleaning power of a shower. Mentadent
advertisements also use water to convey the clean feeling that their
toothpaste creates. However, Mentadent uses splashing waves of blue
and clear water that represent the two colors in the toothpaste to
express the clean feeling. Effervescence is also a powerful metaphor
for cleanliness. Both Oral-B and Mentadent use effervescence to
visually communicate the cleaning power of their product. Therefore,
the primary message strategy in this campaign is to show the powerful
and pleasurable experience involved with cleaning your teeth using a
particular product. The basic strategy here is that when you use a
particular product, you can feel it working.
Water can also be used to convey the moisturizing qualities of a
product. In the case of moisturizing products, these characteristics
are communicated either by dousing the product in water or being
infused with water. For instance, in the advertisement for Clinique
Superdefense the jar of Superdefense is being drenched with water.
Like Superdefense, Paul Mitchell uses the same approach for its Super
Skinny Serum. The bottle of conditioner is under a deluge of water.
On the other hand, Lancôme's Aqua Fusion shows airborne beads of
water floating toward the model's face to convey the moisturizing
qualities of the product. In much the same way, cosmetics also use
water to show their moisturizing qualities by showing either the
product or the model being drenched in water. For instance, NARS
shows a woman in a raincoat drenched in water to illustrate the
cosmetic line's moisturizing qualities. Similarly, Sheheido
Cosmetics shows a model being encircled by water to show the
luminescent qualities of the makeup. Lancôme shows a woman holding
ice to her face to show the wet shine of Juice Tubes. And,
Maybelline's Wet Shine fusion shows lipstick being poured with
colored and clear water. Thus, water metaphors often communicate the
moist feel of a product. Therefore, each of these advertisements
equates moisture from water with the moisture created when the
advertised product is used.
Water is also used metaphorically in advertisements for jewelry.
Water is often used to reinforce the sparkle of diamonds. For
instance, Tiffany & Co. uses water as a backdrop for its Elsa Peretti
diamond necklaces. Carlo Vivani and Beaudry Couture use water or ice
for a backdrop for diamond rings in a like manner. In addition to
using water to show sparkle and shine, water can be used to show a
smooth texture. For instance, visuals for Histern jewelry show women
wearing jewelry that drips off of them like water or sweat. The
qualities of water are often used to show the sparkle or feel of
jewelry. Therefore water serves as a visual and tactile metaphor for
As mentioned in the literature review, color has complex cultural
meanings. Color also has powerful cross sensory qualities that are
equated with both sound and fragrance. Color was found to be a
primary sensory element in advertisements for automobiles,
fragrances, jewelry, and clothing.
Color can create powerful a visual effect, especially when one
specific color dominates the advertisement. Advertisements that use
color metaphorically relate an idea or a concept to a strong visual
sense. One of the most interesting advertising campaigns that used
color metaphors is the campaign for the Infinity G35 Coupe. This
campaign related colors such as red, silver, black, and white to the
personality of the car and potentially its driver. In the case of
black, the automobile is pictured in front of a black backdrop while
the black on black copy on the opposing page reads:
It sits confidently at the end of every color spectrum. Stoic and
without compromise. Mystery tangles in its darkness. A sibling to
the deepest shadow. Befriending the night. Simple. Complicated. The
only color that can pull you while pushing you away is [black].
In addition to using color in a metaphorical comparison with the
automobile, this advertisement personifies the color black further
reinforcing the cultural meaning of the color. In addition, the use
of the color black reinforces the visual verbal message communicated
in the advertisement. Therefore the common perception that color has
emotional or psychological characteristics creates the visual
argument used in this advertisement.
Other products seemed to use color in more predictable ways. Cartier
uses a red background streaked with light to show the richness,
elegance, and luminescence of its jewelry. Likewise, Ralph Lauren and
Dolce & Gabbana use blue in the title of their fragrance and as the
dominant color of their advertisements. Although the color blue does
not have aromatic qualities in and of itself, the color is perceived
to have a cool, clean, and refreshing scent. Calvin Klein and
Kenneth Cole advertise using the color black. The Calvin Klein
advertisement for black jeans seems to relate the black color of the
jeans to the black dirt that the young man and young woman are
covered in as they embrace in the dirt wearing only black jeans. The
black and the dirt seem to relate to the cultural attitude that
relates sex to a dirty act. Therefore, the advertisement seems to be
saying that the color black feels like sex and dirt. On the other
hand, the advertisement for Kenneth Cole's fragrance Black features a
man and a woman wearing black against a silhouetted background. The
saturation of black in this advertisement seems to create a visual
message that reinforced by a color creates a sense of mystery,
mischief or intrigue. In this case, the color black smells like
mystery or intrigue. Lacoste's fragrance touch of pink compares the
fragrance with the feel of pink. The airy feel of the ad compliments
the pastel shade alluded to in the advertisement Each of these
advertisements the secondary meanings that people assign to color
with the fragrance or feel of a product.
Floral metaphors are used to communicate scent and texture. The
light feeling of flower petals is used to communicate light silky
textures. The pleasing aroma of flowers is also used to communicate
fragrances. Floral metaphors are often used to communicate fragrance
for products like shampoo and body wash and texture for moisturizers.
Floral metaphors can also be used to communicate lightness in texture
or in sentiment. In addition, flowers can be used to communicate
health and youth.
Flowers can be used in a literal fashion to communicate fragrance.
They can also be used more abstractly to communicate youth, health,
sexuality, or beauty. Floral imagery in advertisements carries a
wide range of meanings. Usually, flowers are used to communicate
fragrance or scent. For instance, in the VO5 Shampoo and Conditioner
advertisement the scent of the shampoo is communicated through the
image of a woman showering with flower petals. Likewise, the
advertisement for Calgon Tahitian Orchid body mist shows a woman
bathing in orchids. Therefore, as expected, images of flowers create
strong associations with the sense of smell.
In addition to references to fragrance, flowers can also communicate
a light and blissful emotion or texture. Yoplait uses light pink
flowers to demonstrate the light texture of its yogurt. Likewise,
Gucci uses a field of white flowers for the backdrop for its spring
shoes and handbags. The flowers seem to communicate the lighter feel
of the spring wardrobe. The most direct textural metaphor for flowers
is the advertisement for herbal essences where the woman lies in a
bed of lavender flowers filtering them through her hands. This
advertisement appears to say not only will you smell like these
flowers; you will feel soft and silky like them as well. Just as
flowers communicate a light texture, they can also communicate light
emotional feelings. In an advertisement for the birth control pill
Ortho Try-Cylen Lo, a woman joyfully falls into the center of a petal
laden flower. She might be feeling light because she doesn't have to
worry about finding the right birth control or getting pregnant.
Further, the feeling of lightness could also be a reference to the
lower dose of medicine or the lighter menstrual flow that is a side
effect of the drug. The image of a woman blissfully falling into a
flower could also be a reference to the sexual pleasure that she can
feel now that she is using birth control.
The soft silky texture of flower petals is often used metaphorically
for the feeling of health and beauty. Evian water features flowers
growing from a bottle of water implying that drinking Evian will make
you feel young. The copy states, "It refreshes, revitalizes and helps
you feel, yes, more youthful." Likewise, an advertisement for Lancôme
Resurfacing Peel shows an image of a rose submerged in effervescent
liquid. The image of the submerged rose just starting to bloom
implies that the product will make your skin feel soft like a rose
petal. More literally, your skin will feel healthy and young. Lancôme
employed another rose metaphor for Sensation Totale age cream. The
primary image in the ad is of a white rose being unzipped to reveal
newer petals. Again, this advertisement seems to equate the floral
image with youth. Similarly, the drug Appearex uses an image of hands
lightly grasping a flower to demonstrate the healthy nail growth that
the drug will stimulate Once again, a petal filled flower seems to
symbolize young, healthy nails.
Visual metaphors contain powerful messages about product qualities.
These visual abstractions communicate complex messages to the
consumer about the product in a quick and explicit fashion. Although
visual metaphors can appeal to a variety of products, they seem to be
most prevalent in product categories that are more sensory in nature
such as perfume and cosmetics, body wash, beverages, food, and
cigarettes. These products are hedonistic in nature and are thought
of as "life's little treats." However, sensory approaches are
entering some nontraditional categories such as automobiles, jewelry,
watches, pharmaceuticals, and high fashion. Perhaps the popularity of
this approach is to entice the audience into rewarding themselves
with more expensive items. Another related reason might be to
reinforce the pleasure that the item brings the consumer.
Furthermore, these visuals make particularly powerful arguments
because it is difficult to create an intellectual counter argument
against an image or a sensation.
Although visual metaphors can pertain to any of the five senses,
some senses were referenced more than others. Taste and touch were
referenced more than any of the other five senses. Although many
products appealed to taste and touch specifically, it also was
alluded to through the use of other metaphors. For instance, many of
the floral metaphors suggested that their product made the user feel
like flower petals. Or, in the case of the water metaphor, the
product might make you feel clean or smooth and wet. Likewise, taste
was also referred to indirectly through the use of other metaphors.
For instance, a liquor might taste smooth or chips might taste
light. Both of these examples are allusions to both taste and feeling.
Taste and smell used some of the most complex metaphors. This
finding is interesting in view of the fact that these two senses are
closely related. Perhaps the subtle complexities of these senses
create more challenges when presenting them in the visual form. For
instance, seeing an item can give us some pretty specific clues about
how it probably feels so a metaphor is not required. The same
principle might apply to tastes or fragrances that we are familiar
with. For instance a picture of a rose or a hamburger would probably
give the viewer a good indication of taste or smell. However, for a
new fragrance that combines several scents or a new flavor of
toothpaste or cigarettes, a complex visual image would help
communicate the ambiguous sensation.
Although this research presents a relatively small sample of a
particular niche market, it does present an idea of how visual
metaphor is presented in magazine advertisements. Future research
might explore how these concepts are applied to different markets
such as the men's or the teen market. Exploring other targets might
introduce new products and different metaphorical norms for
expressing the sensory experience.
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