The Boston Globe recently carried an article about metaphors and the mind. While metaphors have always been popularized by poets or politicians, now the psychologists are nudging for some space. They have a different motive though. Turns out, they have begun to see basic metaphors that we use not just as phrase, but as keys to structure of thought.
Researchers have sought to determine whether the temperature of an object in someone’s hands determines how “warm” or “cold” he considers a person he meets, whether the heft of a held object affects how “weighty” people consider topics they are presented with, or whether people think of the powerful as physically more elevated than the less powerful. What they have found is that, in fact, we do. Metaphors aren’t just how we talk and write, they’re how we think.
No wonder, when people primed with a hot cup of coffee and asked to rate the personality of a person described to them, they consistently described the subject as a warmer person in personality. This shows that human thought itself is metaphor driven. Affection is warmth; important is big; difficulties are burdens; similarity is closeness; categories are containers.
Ultimately, metaphors are used so that we can make sense to one another. While metaphors are literary creations, how do they fundamentally function? From all the work we’ve done on trying to understand the human brain, every new thing we learn points back to the way our memory system is organized.
Memory cannot be created from scratch.
Our entire memory is stored in schema. Every new stimulus must activate relevant existing schemas in the mind before any new information is presented. Only then are newer memories formed and collected. The more number of relevant schemas, the stronger the connection and the bond with that new stimulus. That’s where metaphors come in. Our prior knowledge affects how we perceive new information, and our expectations regarding a particular experience influence how we interpret it.
For example, someone gets called a couch potato, your friend starts thinking fondly about their old flame, or you’ve probably just had a rough day. All of these metaphors are activating pre-existing schema within your memory system to help you better understand the context. Good metaphors help us see the world anew, in fresh and interesting ways. These metaphors wouldn’t make sense in themselves if it were not for the intricate memory storage system of the human brain.
This understanding of the existing memory system has huge implications in the field of marketing. We have talked earlier about how brands must try to live in the long-term memory rather than just visit the short-term memory.
Fair & Lovely is a great example of a brand that has blended itself into the memory schemata of the fairness category. There is an existing memory pattern that surrounds the concept of fairness in this Indian society. Fair skinned brides are preferred; fair denotes status value; fair is aspirational. Ultimately, fair skin is what gets you ahead in life. Fair & Lovely is leading category thinking by attaching itself to this entire “transformation of women” schemata by discussing issues that are more than skin deep (the ambition of aspiration that one can achieve). Nevertheless, all this new information is grounded in their in-depth understanding of the current memory patterns in the category. All of this reflects in everything Fair & Lovely does, right from product to packaging to communication. And it’s going strong.
Successful brands are those which identify and fit themselves onto the existing memory schemata of the category. By driving newer perceptions that are grounded to these existing schemata, these brands are in a great position to garner more emotional loyalty.
This is when consumers will feel that your brand somehow seems to know exactly what they want, and they are only more than happy getting it from you.