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The Effects of Brand Metaphors as Design Innovation: A Test of Congruency Hypotheses


  • Charles H. Noble,

  • Mark N. Bing,

  • Elmira Bogoviyeva

  • The authors appreciate the artistic support of Minu Kumar in making this work possible.

Address correspondence to: Charles H. Noble, College of Business Administration, The University of Tennessee—Knoxville, 310 Stokely Management Center, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996-0530. E-mail: Tel: 865-974-9450.


Metaphors are a common tool in brand design, from the original, enticing Apple logo to the classic animalistic hood ornament of a Jaguar automobile. Metaphors are a powerful marketing tool as an efficient way to convey a great deal of meaning to consumers, including expressing product benefits, points of differentiation (e.g., “Iron Mountain's” name and logo, intended to express its superiority in data and document safekeeping), and even brand personality. The perspective taken here is that when applied to products, metaphors also serve as a form of design innovation. This study examines the interactions and effects of various applications of brand metaphor (linguistic, visual, and symbolic) and the forms those metaphors can take (human, animal, or nonmetaphoric) in influencing important outcomes including brand vividness, brand differentiation, and consumer preference. Based on two experiments across multiple product categories with 424 subjects, we find that the consistency of brand metaphor application and the use of animal-based metaphors in particular have significant influence on key outcomes. Implications for brand management and design innovation through the more effective use of design metaphors are considered, as are implications for theory and future research in the area.