18 October 2022

Strategist’s Digest: Metaphors make ads more memorable 

Contagious digests the most interesting and relevant research from the world of advertising and beyond, because there’s just too much to read and too little time

Making Ads Stick: Role of Metaphors in Improving Advertising Memory 

By Elizabeth Beard, Nicole Henninger & Vinod Venkatraman. Published in the Journal of Advertising.

Give it to me in one sentence.

Metaphors are a performance fuel that boosts ads’ memorability.

Give me a little more detail.

The researchers investigated whether ads that employ metaphors were more memorable than functional and emotional ads.

In the first experiment, 60 participants were each shown 60 static ads (20 functional, 20 emotional and 20 metaphorical) for real brands on either a piece of card or digital screen.

After being asked what they thought of the ads, the participants were put through a series of tasks to see how well they remembered them, such as simple recall tests and identifying brands from their taglines.

A week after the first round of questions, the participants returned for more memory tests – one of which was given while they were having a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan.

The results from the first set of experiments showed that participants were more likely to recall the brands from the metaphor ads (average score = 8.52) over the functional ones (average score = 7.42), but there was no significant difference in recall between emotional and metaphorical ads. The various other memory tests produced similar results favouring the metaphorical and emotional ads, and this was despite participants generally spending more time looking at the functional ads.

When participants returned a week later, it was much the same story, with one exception.

One peculiar result from the brain scans was that while activity in the left hippocampus predicted how vividly participants remembered the metaphorical and functional ads, it did not do so for the emotional ads. Participants said they remembered the emotional ads vividly (and did indeed remember the more stirring parts, like pictures of puppies) but they then had a tendency to get confused about important details, like brand messages. The researchers conclude that while emotional ads make a strong impression upfront, they’re weak vectors for brand information, especially in the long term.

In a second set of experiments conducted on 187 fresh participants, the researchers replicated their findings while proving that it was indeed the use of metaphors, not people’s existing attitudes towards the brands, that produced the effects on their memories.

Why is this interesting?

According to the authors, this is ‘the first set of studies to compare memory differences between emotional, functional, and metaphorical appeals’.

Any weaknesses?

The authors note that they couldn’t reliably monitor the attention that people paid to the ads and suggest that future studies could employ eye tracking to address this issue. The study also only tested people’s memory of the ads, not purchase intent or actual sales or anything like that.

Where can I find the whole report?

Here, but it’s not free.

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