How to use the power of metaphors to improve your sales and marketing

April 18, 2015

When the marketing team of Skittles wanted to sell their colorful candy, they used the slogan: Taste the Rainbow. And it worked. Millions of consumers around the world could not get enough of Skittles. Similarly when Chevy wanted to market their truck, they described it as – The Truck Like a Rock. This too gave rise to a legendary and successful marketing campaign.

So what’s common between the two marketing slogans? Well for one, they were both extremely successful. And secondly, both of them were metaphors.

But what is a metaphor? At its simplest, it is a figure of speech which tries to describe an object or an idea by comparing it with something completely different. So if you say the wind is as fresh as wine or a cloth is as white as milk, you are using a metaphor.

Marketers through the ages have used the power of the metaphor to sell products and services. And why not? It works. There are very few devices which can portray a benefit to the customer as clearly as a metaphor can.

For example, if you were selling wine - you could describe the taste of the wine in dry factual language. Or you could say that the wine captures the flavors of the rolling sun kissed hills of Provence. Which do you think will work better?

Let us look at some of the advantages of using Metaphors while selling.


Imagine pastries that melt in your mouth like butter. Or a beach which shines with a diamond brightness. What about jeans that fit like second skin?

Poets have always known that nothing can make something more attractive and beautiful than a metaphor. No wonder they have always used metaphors to describe the objects of their inspiration. “Face as fair as the moon.” “Hair like spun gold.”

Similarly, when you want to make your product more attractive to the customer, a metaphor always works. “The taste of California summer.”


A Truck that is as tough as a rock. An airline that works like clockwork. An engine that purrs like a cat.

When you need to dramatize a benefit, metaphors often work best. In a few words it can bring out the unique advantage of what you are selling. So instead of saying that a truck is exceedingly tough, it works far better when you compare it to a rock.


The biggest challenge to selling something is clutter. You are selling it, and so are hundreds of others. Often the difference between one brand and another, one product and another is miniscule, the differentiating lines are also blurred. The customer is being constantly bombarded with messages – all saying the same thing.

So how do you ensure that your message stands out? By using a metaphor, of course.

A metaphor is a very useful device as it can be made to stick in your customer’s mind. So, even in all the marketing clutter, it is your message that he or she will remember.


A soap is a soap is a soap. But when customers read the message, “It’s not love, it’s dove,” they were hooked for life. Immediately Dove stopped competing with the other soaps out there. It became something quite essential in the life and mind of the consumer.

Metaphors can therefore be a useful tool to build a strong connect with the customer.


The best example of this Skittles. When it was compared to the rainbow, they knew exactly what they were doing. Few other metaphors can describe the colorful candy.

Sometimes a metaphor can go on to become the main spirit of the brand. Like for example the visual metaphors used liberally in the advertising of Benetton.

Which brings us to the subject of:


Who said metaphors need to be words. Images work as well, sometimes better. So, when British Airways wanted to emphasize on comfort that their seats provide they used the metaphor of a baby sleeping on its mother’s arms. After all, who can be more comfortable than that? Similarly Benetton drove home their color philosophy by showing a white mother with a black baby. What can get more united color than that?

Visual metaphors are very commonly used in advertising and marketing because they work amazingly well. Customers do not want to read reams and reams of text. If you can catch their attention with a picture that expresses what you have to say – so much the better.

However before using metaphors in your marketing communication, be sure to follow these rules.


The thing with metaphors is that they can get out of hand. You cannot sell anything using a metaphor which has no connect with the product that you are selling. So, computers are good and so are beaches. But no one would want to buy computers that are as chilled out as a beach. Or a house that is as rocking as a party.

A metaphor is all about bringing two diverse ideas together. However, there has to be an intrinsic connect between the two. Otherwise, one can end up with a message that is confusing and completely ineffective. Many a marketer has failed miserably by trying to be too creative in using metaphors.


Yes, avoid clichés like a plague. Which is a metaphor and a cliché as well. The reason why something is called a cliché is because everyone else is using it. And if you use a cliché, not only will your message be lost among the hundreds of others who are using the same cliché, you might also end up turning the consumer off.

You need to make what you are selling cool and refreshing, a creative and effective solution. However, when you use a cliché, you end up becoming a faceless me too brand. So avoid...


Now that you know the power of the metaphor, you are sure to sail through to success. (Spot the metaphor in the last sentence).

Just remember – be creative, be relevant, be memorable. And remember to have fun as well.

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