Persuasion and Rhetoric in Advertisement
Everyone uses persuasion now and then to get others to do what they want in a subtle manner. Whether it is lawyers, detectives or even mothers, persuasion has been a technique used by many for centuries. But what is persuasion exactly? Persuasion is officially defined as a “human communication designed to influence the autonomous judgements and actions of others” (Simons, 2001). With this it is implicit that the persuasion is something that is non-aggressive and done in an unforceful way. Persuasion is purely a “form of attempted influence in the sense that it seeks to alter the what others think, feel, or act” but done in a manner free from “the iron hand of torture, the stick-up or other such forms of coercion” (Simons, 2001). It is also important to note that persuasion also does “not involve material inducements”. This means no bribery as well as no pressure from groups or individuals to conform to a certain standard, even from the authorities in power (Simons, 2001). The essence of persuasion is to ‘practice” it and “to predispose and not to impose” (Simons, 2001).
There are however, also ‘gray areas’ of persuasion, where the persuader might achieve effects that the did not originally intent, this could lead to consequences that no one saw beforehand (Simons, 2001). It is also misused sometimes when a persuaders intent is “masked, played down, or combined with other communicative motives” to change someone’s personal judgement (Simons, 2001). In today’s world however, persuasion has been a significant tool in the marketing and branding industry. It is often used to get inside the head of the consumer and to promote their product in such a way that the consumer doesn’t even know they are being influenced. This also is a important factor in terms of the increased advertising and public relations within our society. Especially in “a democratic, market-driven society” is persuasion significantly important but also effective (Simons, 2001).
Rhetoric is the study of persuasion and thus combines the branches of humanities and social sciences together. The study of persuasion already dates back to ancient Greece where “the Greeks saw rhetoric through the prism of their needs to create a democratic, civil society, and their mode of communication was primarily oral” (Simons, 2001). Now the study of rhetoric is still often used to analyze and create advertisements in our current society. Branding, marketing and persuasion might not be as different from each other as people might think, something that Sonesson outlines in his analysis of Absolut Vodka.
In the Absolut Vodka advertisements, rhetoric is consistently used influentially in a way most people looking at the advert would not even realize. The specific advertising campaign in question revolves around the portrayal of the famous ‘Absolut Vodka Bottle’ and its subtle and camouflaged placement in a well-known city. Sonesson describes how “shapes” are used “which are in one way or another, also recognizable as scenes taking place in one or another European city” (Sonesson, 2013). These shapes and places make the viewer connect them closely together as they are represented in such an integrated manner. According to Sonesson, “Absolut Vodka uses images and visual aid to describe two different ideas, the bottle of Absolut vodka as well as the place that it is located”, thereby using rhetoric persuasion to link the place to the bottle. Thus, when people see the place from the advertisement, they might think back to the bottle and vice versa. This influence on people’s thought process is a form of persuasion as it causes people to think and draw connections they would normally never think of. This connects to the “perceptual re-organization occasioned by rhetorical figures in pictures” which means that the connection between two very different concepts but that they can connect to each other through rhetoric (Sonesson, 2013).
Another example of this type of rhetoric in advertising are the ‘smoking kills’ advertisements. Often, the idea of cigarettes is connected with either dying, being sick or even ‘killing yourself’. Rhetoric is used to influence people’s thoughts on what smoking actually means for smokers. In one advertisement, someone is holding a cigarette and the shadow of the cigarette is a gun instead, implying that one is not holding a cigarette but a lethal weapon when they smoke.
Simons, H.W. (2001). The Study of Persuasion. In: H.W. Simons with J. Morreale & B.E. Gronbeck, Persuasion in Society (pp. 3-24), Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Sonesson, G. (2013). Two strands of rhetoric in advertising discourse. International Journal of Marketing Semiotics, 1(1), 6-24.