Visual Persuasion: The Role of Images in Advertising – Paul Messaris.

I found the way I read through and took quotes from Decoding Advertisements by Judith Williamson worked really well for me, therefore I decided to continue with this throughout my other readings. These are the key points I picked out from Visual Persuasion: The Role of Images in Advertising by Paul Messaris.

(I have outlined three major roles that visual images can play in an ad.) “They can elicit emotions by stimulating the appearance of a real person or object; they can serve as photographic proof that something really did happen, and they can establish an implicit link between the thing that is being sold and some other image(s).” (Messaris, 1997: VII).

“the fact that images can reproduce the appearance of reality (or selected aspects of that appearance) also means that they can call forth a variety of preprogramed emotional responses.” (Messaris, 1997: XIII).

Manipulation examples – Desmond Morris. (Messaris, 1997: XIV).

“Some media critics are predicting that society as a whole is, in fact, moving in the direction of such an attitude toward photography as a result of growing public awareness of two relatively recent developments: the use of computers to manipulate images…” (Messaris, 1997: XVII).

? “This ability to imply something in pictures while avoiding the consequences of saying it in words has been considered an advantage of visual advertising since the earliest days of its development as a mass medium.” (Messaris, 1997: XIX).

“By publicly linking a product with a certain image, the ad makes it possible for users of the product to draw on that link as a means of making a public statement about how they themselves wish to be viewed.” (Messaris, 1997: XX).

“Photography functions as evidence of an advertising claim.” (Messaris, 1997: 130).

“Commercial advertising often relies on the implicit truth value of photography to get across the point that a product is so effective, it has to be seen to be believed.” (Messaris, 1997: 130).

“When such products or places are shown in ads, the use of photographs implicitly reassured the prospective customer that what she or he is seeing is a truthful representation of the real thing.” (Messaris, 1997: 135).

“If the viewer is not informed of the alteration and the photograph is presented as a veridical record of what was ‘seen’ by the camera lens, then that photograph – or, once again, it’s presentation – becomes a visual fake or lie.” (Messaris, 1997: 142).

“Changing a photograph in such a way as to avoid detection seems to pose a direct challenge to our faith in photography as an automatic record of external reality.” (Messaris, 1997: 150).

“It is estimated that currently (ie, 1995) close to 90% of commercials employ some sort of digital effect, whereas in 5 or 6 years ago, the corresponding figure was only 1 in 20 (Cooper 1995: 29, cited in Messaris, 1997: 153).

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“a crucial point to keep in mind is the fact that digital alteration of advertising often is deliberately designed to attract attention to itself.” (Messaris, 1997: 183).

I encountered most of my key points actually in the introduction and in the chapter ‘visual truth, visual lies’. Interesting points included about how photographs were classified in terms of validity of drawings, as they do not provide literal proof. I feel the idea for my paper challenges this as because a photograph is known as capturing a ‘true’ moment, there are so many ways it can be manipulated through set up (signifier and signified) and also post production, therefore how does this have any more validation over drawings? This is further supported by how Messaris discusses “when such products or places are shown in ads, the use of photographs implicitly reassured the prospective customer that what she or he is seeing is a truthful representation of the real thing.”(Messaris, 1997: 135). We instantly believe a photograph is truth. It is only when we begin to break down a photograph that it becomes clearer how things have been purposely set up or manipulated to ‘bend’ the truth for a particular purpose – in this case advertisements.

Although irrelevant to my paper, drawing on this point was the discussion about the validity of photographs which are used as proof in political and environmental situations – how can anyone truely know that these images haven’t been manipulated in extremely serious circumstances? It leads to question the complete truth of photographs and whether there will ever be any substantial answer as to how we can identify these ‘fake’ elements. This is seen through a brilliant point made by Messaris, “digital retouching: the end of photography as evidence of anything” (Messaris, 1997: 153). I think this is a very bold statement, but in so many ways very true. If I am to take my paper in the direction of exploring digitally manipulated photographs within advertisements, this would be a crucial point to discuss further.

By going through this book I was immediately able to draw some similarities from Decoding Advertisements (Judith Williamson) such as when Messaris explains “by publicly linking a product with a certain image, the ad makes it possible for users of the product to draw on that link as a means of making a public statement about how they themselves wish to be viewed.”(Messaris, 1997: XX). This made me think of how Williamson discusses how adverts are selling us ourselves, it creates the perfect image for the consumer to long for, how the consumer wants to be. Messaris supports this as by providing an image the consumer wants to have then they are creating that statement of ‘how they themselves wish to be viewed.’ Adverts become so much more than just selling us a product simply by linking it to a particular persona. It doesn’t just become about what we buy, it becomes about who we are and who we want to be.

Similar to what I recognised through a quote from Williamson, Messaris also draws upon how emotions are involved in advertisements through “the fact that images can reproduce the appearance of reality (or selected aspects of that appearance) also means that they can call forth a variety of preprogramed emotional responses.” (Messaris, 1997: XIII). The ‘truth’ we see in photographs will provoke true emotions, hence why this ‘fake reality’ will also evoke the emotions and connect to the consumer personally. Connecting to the consumer personally is a crucial selling point within advertisements therefore it shows how clever and important the use of photographs in adverts can be.

The book also included some manipulation examples by Desmond Morris which may be useful to revisit when looking for case studies to support my argument in my paper. It is also drew my attention to ‘By Me That’ 1990 – after searching for it on YouTube, I came across ‘Buy Me That Too: A Kid’s Survival Guide to TV Advertising’ (YouTube 2015). This survival guide from Consumer Reports Television is great in making children realise how adverts are being manipulated. I think as a child this would be something they wouldn’t be able to appreciate as when they see something amazing, they will certainly want to have it! However it shows its not just adults who fall ‘victim’ to these advertising techniques. I don’t find this will be relevant to my paper however it was interesting to consider as a separate point.

Despite the one chapter I felt would be most helpful didn’t turn out so much, I still think I collated a couple of good quotes for potential use in my paper. By being able to make links with points from Decoding Advertisements, this means I can draw on these links within my paper and construct a solid argument. This book has again helped my understanding with how advertisements work.

Messaris, P. (1997). Visual Persuasion. 1st edn. London: Sage Publications.

YouTube, (2015) Buy Me That Too: A Kid’s Survival Guide To TV Advertising (Part 1/2) [online] available from <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7VNFO4ksCE&gt; [21 January 2015]

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~ by victoriasimkissphotography on January 21, 2015.

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