Working with Big Cat Agency

About the partnership

Professor Jeannette Littlemore, Dr David Houghton, Dr Paula Pérez-Sobrino, and Samantha Ford BA (Hons) won the Birmingham Post Partnership of the Year Award 2018 for their collaboration with Big Cat Marketing and Communications Agency. The partnership develops EMMA’s work that involves Applying Figurative Theory to Advertising Campaigns. The partnership, which has been running since 2017, has identified some key insights into how people respond to figurative messaging in advertising campaigns through explorative experimentation, which has informed both academic theory and practitioner strategy.

Big Cat and EMMA staff photo

Through our partnership, we are jointly investigating the use of figurative messaging (including metaphor, metonymy, hyperbole, and irony) in advertising campaigns to inform and develop effective marketing material. Combining eye-tracking technology and electro-dermal measurements (EDA) with interviews, surveys, and participant observation, the EMMA team have tested the use of figurative messaging in 4 Big Cat campaigns: Right Track (training solutions); Solihull Community Housing (association); and Aspire’s Channel Swim (charity); Umbrella Health (NHS trust). EMMA and Big Cat have jointly tested consumer responses to figurative messaging in rebranded websites, logos, and campaign creatives. Initial testing has revealed that figurative messaging improves consumer understanding and navigation of marketing, resulting in improved evaluations of advertising campaigns. Further research will hone our understanding of how figurative messaging may be effective in advertising.

Jeannette Littlemore says, “This work has allowed us to apply the knowledge and expertise developed during the EMMA project to a ‘real world’ situation… We aim to establish a more nuanced understanding of people’s reactions to advertising material and how to improve its messaging. The initial stages of the project have demonstrated the considerable advantages of universities and businesses working together to develop new approaches that will benefit a broad range of people, organisations, companies, and sectors.”

Anthony Tattum, Big Cat Managing Director, said, “The benefit to industry is tangible: Big Cat will be able to better assess and understand audiences’ responses, leading to the creation of more effective, impactful, and ethical communication and advertising strategies.”

Big Cat team members


The collaboration between EMMA at the University of Birmingham and Big Cat Agency and its award-winning partnership has resonated in the media for business, marketing, and education. Alongside the following articles written about the collaboration, it has inspired a PhD project – a Collaborative Doctoral Award funded by the Midlands4Cities Arts and Humanities Research Council – received by Samantha Ford to investigate further into the impact of sensory marketing, metaphor, and memorability in advertising campaigns. Samantha will be studying at the University of Birmingham from September 2019 under the supervision of Jeannette Littlemore (lead), Bodo Winter (co-), and Aaron Wells (Big Cat partner). The EMMA project will also continue to explore the effects of figurative messaging and its wider impact in society, particularly its use in non-profit and charity organisations.


More outputs and resources.

If you would like to know more about EMMA, please contact us.