Visual Persuasion: The Role of Images in Advertising

Article excerpt

Messaris, Paul (1997). Visual Persuasion: The Role of Images in Advertising. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage. 298 pp. Paperback, $24.95.

Near the end of his book, Paul Messaris expresses his opinions about the teaching of visualization: "The teaching of visual media is characterized by a dichotomy between two fairly divergent approaches: on the one hand, detailed attention to formal variables (types of camera shots, lighting, etc.) without much discussion of broader social implications; on the other hand, high level social critique without a concomitant attention to the formal qualities through which media exert their power."

It is a good thing that Messaris understands and implicitly wants his book to be used as a classroom text. It has much to offer in this regard. It is notably less successful as a work of new research. Messaris states that his purpose is to define the distinctive contribution that visual images make to advertising and other persuasive communication. To do this, he seeks the fundamental characteristics that distinguish visual communication from other communication.

Visual Persuasion is a modern explication of the theories of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) whose work was republished in Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic by Charles Sanders Peirce edited by J. Hoopes and published by the University of North Carolina Press. Peirce created a taxonomy for images. He argued that they had an iconic quality, an indexical quality or evidentiary quality and a symbolic value. Essentially, Messaris spends most of the pages of the book illustrating Peirce's theory through the use of modern advertising. …