Special Topic Session: the New Advertising Rhetoric


Edward F. McQuarrie (1993) ,"Special Topic Session: the New Advertising Rhetoric", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 308.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Page 308


Edward F. McQuarrie, Santa Clara University

The new advertising rhetoric offers consumer researchers fresh insights into the symbolic consumption that occurs whenever a consumer reads an advertisement. The old advertising rhetoric was scarcely visible in our discipline. It was fragmented, marginalized and infrequent, consisting of isolated studies of individual rhetorical figures, and lacking historical continuity with the rich literature on rhetoric that extends back thousands of years. Today the paradigmatic ferment within the discipline, consequent to the emergence of postmodern perspectives, has created a receptive climate for rhetoric to emerge as a unifying perspective for consumer research on advertising. The new advertising rhetoric will build on the contributions of aesthetics, hermeneutics, literary theory, and, above all, semiotics. The new advertising rhetoric dreads being dismissed as an arid formalism, despises subjectivity and obscurantism, and drives relentlessly toward an integration of form and function, device and impact, text and reader.


The objective of this special session was to raise awareness of rhetoric as a discipline having the potential to reshape consumer research on advertising. The session was proposed out of a conviction that rhetoric offers consumer researchers an integrative view of how advertising works C an integration that cannot be found outside of rhetoric. The guiding assumption was that advertising is primarily a rhetorical phenomenon: it is communication with an ulterior motive, communication that seeks to use any available device for the achievement of its ends.

The distinctive excellence of rhetoric is the way that it links form to function. Rhetoric both illuminates the formal devices used in advertising, and explicates how and why these devices affect consumers. Rhetoric teaches how to construct a form so as to achieve a desired effect. Aristotle defined rhetoric as "the faculty of discovering all the available means of persuasion in any given situation." Implicit in this definition is the idea that there exists a limited number of formal devices capable of achieving certain effects, and that in any given situation some of these devices will be applicable and others not. Rhetoric seeks to understand what works in the area of persuasive communication. What makes rhetoric noteworthy in the context of contemporary debates in consumer research is that it expects to find the answer to "what works" in a limited and structurally differentiated set of formal and stylistic devices.


The McQuarrie and Mick paper, published in this volume, adapted ideas from Classical Rhetoric to examine the incidence and nature of rhetorical figures in magazine advertising. Scott's paper introduced reader response theoryCa contemporary rhetorical approachC and discussed how its key concepts could illuminate ads that were otherwise difficult to analyze. McCracken's paper drew on Elizabethan rhetoric to lay out an agenda for what a true advertising rhetoric should strive to accomplish. Wells discussed the session using a metaphor to distinguish the kinds of moderate and radical changes in emphasis that a new advertising rhetoric might bring about in consumer research.



Edward F. McQuarrie, Santa Clara University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20 | 1993

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