Figuratively Speaking: Of Metaphor, Simile and Metonymy in Marketing Thought

Stephen Brown, roel wijland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


Much has been written about metaphor in marketing. Much less has been written about simile and metonymy. It is widely assumed that they are types of metaphor. Some literary theorists see them as significantly different things. If this is the case, then there are implications for marketing theory and thought.

In keeping with literary tradition, this paper comprises a wide-ranging reflective essay, not a tightly focussed empirical investigation. A combination of literature review and conceptual contemplation, it challenges convention by “reading against the grain”.

The essay reveals that, far from being part of metaphor’s supporting cast, simile and metonymy are stars in themselves. With the aid of three concise cases-in-point – relationship marketing (RM), the consumer odyssey (CO) and Kotler’s generic concept (GC) – the authors present an alternative interpretation of their conceptual contribution and continuing importance.

Practical implications
Marketing management is replete with metaphorical speculation (positioning, warfare, myopia and more). The shortcomings of such figures of speech are rarely spelled out, much less foregrounded. By raising figurative consciousness, marketing practice is furthered.

As similes and metonymies are rarely spoken about in marketing scholarship, the study starts a much-needed conversation. It raises the issue of marketing’s figurative foundations and, in so doing, offers further scope for future debate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)328-347
JournalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Issue number1/2
Early online date20 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished online - 20 Feb 2018


  • Metaphor
  • Figurative language
  • Literary criticism
  • Marketing thought


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