Consumer Psychology

She’s hot! Use Sensory Metaphors for Brand Memorability [Study]

Digital marketing has a bright future with a sharp increase in effectiveness if we harness sensory metaphors (bright future, sharp increase) in our work.

A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has found that sensory metaphors are more memorable and more successful (in terms of popularity) than non-sensory metaphors (open access draft). The logic is that our five visceral senses (sound, sight, touch, smell and taste), shape our language, our perceptions and our experiences, and so sensorial language cues more mental associations, making the metaphor more immediate, meaningful, and memorable. Like ourselves, it would seem our experiences and language are embodied.

The research ‘Drivers of cultural success: The case of sensory metaphors‘, conducted by Jonah Berger and Ezgi Akpinar looked at data from 5 million books over 200 years and found that sensory metaphors are used more frequently over time than their semantic equivalents (e.g. bright future vs. promising future). Followup experiments with 156 participants found that sensory metaphors are indeed more memorable than non-sensory metaphors, and that they have more associative cues (the metaphor is associated with more things).

What this means is that brands, advertisers and copywriters will enhance the effectiveness of their campaigns and content if we focus on bringing to life the sensorial truth of their communication through sensory metaphor.  This latest research confirms another finding that consumers may respond better to taglines that use metaphor (specifically metaphors with figurative and literal meaning) than purely literal language.

With that in mind, ask yourself – or better your customers – which of these sensory metaphors best suit your brand?  Use the answer to diagnose how people really feel (sensorially perceive) about your brand, and use that insight to connect with people on a more visceral level using sensorial metaphor.


Which of the following metaphors best describe our brand?


  • Cool
  • Chill
  • Hot
  • Smooth
  • Sharp
  • Warm
  • Cold
  • Icy
  • Hard
  • Heavy
  • Painful


  • Bright
  • Brilliant
  • Colorful
  • Dark
  • Bubbly
  • Shady
  • Faded
  • Blue
  • Glowing


  • Loud
  • Quiet
  • Mute
  • Thundering
  • Screaming


  • Sweet
  • Sharp
  • Spicy
  • Sour
  • Bitter
  • Bland


  • Fresh
  • Fragrant
  • Fruity
  • Earthy
  • Burnt
  • Fishy
  • Spoiled
  • Rotten

Akpinar, E., & Berger, J. (2015). Drivers of cultural success: The case of sensory metaphors. Journal of personality and social psychology109(1), 20.



Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour, wellbeing and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.

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