The role of metaphor in sexual health advertising and branding

The role of metaphor in sexual health advertising and branding


Recently I’ve been working on the role of
metaphor in advertising and branding and in particular I’ve been working with colleagues
with an advertising and branding agency called Big Cat which is based in Birmingham. This collaboration came about because I was
giving a talk at a business breakfast at the University of Birmingham where academics and
people from the professions give talks on related topics. I was talking about metaphor
and Anthony Tattum from Big Cat was talking about his creative clarity concept that he
has in his advertising agency where they try and make the campaigns creative but emphasise
the fact that they need to be comprehensible to the viewers and the readers. This chimed really well with the metaphor
research because one of the things about metaphor is that you take a bit of a risk. For example, if you describe a car as a puma,
some people might get that straight away and think it’s about energy, it’s about speed,
other people might think that’s a bit weird, I don’t get that, that doesn’t work for me
at all. So you’ve got to have a sweet spot where the metaphor works really well, where
it’s creative but understandable. Following conversations we set up a collaboration
and we’ve now been working with Big Cat for a couple of years now where we look at the
role of metaphor in our campaigns quite carefully. We start with the conversations with the clients
and then we design the campaign with them and look at the way in which people are responding
to metaphor, going all the way through to consumer testing to make sure it’s used in
a kind of optimal way both in language and in images. The Umbrella Health Trust wanted to raise
awareness of STIs and so working with Big Cat we wanted to look at how metaphor could
be effectively used to communicate information about STIs, but in a more indirect and humorous
way. The Umbrella Health Trust is based in Birmingham and Solihull, so they wanted to
relate more to their regional audience. Big Cat then wanted to use famous local landmarks
in Birmingham and so we’re thinking about ways in which to use metaphor and wordplay
and innuendo to put that message across in the campaigns. One of the ways we looked at this was looking
at metaphor’s position in the sexual conquest narrative. We looked at how it was at the
start – such as ‘Dig Beth’, which is where you fancy someone. In the middle – such as
‘Going to Touch Wood’ – looking at actually the sexual act happening. And then right at
the end – such as ‘Is Your Acocks Green?’ – actually seeing the symptoms of the STI. And we actually found with participants in
a regional survey that they preferred the middle one, the most active part of the sexual
conquest narrative. And this ties in with embodied cognition theory that suggests that
when we see metaphor and specifically action in metaphor, we simulate that in our minds
and are therefore able to relate more to the stimulus. This is really effective with advertising
because it means people can actually empaphise with the message that they’re trying to communicate. The second thing that we looked at with metaphor
in the sexual health campaign was its conceptual effort – the effort that participants have
to go through to process the metaphor and to understand the message. And we found that
participants preferred those campaign headlines that were creative but also straightforward
in construction so that they could actually understand that a lot better and a lot quicker. And the third way we looked at metaphor in
the campaign headlines was its creative versus conventional use and we actually found in
line with previous research that creative use of metaphor was the most effective. Participants preferred the creative use of
metaphor in the campaign headlines but also they actually provoked them to report that
they would actually seek out more information about the Umbrella Health Trust and engage
more with the campaign on social media. The campaign’s been really successful. There’s
been a significant increase in web traffic and there’s been a 58% increase in the number
of people who both order and then subsequently return the tests for testing. This means that
the campaign met the objectives that Umbrella were looking for.

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