&Quot;The Play's the Thing:&Quot; Elements of Drama in Advertising and Their Effects on Audience Response

Basil G. Englis, Rutgers University
[ to cite ]:
Basil G. Englis (1994) ,"&Quot;The Play's the Thing:&Quot; Elements of Drama in Advertising and Their Effects on Audience Response", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 374.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Page 374


Basil G. Englis, Rutgers University

This panel focused on the analysis of advertising drama, and concerned the effects of the elements of drama on consumer experiences of and responses to advertising. Although other researchers have considered the distinction between advertising drama and lecture or argument in advertising, we also need to further disaggregate drama into its constituent elements in order to discover how each element is implicated in the effect of advertising drama on consumers. This panel builds upon previous work in two ways: first, the panel considers the role of specific dramatic elements in advertising, and thus goes beyond the simple contrast of drama with narrative (or other) forms of advertising. Second, it presents hypotheses, and in some instances data, relating elements of advertising drama to consumer responses, thus advancing beyond theoretical analysis of form and content.

Michael R. Solomon-Stylistic Context in Advertising: The Supporting Role of Physical Evidence in Commercial Dramaturgy

This paper argued for the overlooked importance of stylistic context in advertisingCthe physical cues that "place" a product in some real or imagined setting. Despite the potential ramifications of executional nuance for advertising effectiveness, surprisingly little research has addressed issues related to the stylistic context of advertisements (i.e., information communicated by specific styles of clothing, furniture, housing, and other expressive products used to create settings in these portrayals). In addition to other vital dramaturgical elements such as plot and character, the setting depicts the context (or scene) in which the action will occur. Thus, visual context and consumers' responses to that context are potentially of great import to advertisers, since the information conveyed by an ad's setting can influence the degree to which members of a target market decode meaning and identify with its central characters and intent. Data from a study of professional set designers were presented to address this issue. The strategic applications of advertising context, exemplified by the growing practices of product placement, collaborative advertising, and the presentation of responsible social messages were also discussed.

Barbara B. Stern and Basil G. Englis-"Once Upon a Time ... :" Advertising Drama and Audience Empathy

This presentation began with a theoretical distinction between "plot" and "story" B plot is the key element from which dramatic effects flow. The distinction is memorably captured by E. M. Forster: "'The king died and then the queen died,' is a story. 'The king died, and then the queen died of grief' is a plot." A plot adds the elements of temporal succession, causality, and motive to the recitation of events in a story, imposing unity on a pattern of events structured with a beginning, a middle, and with an end. These requirements form the structural elements that distinguish a classical, plotted drama. In contrast, vignette dramas depict one or more episodes of metonymic association rather than a pattern of chronological progression and causation as found in classical, plotted dramas. Because the audience experiences dramatic events without narrative intrusion, empathyCan identification with and projection of self onto the staged charactersCmay result. Empathy is often the goal of advertisements that seek to engender consumer identification with a person or object, to the extent that the observer becomes a vicarious participant and may thereby experience a sense of participation in the physical sensations of a product, the lifestyle of the users, or the processual flow of a service experience. An analysis of drama in television advertisements was presented in terms of elements of plot and character, and which distinguished between vignette and classical forms. And, data from an empirical study that contrasted the effects of classical, plotted dramas with vignette dramas on audience empathy with ad characters were presented.

George Jura and Jacqueline C. Hitchon-Allegorical Drama in Advertising: Its Use and Effects

Since Aristotle, allegory has been treated as a particular kind of metaphorCa continuous metaphor, which substitutes a whole series of referents for words or phrases used as singular referents in the text. While metaphors can exist within a poem or even within a single speech act, allegory requires an extended narrative, dialogue, or sequence of dramatic elements (actions, scenes, actors, and so on), which allow it to be understood concurrently with the surface "story." Although allegory can be understood on the surface level, and can even be interesting on this level alone, it is the "higher," figurative level that conveys the intended meaning. While other figures of speech have found widespread use in print advertising, allegory is found mostly in television ads as a result of the properties of the medium, for it alone is able to present a dramatized story using motion, pictures, colors, and sound, in addition to verbal content. Examples of allegorical dramas in advertising were presented, including Apple Computer's Macintosh commercial depicting Y "why 1984 won't be like 1984," Diet Pepsi's spot with Michael J. Fox as a knight rescuing a female tenant in distress, and Jello's godfather scenario featuring Bill Cosby. Intrinsic to an allegorical drama is stimulation of an elaborate network of associations in the viewer's mindCthe deeper meaning of the allegory emerges from the spreading activation of meanings elicited by the surface story. These associative linkages may, for example, be cued by traditional structural forms such as "white-knight-rescues-fair-damsel-in-distress-overcoming-draconian-obstacles" (e.g., the Diet Pepsi ad) or by specific literary allusions (e.g., the Apple Macintosh ad's reference to 1984).

William D. Wells-Discussant

William D. Wells discussed the papers presented in this session B his comments are published elsewhere in this volume.