Visual structures in advertising metaphors: a conceptual framework

Lampros Gkiouzepas, 2007

This thesis contributes towards understanding the role of different forms of visual metaphor in print advertising. It develops and tests a conceptual framework of the representational mechanisms used by advertisers to combine two metaphorical objects in a picture (juxtaposition and synthesis). The categorisation is based on two broad dimensions (objects’ mode of representation and visual scenario) that together form a matrix for six types of combinatory mechanisms.

The findings confirmed that visual form can influence consumer responses to advertising such as elaboration, ad liking, brand attitudes, and involvement. This calls into question the common assumption that the impact of visual rhetorical figures is determined solely by their interpretation within the context of equivalent verbal rhetorical figures (e.g., metaphors and similes). A boundary condition uncovered by this study is that when objects are visually paired, they should be conceptually similar to each other if they are to be accessible to readers’ understanding, and thus effective as advertising messages. The findings indicated that more deviant structures were not necessarily found to be more persuasive than their less deviant counterparts (i.e., the visual equivalents of metaphors [synthesis] were not necessarily more persuasive than the visual equivalents of similes [juxtaposition]).

The research extends work on visual rhetorical figures in advertising by developing a framework for systematically analysing the structure and impact of visual metaphors. The study concludes that visual structure can account for differences in consumers’ responses which have been previously attributed to the interpretation of the semantic meaning of the visuals. The findings from this study form the foundation for proceeding to higher-order analyses, which aim to combine structural aspects of the visual with the semantic analysis to achieve fuller interpretation of the visual content; and thus generate more complex analytical frameworks.