Metaphor in marketing

Generally speaking, one may say that the debate on metaphor has been more intense in the field of organization studies than in marketing. The section “Metaphors in marketing” of Arndt (1985:16-19) provides a brief enumeration of the most important metaphors that researchers have employed throughout the history of marketing. The discussion, however, remains confined to the conceptual level, with no attention paid to language as such in the form of systematic text analysis. Other studies have an even more limited scope. Scully (1996), for example, examines the role of engineering metaphors in the early years of marketing (1900-1920), while Hunt and Menon (1995) concentrate on competitive strategy, where they identify four main source domains, viz. ‘war’, ‘game’, ‘organism’, and ‘marriage’. These authors make a distinction between “literary” and theoretically fruitful metaphors. ‘Strategic alliances as marriages’ exemplifies the latter type, ‘marketing myopia’ the literary variety, since it “most emphatically does not suggest that understanding the physiology of the human eye or borrowing theories from ophthalmology are (or should be) central to marketing management” (p. 82). Another case of “shallow” metaphor is the ‘product life cycle’: “Although the terminology of the PLC comes from biology, little of the rich theory in that area has been transferred to the PLC.” (p. 86). Fillis and Rentschler (2008) also insist on the heuristic function of metaphor, i.e. its function of stimulating creative thinking, very much in the vein of Gareth Morgan. They point out that metaphor is abundantly used in marketing practice, especially in advertising. As for the art of advertising, Boozer, Wyld, and Grant (1990) claim that a good metaphor has to be new, concise, coherent, and use attractive words familiar to the target audience. Since marketers are practically-minded people, their article furthermore contains a “ten-step process to develop metaphor skills” (p. 65).

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