Persuasive Imagery: A Consumer Response Perspective

By Linda M. Scott; Rajeev Batra | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWELVE
Invoking the Rhetorical
Power of Character
to Create Identifications
Michael S. Mulvey
Carmen Medina
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

His character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses. (Aristotle, Rhetoric, I.2.1356.10)

Advertisers use numerous tactics to gain advantage through their communications. Perhaps the most popular is the strategic use of characters; myriads of ads use characters to deliver the persuasive message. Characters are cast in a variety of roles including the narrator who reports information, the witness who testifies personal experience, and the performer who acts in a dramatic play. Clearly, advertisers recognize the ability of characters to produce a major portion of the meaning conveyed in communication.

Scholars working on the consumer response to advertising, however, have not yet tested this assumption by means of empirical research, although several have hypothesized the ways readers interpret and respond to character (McCracken, 1989; Scott, 1991, 1994a, 1994b; Stern, 1988, 1991, 1994). The objective of this research, therefore, is to take Aristotle's concept of “character” to the workbench, using reader-response data to test its persuasive powers. Bringing to the question a key concept of Kenneth Burke's 20th-century approach to rhetoric, we then look at how (and whether) viewers form “identifications” with advertising characters (Burke, 1969). Our focus ultimately is on how consumers “make sense” of ads showing diverse types of characters. The investigation analyzes the formal properties of the ads and pays heed to the cultural and historical context within which consumers' interpretations are formed. Our goal is to enrich our understanding of

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