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THE ROLE OF THE VISUALS IN ADVERTISEMENTS

The advertisement has some text, which provides information about the product, and more
importantly, provides anchorage for the image. Under the general category of text, there may
be descriptive information about the product, other text that serves the purpose of catching the
readers's attention, as well as (typically) short phrases that act as a kind of slogan, and finally
the name of the company and/or the name of the product. The advertisement has an image or
a visual component, which is typically a scene which provides the background for the entire
advertisement. The mage may or may not feature a representation of the product, and the
product may or may not be "in use" (for example, imagine an image of a tube of toothpaste as
opposed to some toothpaste on a brush, or some beer in a glass as opposed to a bottle of beer).
The image component may be more than just one scene, as is often found in the "before-after"
type of advertisement, or if there are other symbols or visual features that are superimposed
on the original scene. The original scene in the image may lend itself to a variety of
interpretations. An image usually has some interpretational component which guides the
reader to certain aspects of meaning, possibly in conjunction with the text. The image and text
are put together in some organization, which is an important component of the overall
advertisement. The organization can suggest coherence, some kind of order in which the parts
are interpreted, and relevance, which determines the particular kind of meaning that the
advertisement has.
Advertising visual and its graphical components have long been the target of studies. The
important theme was how the visual appeal could be translated into an effective selling
message. The role of advertising visuals includes obtaining attention, creating impact, and
stimulating interest from an indifferent audience through conveying a main selling point of
products or brands. [1] Advertising visuals perform two main functions - literal and symbolic.
[2], [552] Literal visuals provide factual information on products or services, and symbolic
visuals perform an indirect role to connect the images of products or services with the
meanings that are appropriately assigned to them.
Visual appeal always had a prominent place in advertising. The old saying is that a picture
is worth a thousand words; so many advertisers usually try to visually communicate
messages, rather than bog down the receiver in heavy text. Hecker & Stewart state:
“Visual recall is becoming increasingly important and corporate symbols and advertising
will need to be stronger and eye-catching to capture consumer attention. Nonverbal
communication will not only become a means for drawing attention to a verbal message, but
it will also become the message itself in many instances”.[3], [13] The use of imagery, visual
associations, drawings and paintings, models, visual memory devices, product and corporate
symbols are pervasive in advertising.
Visual imagery is used to command attention, stimulate curiosity, demonstrate product
features and benefits, establish a personality for a product, associate the product with certain
symbols and lifestyles, and anchor the brand identity in the minds of the target audience.[2],
[550]. Additionally, advertisers use visual imagery to enhance or strengthen the message
about their product. For instance, when something neutral (the product) is paired with
something that elicits a positive affective reaction (a visual), the neutral stimulus may come to
evoke a positive response to the ad.[4], [5-32] In other words, visuals can add meaning (and
subsequently a positive response) to something that is basically neutral (the product).
Communication by visual image is easily the most important dimension of an advertising
message. Visual imagery has an effect on textual components in advertisements, which affects
brand awareness or liking. Edell & Staelin [5] found that very different processing occurs
depending on pictorial and verbal message congruencies in advertisements. Advertisements
were more effective when the picture agreed with the textual message.
In 1987, Moriarty offered an effective typology of visuals in a content analysis of
magazine advertising. The first category of visuals determines whether a visual is
photographic or an illustration. At the next level, it is determined if visuals are literal or
symbolic. If literal, they can be further subcategorized into identification (brand, logo,
package), description (what it looks like, parts attributes, schematics), comparison (between
two competitors, before and after) or demonstration (how to do, make, use, etc.). Symbolic
visuals can use association (lifestyle, typical person, situation), association with a character or
celebrity, metaphor, storytelling or aesthetics.
In general, literal visuals are used to communicate factual information, so their role is to
identify, describe and report details of a product. Symbols communicate through meaning.
They present concepts through the use of abstract associations.
Not only are visual effects fun and interesting, but they also keep viewers looking at an
advertisement. The longer a viewer looks at an ad, the more likely the product or service
being advertised will stick in the viewer’s mind. Visual effects naturally hold our attention
because they combine reality with the fantastic. Which image would be more likely to grab
your attention: a giant bug invading a house or a real bug walking across a kitchen floor?
Visual effects also help shape a viewer’s feelings about the product or service in the ad. For
example, if an ad shows the giant bug retreating and finally dying after being sprayed with
bug spray, the viewer might feel confident that the product can get rid of any insect. After all,
the bug spray successfully killed the giant bug.
Print advertisements and television commercials each use unique visual effects. These
effects make an ad more interesting so it can attract the most readers or viewers possible.
A print ad includes a collage of images and text—words and pictures that, when
combined; create an overall effect on the readers. Unless a print ad runs for several pages, it
usually focuses on one image which creates an unfinished story. Important information about
what happened before the product was used or what happened afterward is missing. The
readers become involved because they must fill in the blanks to finish the story.

References:
1. S.E. Moriarty, The Role of Visuals in Advertising (paper presented at the International
Visual Literacy Conference, Madison, WI., 1986)
2. S.E. Moriarty, A Content Analysis of Visuals Used in Print Media Advertising,
Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 64 (Summer, 1987): 550-554.
3. S. Hecker and D.W. Stewart, Nonverbal Communication: Advertising’s Forgotten
Elements, in Nonverbal Communication in Advertising, eds. S. Hecker and D.W. Stewart
(Lexington, MA: Lexington, 1988), 13.
4. R.E. Petty and J.T. Cacioppo, Attitudes and Persuasion: Classic and Contemporary
Approaches (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996).
5. J.A. Edell and R. Staelin, “The Information Processing of Pictures in Print
Advertisements,” Journal of Consumer Research 10 (1983): 45-61.