Advertising and Representation

Can A Picture Tell A Thousand Words?

What is visual rhetoric? How does it work and how can it be analysed? Watch this video explainer subtitled How Images Persuade to find out.

Images are part of the way we communicate and, through the Language and Literature course, it would be impossible to talk about how language operates in the world without considering the operations and impact of images. Many of the texts we encounter include images and some texts, such as road signs or paintings in an art gallery, might be made of images alone. Images are an integral part of most advertisement texts. This section will give you the opportunity to understand images better by learning how to analyze various components of visual images such as layout, use of lines, shapes and forms, light and colour and so on:

Class Activity: pick up the pieces

Read this analysis of a PSA from Australia. PSAs are a special kind of advertisement text that inform people about an issue of public concern. The aim of a PSA is to persuade people to change their behaviour rather than buy a product or service.

Find a visual text such as an advert, film poster, magazine cover or even painting. Present the text in the middle of a document and annotate this text using some of the techniques from the Visual Techniques Toolkit (above). Try to comment on the effect of these techniques as well. Present your findings to your classmates.

Learner Portfolio


Paper 1 Text Type Focus: adverts with strong visual appeal

At the end of your course you will be asked to analyze unseen texts (1 at Standard Level and 2 at Higher Level) in an examination. You will be given a guiding question that will focus your attention on formal or stylistic elements of the text(s), and help you decode the text(s)’ purpose(s). Below is a Volkswagen advertising campaign that makes prominent use of visual images as well as catchy and pithy slogans. As the images all come from the same campaign there are clear similarities between the messages they give and the visual techniques used to convey messages and create effects. Other resources in this section have been chosen because of their strong visual appeal. Use these practice texts to familiarise yourself with the different features of Advertising and add them to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam. You can find more information – including text type features and sample Paper 1 analysis – by visiting 20/20. Read through one or two of the exemplars, then choose a new paper and have a go at writing your own Paper 1 analysis response:

key features of advertising
  • Problem and benefit: also called ‘benefit and need’, the success of any advert depends upon appealing to the desires of its readers. These needs may be genuine – more often the advert will construct a need for you.
  • Image: a major component of modern advertising, images often tell visual narratives, or employ tactics such as ‘shock value’ or ‘sex sells.’
  • Slogan and copy: as the image is so important in ads, text is kept to a minimum. Slogans should be short, catchy, memorable and should have a relationship with the image; this is called anchoring. Look for typographical features such as bold fonts, underlined words and the like.
  • Association: adds sell products but also values and you should be alert to the abstract concepts that the advert is associating with its product and brand.
  • Testimonial: adverts often include the satisfied quotations of customers who already used the product and are delighted with their purchase. Some ads feature celebrity testimonials.
  • Persuasion: adverts are always persuasive. Even ads that are not trying to sell you a product or service might be asking you to think something, change your behaviour or help someone. Look out for any and all kinds of persuasive devices in advertising.

Body of Work: Dr. Martens ‘Tough As You’ Video Campaign

In 2020 iconic footwear brand Dr. Martens launched their latest campaign with this video.

The Tough As You campaign was created by ad agency We Are Social . The film comprises part of Dr. Martens’ global campaign and is hosted on The basis of the campaign is the recruitment of real-life contributors: grime punk musician Bob Vylan; body-positive activist Lotte Van Eijk; rock band Naked Giants; and model Avie Acosta. Each contributor was selected to represent the brand because, in the words of We Are Social, “of the powerful message of resilience they spread every day.”

Throughout the filming process, the creative art directors employed some of the principles you have studied in this section. For example, lighting techniques create a striking yellow colour scheme, synonymous with the Dr. Martens brand. symbolising the ‘here and now’. The yellow colour contrasts with the black and white scheme used to heighten powerful moments elsewhere in the campaign. Visit the Tough As You contributors section to see how this works in practice.

Dr. Martens have a history of counter-culture advertising. In 2017, they released a campaign called Worn Differently, featuring people who identify as unique or different, and their latest campaign is called Own Your Stance. Whether you consider the Dr. Martens brand and adverts to be an important voice of diverse representation in the media, or whether you see it as just tokenism in order to sell shoes to a wider market, is something for you to consider and discuss. Together with select print adverts, the video ads, podcasts and online campaigns form a complete Body of Work.

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

“Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

IB Language and Literature Guide

Please find suggestions here; but always be mindful of your own ideas and class discussions and follow the direction of your own programme of study when devising your assessment tasks.

An extract, screenshots or video sample from this ad campaign would be an ideal text to bring into this assessed activity. You could investigate the Field of Inquiry Culture, Identity and Community with a focus on the Global Issue of ‘diverse representation‘. Historically, mainstream media representations and canonical literary texts have tended to be disproportionately white, gender-binary, heterosexual and written or constructed along ‘formal’ or conventional lines. Of course, this doesn’t mean that diverse characters and images never appear in literature or in the mass media – as this Body of Work demonstrates. (NB You might like to study Either/Or: Representation in the Media before you prepare this oral) You could successfully pair this campaign with any literary work that either marginalises or gives voice to under-represented people or identities. Speak to your teacher about your ideas, or use this list as a starting point:

  • Broken April by Ismail Kadare – neither Gjorg nor Bessian are particularly conventional when it comes to the standards of the time and place in which this novel is set. In fact, Gjorg is reluctant to follow the tenets of the Kanun and his father’s wishes while Bessian is actively despised by Mark Ukacierra – and has a difficult relationship with Diana.
  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw – this play was first performed in 1912 and the audience would have been upper class wealthy theatre patrons of the time. Imagine their surprise when a common flower girl turns out to be the hero of the piece – and smarter and more more competent than many of the upper class characters around her.
  • The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy – a perfect pairing. there are so many aspects of diversity that you could choose from this text. Look at Queen Herod and Queen Kong for amazing examples of diverse representation. And Thetis has something to say about the way women are forced to conform rather than express themselves freely in society.
  • The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare – although it has a reputation as a ‘problem play’, supporters of Shakespeare’s drama contest that the writer was simply holding up a mirror to society at the time. The Merchant of Venice does contain a remarkably diverse cast of characters, from Shylock the Jew to the arrogant and vain Dukes of Morocco and Arragon. Whether the representation of these characters is progressive or not is something for you to decide.

Wider Reading and Research

  • The Death of Socrates – watch and listen to an expert put visual rhetoric principles into practice in this amazing analysis subtitled ‘How to Read a Painting.’

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