Copywriting metaphor

Using Fiction’s Metaphors in Copywriting

I’ve never seen a slit throat in real life (touch wood) but here’s why I think about what one looks like every single day,,

I never realised how lucky I was to have studied under professional authors and poets, until about three months after graduation.

In my third year, Alicia Stubbersfield was my lecturer, who once read out the following extract as the perfect metaphor and I have never stopped trying to beat it since:

“His wedding gift, clasped round my throat. A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat.”

It’s from Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and I’ll probably never come close to creating such powerful imagery,,but in the last three years that I’ve been writing for the web, I’d like to think my copy has benefited from at least attempting to.

With Alicia’s voice in my head, like some sort of literary (and female) Obi Wan Kenobi, I am reminded to use the English language freely every time I sit down to write. Even if it takes a little longer to craft a screaming metaphor instead of a yawning adjective, it’s worth it for the satisfaction alone.

The Extended Metaphor

In the second year of the LJMU course, I was taught short fiction by Jim Friel, who showed me the extended metaphor.

What Wikipedia says:
An extended metaphor, also known as a conceit or megametaphor, is when an author exploits a single metaphor or analogy at length through multiple linked vehicles, tenors, and grounds.

I tried using this technique in a scene for my short story assignment that semester and I got a First for the piece – so I’m egotistically taking that as permission to show you it here. For context, the story is written from the POV of a suicidal, who works for his brother-in-law’s high-end hotel.

Warning! The language here gets a bit colourful…

   ‘Zippo?’ He branded me with the nickname after I gave him a light on my first day. He was wearing his buckled shoes. I knew Elaine had picked them out for him. ‘What the fuck? I mean really, what the fuck?’

   I looked up; one of the hotel cleaners was buffering the marble floor at the back, like a lint roller on the lobby’s uniform collar. ‘I overslept.’

   ‘Where did you fucking oversleep exactly? Kuwait?’ It wore a red carpet tie, right down to the centre of the grand entrance, where we stood.

   ‘I overslept.’ The girls on reception, tucked in the top pocket, looked up like meercats.

   He dragged me aside by the arm. ‘Listen you little prick, just because I married your sister, it doesn’t mean I have to put up with your shit. Don’t speak to me like I’m a dickhead in front of the others again. Hear me?’ Cockram was the silver name badge.


   ‘And I’m not having you looking like a wet newspaper in this lobby, so fuck off down the basement. You’re on cameras again with the Cripple.’

   I was the stain.

That story was amongst the most depressing pieces of fiction I ever forged. Still, what Jim Friel taught me in just three months enabled me to shape this one extended metaphor and with that, I now have another weapon to use in my professional copywriting.

Metaphors in Copywriting

The extended metaphor can become the DNA of a page, linking everything together along a neat and complex string of description. The hotel setting lent itself to a uniform-themed metaphor and sometimes your subject matter helps you out in that respect (you can see another example from one of my first jobs in print copywriting here). Using metaphors in web content writing can be trickier, for a number of reasons:

  • Subject matter can be awkward
  • Your ‘fun’ as a writer can distract from the content’s purpose
  • Audience isn’t always reading for enjoyment

The latter is the most challenging from this trio in my (still fledgling) opinion; copywriters are confronted every day with what I’m naming as the ‘Reader Gauntlet’…

Who are you writing a guest post for? Your client, the owner of the blog where you intend to place the piece or the reader?

It’s all three. With the last one being most important.

Like it or not, your client will have a certain tone of voice they want you to use, as will the blogger you’re guest posting for – so you can’t just go throwing metaphors about willy-nilly (I love that nan phrase), because you don’t really have a poetic license.

Still, I’d argue this only adds the demand for accuracy.

Before graduation, I’d used a metaphor in a short story which compared varicose veins to noodles. This was fairly (and uncomfortably) accurate in terms of how they looked, but one of the writers in the workshop suggested that noodles do not tend to be blue.

Until then, I hadn’t really understood the level of accuracy that readers will, not demand, but need when metaphors are used.

So the same goes for copywriting – only metaphors that are easy to understand really work. My advice is never to be proud of a metaphor because unless it’s near Angela Carter accurate, it’s likely that at least one party in the ‘Reader Gauntlet’ will have a problem with it.

Thanks for reading my stuff

Enrolling on that creative writing course wasn’t the most direct route to a career in marketing but I believe that degree is the one reason why I can (and love to) write long copy.

Alicia Stubbersfield and Jim Friel are not the only authors I owe my profession to; Sarah Maclennan, Janette Stowell, Aileen La Tourette, Gareth Creer and the late Edmund Cusick, all intimidated me enough to write well and taught me enough to do it for the rest of my life.

If you want to enrol on the course in Liverpool, click here around autumn time.

Every day’s a school day: German actor, Daniel Hoevels, accidentally slit his throat on-stage when performing a suicide scene. His prop knife turned out to be real but thankfully he survived the ordeal.




Rob Philbin