Like all great things vintage, advertisements from decades ago have been making their rounds of the Internet. One of them has a distinctive local feel for Singaporeans, with the tagline Singapore: The Sunny Smile Isle. The ad was used to promote Singapore as a tourist destination in the 1970s. Doesn’t the idea of a sunny smile isle immediate invoke the images of lingering tropical sunsets, friendly locals, and warm hospitality?
This is no secret to copywriters everywhere. The art of picking words that create the right associations is valued and respected in the copywriting industry – in Singapore, and everywhere else.
But what exactly is going on when you read those words? What’s making you feel a certain way, and why do you act on your feelings?
Human communication would be colorless and unexciting without metaphors. Even the use of the word ‘colorless’ in the previous sentence is a metaphor. If we took away figurative language from all our written and verbal communication, it would be much more boring and infinitely more difficult to make a point.
Scientists have utilized brain scans to track neural activity of individuals exposed to figurative language. One study reports that metaphors that have to do with sensory perception actually affect the brain in the same way that a real sensory stimulus would. For example, subjects were given sentences such as “he is wet being the ears” and “he is naive” – both having the same meaning, but the former being metaphorical and the latter being literal. The study found that the metaphorical version activated a part of the subjects’ brains called the parietal operculum, where the brain interprets touch and texture.
This could mean that, when reading a metaphor which invokes a sensory image, our brains are acting as though we’re getting those sensory stimuli in real life. Image the possibilities for products like fabric softener, perfume, or bedlinen. The implications are especially profound for products marketed at women, who have often been described by marketers as more touch-oriented than men .
While we wait for more results to come out of these studies, we can begin applying what we already know about the remarkable power of metaphors to influence and persuade.
Comments or questions are welcome.