Deep Metaphors™


Our research centers around metaphor—the tendency for humans to interpret new experiences using pre-existing mental models. In 12,000 ZMET® interviews for over 100 clients in over 30 countries, seven deep metaphors have surfaced with the greatest frequency. All people, regardless of background, use these these universal metaphors to understand and react to their world. 



Balance—and imbalance—involves ideas of equilibrium, adjusting, maintaining or offsetting forces, and the idea of things as they should be. People express psychological imbalance when talking about being out-of-sorts, down, and feeling off, and psychological balance when they say they feel centered, feel inner peace, or are back on track.


Transformation involves changing states or status.  Physically we can go from being “laid low by a cold” to being “up and about.” Money can be "matured," or "grown." Emotionally, if we undergo a major life change, we talk about needing “attitude adjustments” or “turning over a new leaf.”


People talk about many aspects in life as a journey. We often frame life itself as one big journey, including, for many, an afterlife. Sometimes we think of our lives as a brief journey, as in “life is short”; other times we view it as lengthy, as in “he still had so much life to live,” when a journey ends prematurely.


Containers perform two functions: keeping things in and keeping things out. We find ourselves in or out of physical shape or condition, in a good or bad mood, stuck in a rut, or born into a social class and family. Memories are one of the most vital containers because they store our individual histories and identities.


Connection—and disconnection—encompasses feelings of belonging or exclusion: being kept in or out of the loop, identifying with others, being drawn to celebrities, or breaking up a relationship. Themes of connection and disconnection quite often express themselves through connection to others, connection to self, connection to a moment and connection to something larger, among other themes.


We need resources to survive—we would die without food and water or a nurturing adult in our infancy. Products and services are also important resources: we might refer to a smartphone as a “lifeline,” or motor oil as a truck’s “lifeblood.” An intelligent person is a “fountain of knowledge”; gaining an education is the “key” to one’s future.



We all need to feel in control of our lives. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don't. In our lives, we sometimes feel events “spiraling out of control.” When life is calm, we cruise on “auto pilot.” Social norms arise to control group interactions, and we sanction those who don't adhere to these norms.


Read the book

Deep Metaphors™ are the focus of Gerald and Lindsay Zaltman's 2008 book Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal about the Minds of Consumers, available on Amazon.