Friday, September 18, 2009

The Power of Visual Persuasion

By Abby Wilson

Ladies, isn't it funny how every time we see a commercial for "Herbal Essences" shampoo we immediately have this impulse to go to the nearest drugstore and buy that shampoo? Of course, why wouldn't we when the beautiful models in the commercial have gorgeous locks that only took four hours in hair and make-up to create? But we never think about the four hours in salon, we only make one connection in that 30 second spot: I want her hair! The image of the models beautiful hair connected with the image of the "Herbal Essences" shampoo bottle sends a message straight to our brain telling us we will look like her with that shampoo.

Images are usually the first element of advertising to engage us and the last element we remember (Visual Persuasion-Holy Cow Branding, 2009). The image is really the only thing that peaks our interest and makes us want to keep watching. Because images are so important when it comes to advertising, advertisers use something called image-oriented advertising. Image-oriented advertising is used to create a positive association between a product and idealized imagery or lifestyles (Visual Persuasion-Holy Cow Branding, 2009). The goal for the advertiser is to get the consumer to associate the brand with an ideal lifestyle. A certain shampoo linked with gorgeous hair makes us think we can have that too. A group of happy friends sitting around cold beers makes us think we can have times like that too. A celebrity endorsing a pair of overpriced jeans makes us think we can look good in those too. The power of visual persuasion is very strong and should never be overlooked.

Because of the implicit nature of visual argumentation and the relative lack of social accountability that images enjoy in comparison with words, pictures can be used to make advertising claims that would be unacceptable if they were spelled out verbally (Messaris). In short, pictures help you make assumptions that would never hold up if spoken directly from the advertiser.

Undoubtedly, there is cause for concern on how this image-oriented advertising is affecting U.S. consumers. The images the consumers see can be detrimental to not only their self esteem, but to their lives as well. Think about a young woman who sees a credit card commercial and how happy the spender looks in it. She thinks, "I deserve to be happy and to have nice things," so she gets a credit card. This commercial probably never showed her the ugly side of debt that can emerge from using the card. She only sees one thing: happiness. I highly doubt that the "drink responsibly" statement at the end of beer commercials is heard by many men around the world. They see two things: cold beer and a good time. And think about all those young adults who see beautiful people (men and women, alike) in the advertisements in magazine and on the television 24/7! What kind of messages are we sending them with this kind of advertising? There isn't a statement at the bottom of the screen or page saying, "Don't worry kids, it took a team of experts five hours in the lab to airbrush this photo." All they see is the image.

With that being said, I feel like I need to bring up an image-based advertising campaign that I believe is helping, not harming, our nation. Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" was launched in 2004 and was inspired by a global study that found that women around the world have come to believe that beauty if limited and unattainable (Campaign For Real Beauty Mission, 2008). Because of this, Dove started this advertising campaign using real women, not professional models, to put self-esteem back into the hearts and minds of women everywhere. With this campaign, they hope to reach 5 million young women by the end of 2010. Instead of sending unattainable and falsified messages, they are sending the message that happiness is within the person, not the product.

As far as image-oriented advertising is concerned, I believe the Dove adverting campaign is becoming a role model for how this sort of advertising should be used. It has set the standard for how we, as people, need to be viewing advertisements. We cannot rely on images and 20 second clips to give us our information; we must look past it to see what the message is really saying!


Messaris, Paul. (1996). Visual Persuasion: The Role of Images in Advertising. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Campaign For Real Beauty Mission. (2008, March 14).

Visual Persuasion-Holy Cow Branding. (2009, January 27).

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