Visual rhetoric in advertising: How consumers cope with a pleasant experience
Andrews, Steven J., 1971-
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Andrews, Steven J., 1971-
Rhetorical communication ("figures") in advertising are "artful deviations", analogous to bold or italicized text, which use style as their persuasive tool over message content. The present research built on theories of visual persuasion that conceive of visuals as sophisticated and nuanced systems of meaning transfer, unlike most traditional persuasion theories based on verbal processing that treat visuals as simple, non-discursive stimuli that merely evoke basic mood responses. Previous research suggests that in the context of visual persuasion the traditional components of information processing: attention, perception, elaboration, and memory retrieval are not applicable and visual information transfer depends almost entirely on the processing experience. While it was known that rhetoric is usually more well-liked and more memorable than plain language, this dissertation expanded the theoretical understanding of the mechanisms of how visual rhetoric in advertising engages the consumer and elicits more favorable judgments compared to both figurative and non-figurative verbal stimuli. Processing fluency research suggests that the brain automatically responds with positive emotion toward easy, pleasant, or novel processing experiences regardless of stimulus content. These types of processing experiences are early signals to the brain of successful completion of a mental task. In a series of four experiments, visual rhetorical ad stimuli elicited overall higher ratings than verbal rhetorical or verbal literal ad stimuli of equivalent message content on scales measuring mental involvement/engagement with the ad, attitude toward the ad, and perceptions of the ad's honesty/trustworthiness regardless of the processing experience as operationalized by stimulus exposure. At longer exposure durations judgments of visual rhetorical ads differed due to interactions between processing experience and sensitivity to the rhetorical figure's persuasive intent, whereas at 1-second exposure subjects exhibited universally high ratings based mostly on processing ease with relatively sparse deliberation about the stimulus content. Subjects exhibited high certainty about their attitudes toward the visuals at all exposures, but the positive experience of "processing ease" at 1-second exposure produced the most accessible favorable judgments as evidenced through reaction time measures. Future research should examine in more depth the potential for visual persuasion with rhetoric to evade resistance particularly when processing resources are constrained.