Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Creating an Image of Purity Through the Use of Metaphor: The Case of Pure Michigan

Creating an Image of Purity Through the Use of Metaphor: The Case of Pure Michigan

Michelle Layton

Metaphors are often applied to complex concepts that would be difficult to express otherwise, such as the symbolism of natural spaces. Such metaphors present culturally-dependent imagery that influences people’s understanding and perceptions of the world. This conceptual metaphor theory is attributed to cognitive linguist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson, and is further explored through the work of cognitive psychologist L. Elizabeth Crawford. Within this framework, this paper explores how and why Michigan is marketed as ‘pure’ by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The purpose is to examine how metaphorical descriptions of natural space are utilized by the ‘Pure Michigan’ campaign in an attempt to create an image of untouched landscapes and influence the perceptions of tourists and residents. An analysis of the Pure Michigan sponsored materials, as well as parody websites and public comments, serve to demonstrate what is being projected by the marketing campaign and how some of the public interpret the metaphors. The findings convey that, while some people do not agree with the portrayal of Michigan, the metaphor of purity is often successful in evoking an emotional response in the audience and positively or negatively influencing some people’s perceptions of Michigan. Further topics of study include: a comparative analysis of Michigan and other states’ nature-marketing strategies; how the history of Michigan impacts the focus of nature-based marketing to tourists; or a survey-based study to determine how residents and non-residents perceive Michigan, comparing those who have been exposed to the Pure Michigan advertisements and those who have not.

April 6, 2015 - Posted by | abstract


  1. This ad campaign has always intrigued me. First, there’s the Mary Douglas angle. Danger and pollution across the border! Michigan = Pure; Ohio = polluted; Ontario = Foreign/Dangerous.
    If you can get access to how this campaign was planned and tested, it could be fascinating. Is it aimed at current or former Michiganders, prospective tourists?
    The parodies are a knowing wink to the insiders, like those quizzes that begin, “You’re from Michigan if you…”

    Comment by Dan Harrison | April 7, 2015 | Reply

  2. The Pure Michigan campaign is quite interesting regarding its choices of what it markets as “pure”. The areas that are largely marketed in this campaign are nature inspired and draw a certain type of tourist. An interesting aspect to examine is association with this paper is which areas are being marketed, why, and more importantly why other places (which equally draw tourism) are excluded from this campaign. The area of marketing to those outside of the state is interesting but there are also areas that are marketed to those that live in city centers such as Detroit. It may be interesting to note which places are marketed within the state and in which regions they are being marketed. Interesting points that Dan brings up above too…

    Comment by Kat Slocum | April 20, 2015 | Reply

  3. I agree with Dan and Kat in thinking this campaign is just wild. I think Dan’s comment on defining the audience this campaign is marketed toward is really on-point. How can we think about these commercials not only as linguistic data to be mined for analysis, but as broader mediatized performances of a particular state identity?

    Comment by Kathryn Nowinski | April 21, 2015 | Reply

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