THEORY OF VISUAL RHETORIC IN ADVERTISING
Visual rhetoric is one of the most fundamental concepts in theory and practice of advertising because it encompasses the methodology that has arguably been used by every company over the world in the past decades. Phillips and McQuarrie (2004) argue that visual rhetoric is a fair descendant of verbal rhetoric as it utilizes the same principles and resorts to same conceptual devices as its parent concept. One can come up with dozens of examples of verbal rhetoric where certain objects and phenomena are linked to seemingly irrelevant counterparts through thoughtful presentation of both in an accurately designed context that brings forth their unobvious similarity channels. This is exactly how visual rhetoric works, although some authors admit that contrary to its more commonplace counterpart, visual rhetoric leaves a lot more freedom for imaginative interpretation of advertisement devices (Puntoni, Schroeder and Ritson, 2010). This phenomenon called “polysemy” emerges from the openness of imagery and countless variables that make up people’s backgrounds which affect their perceptive and cognitive characteristics. This essay will examine the key concepts of visual rhetoric in advertising and analyze some advertisements to support to this theory. Several decades of practice of visual rhetoric in advertising allowed Phillips and McQuarrie (2004) design a comprehensive typology of approaches in this field. The author would like to stress the practical approach of this typology and stress its undeniable applicability to modern-day advertising practice. Using this typology enables researchers to obtain a clearer understanding of cognitive mechanisms that are exploited by advertisement companies. The typology is drawn in a 3x3 table with rows and columns representing two progressions of advertisement devices, including complexity of visual structure and richness of meaning operation. The three levels of complexity are: juxtaposition, fusion, and replacement. At first level, the two images are displayed side-by-side in order to make the subject features of the proposed commodity or service more notable and obvious by means of mere comparison. Fusion means that in advertisements, the features of both states – common and achievable through the acquisition of the suggested goods that are joined in a single entity that makes the potential buyer desire the highlighted achievable features. Replacement is the most complex device that implies the need to comprehend the original image that is absent through the suggested one by hints suggested by the picture (and sometimes verbal tips such as slogans, proverbs, catchphrases, and others). With higher levels of complexity of visual structure, people observing the advertisement have to put more effort into decoding its message.
As for the three levels of richness, they are connection, similarity, and opposition. As the names of categories suggest, the levels of richness of meaning operation are essentially devices of conceptual connection of the target condition (once again, obtained by acquiring the proposed goods) and all others. Alternatively, the advertised commodity can be contrasted with its competitors, particular features inherent to the advertised items, and other entities. On the one hand, more complicated devices provide the potential client with joy of being able to comprehend a visual-conceptual puzzle of the advertisement. On the other hand, it may scare off certain groups of potential clients who lack sufficient knowledge or cognitive skills to see through the advertisement and find its message. Therefore, advertisement companies should carefully choose the devices they use depending on categories of customers they wish to reach. Figure 1 is an advertisement for a toothbrush by Johnson & Johnson’s Reach brand. It consists of two subjects that would not fit in a single picture under regular circumstances, but were altered scale-wise...
References: Phillips, B. J. and McQuarrie, E. F. 2004. Beyond Visual Metaphor: A New Typology of Visual Rhetoric in Advertising. Marketing Theory, 4 (1-2), pp. 113-136.
Puntoni, S., Schroeder, J. E. and Ritson, M. 2010. Meaning matters: Polysemy in advertising. Journal of Advertising, Journal of Advertising, 39 (2), 51-64.
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