Metaphors in headlines improve advertising effects


In an exploratory study designed to measure the effectiveness of metaphor in direct mail, the researchers introduce and investigate the concept of target-group-specificity.


The researchers find that carefully crafted headlines that contain target-group-specific (TGS) metaphors – in other words, both content and style created specifically for a particular audience – outperform less target-specific metaphors and their literal alternatives. Positive results are found in relation to attention, attitude and behavioral intention.


The findings offer evidence that TGS metaphors are more persuasive than the alternative and have strong advertising effects.


Ailsa Kolsaker, Dirk Görtz & David Gilbert (2016). Making sense of metaphor: The impact of target-group-specific headlines in direct mail. Journal of Marketing Communications Vol. 22, Iss. 1, 2016.


Expert opinions 

The research suggests that target-group-specific metaphors are more persuasive than less target-specific metaphors and their literal alternatives. According to the researchers, metaphors in headlines have strong advertising affects, which can be relevant for managers, salespeople, consultants, CEOs and others who are interested in marketing. Some experts agree with the results of this research, but not everyone.

B2B headlines 

Lisa Burger thinks using teaser headlines won't appeal to the business buyer. 'There are two basic types of headlines used most often in B2B – teaser and benefit. Teaser headlines rely on curiosity to get the interest and attention of your reader. They tease them into reading your direct mail letter, white paper, or email. They can be a play on words … a puzzle … or a joke to arouse curiosity. If you write this type of headline, you are betting that your reader will be so intrigued or curious that he won’t be able to help himself but to read it. But this kind doesn’t appeal to the business buyer’s challenges, needs, or interests. Do these teaser headlines work? Sometimes … but it’s a long shot.

Benefit headlines express or imply a benefit to get the interest and attention of your reader. Such as, save money … save time … improve productivity … comply with regulations easier … or learn something new. These tend to work much better in B2B. Why do they work so well for B2B? Because of the nature of the business buyer – he tends to be super busy. He doesn’t have time to try to figure out a teaser headline. He has lots of work to do.' - Source: Lisa Burger 

The benefits of using metaphors in headlines 

Anne Miller does not agree and thinks that marketing without metaphors won't get you very far. 

'She predicts that power will go increasingly to those in business who master the use of metaphor. “Salespeople, managers, consultants, CEOs, and even the President of the U.S., are constantly challenged to pierce through this information barrage to get others to see the unique value of their services, explanations, and propositions,” said Miller, who has coached and trained thousands of executives and salespeople in B2B sales and presentation seminars at firms as diverse as Goldman Sachs, Yahoo!, The United Nations, and small businesses across the United States and around the world.

Imagery – the core of metaphoric language – will surprise, grab, inform, and persuade your readers as mere explanation will not. Vivid language will distinguish you from the swarm, will make you heard above the drone, will make you that rare person today: a communicator who gets results. ~ Anne Miller

 “What was once the imaginative art of the poet is now an essential communication tool for anyone who aspires to influence, sell, or persuade others. People shut down when faced with too much information, but they are wired for visual communication. Metaphor, which creates vivid mental images instantly in a listener’s mind, takes communication from the mundane and dismissive to the meaningful, memorable, and dramatic. Communicating without metaphor is like trying to drive a Ferrari without gas. In both cases, you won’t get very far,” she said. - Source: Anne Miller 




Edited by Eline Ammeraal 


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