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Life Metaphors


You often hear metaphors for life. They run the gamut from a battle to a box of chocolates.

But what metaphors do Americans apply to their own lives? What metaphor do they believe most describes their own life?

I've wondered about this for some time as a researcher. More than just interesting data, I believe that this question can be useful for advertising, writing copy, and marketing products (especially lifestyle products that tend to mesh with life milestones).

The question strikes me as a valuable psychographic data point.

With this in mind, StrategyOne polled Americans (n=1,000 telephone survey) October 9-12, 2009 with the following question:

"People often use metaphors to describe their life... Which ONE of the following do you think best descibes your life?"

A Journey: 51%
A Battle: 11%
The Seasons: 10%
A Novel: 8%
A Race: 6%
A Live Performance, Like a Play: 5%
A Carousel: 4%
Other: 2%
Unsure: 2%

The responses above were provided to particpants and are well-known life metaphors from Western culture. For example, life as a journey is from Homer's Odyssey (and the Epic of Gilgamesh should also be credited as well). Life as a battle is Homer's Iliad. Life as the seasons is from Ecclesiastes and ascribed to King Solomon. Life as a race is from St. Paul. And life as a performance or play is from The Bard - Shakespeare.

The interesting thing about the data in this instance is that (a) journey is the dominant metaphor for life among Americans and (b) there are minimal differences by age, gender and region. The only real difference is by income where those making less than $35,000 are three times as likely to describe their lives as a battle (20% vs. 6% average for the other income groups).

In the political realm this suggests that candidates may be best served explaining their bios within the context of a journey rather than a battle or some other metaphor.

Multinational comparisons would be interesting here. Would more traditional, non Western countries rely so heavily on the journey metaphor?

Finally, it should be noted that this is in no way as penetrating as Zaltman's "Marketing Metaphoria" and does not delve into what the authors of this exceptional work call "deep metaphors." Instead, we were interested in the tactical question of what metaphors for life aare the most useful in basic communication and marketing materials.

 

MAP - US, AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY, PR