What is it about?

Visual (or pictorial) metaphors abound in car advertising. Three types of visual metaphors are conventionally distinguished: (1) Similes, in which the car (= "target") and that to which it is metaphorically compared (= "source") are visually presented separately); (2) Hybrids, in which target and source are physically fused; and (3) Contextual Metaphors, in which either target or source is not depicted but only suggested by the visual context. In an internet experiment using authentic advertisements we tested whether participants had a preference for one of these three types, and whether their cultural background (Spain, France, the Netherlands) affected their appreciation. Results show that Hybrids are the preferred type of visual metaphor; that deviation from expectation and comprehension have a positive impact on appreciation; and that perceived complexity correlates negatively with appreciation. The effects for nationality are marginal.

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Why is it important?

Understanding how visual metaphors work is important in a society that is ever more visually oriented, and empirical testing helps to acquire robust insights in this process. Moreover, the choice of metaphors in commercial advertising helps lay bare the ideologies of consumer society.


What I found personally most surprising in our results is that the contextual variety of the metaphor, was not liked better than the other varieties. I myself appreciate the clever design of successful instances of this type, but apparently most participants in the experiments took a different view -- perhaps considering it too far-fetched.

Dr Charles Forceville
Universiteit van Amsterdam

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The impact of perceived complexity, deviation and comprehension on the appreciation of visual metaphor in advertising across three European countries, Journal of Pragmatics, December 2010, Elsevier,
DOI: 10.1016/j.pragma.2010.04.030.
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