Pictorial and linguistic elements in advertising: Selective foregrounding of contextual elements as a form of message enrichment
New conceptualizations of meaning-making stress the importance of the contextual factors and the world knowledge resources alongside the linguistic input. The way in which these factors contribute to the ultimate understanding of messages depends largely on the type of communication involved. In advertising discourse exploitation of extra-linguistic resources seems to be exceptionally high. The talk reports on a study in which the way the textual and pictorial channels support each other in information processing was investigated. To this end eight press advertisements have been modified in such a way that the texts were separated from the pictures and presented in this way to a group of respondents, who were asked to interpret either the texts or the illustrations alone, only later to be shown the complete versions and asked once again to report on their understanding of the messages in their original versions. In the discussion reference was made to such theoretical conceptualizations as the Dynamic Model of Meaning (Kecskes, 2008), the notions of multiplying meaning and traversals (Lemke, 1998; 2001; 2005), Conceptual Integration Theory (Fauconnier, 1994; Fauconnier and Turner, 1998; 2002), Resource Integration Principle (Baldry and Thibault, 2006), GeM Model (Bateman, 2008) and Graded Salience Hypothesis (Giora, 2003). In a follow-up, a model of the context structure of advertising communication is suggested and discussed on the basis of Polish TV commercials for medical products.
Skillful exploitation of contextual combination in advertising
The essence of advertising lies very often in unusual and surprising juxtaposition of apparently incongruous elements, which nevertheless successfully combine in producing a coherent and understandable message. A vital role is performed by a skillfully engineered context, which allows for simultaneous activation of certain otherwise inconspicuous senses and construction of novel and attractive connections. Such theoretical proposals as Lemke’s traversals (2001; 2005), Fauconnier and Turner’s Conceptual Blending Theory (1998; 2002) and Keckes’s Dynamic Model of Meaning (2008) seem to encompass very well many vital aspects of the phenomenon in question. It is in advertising that we often come across linking of elements by transgressing naturally existing borders between domains which are unrelated, are invited to map onto each other different mental spaces on the basis of their salient analogy or identity, and indulge in creative riddle-like exploration of contextual elements in order to reconstruct the intended message. Nevertheless, in spite of their surreal and dreamlike character, advertisements successfully avoid creating conflicts between ‘the real’ and ‘the imaginary’ in the minds of their recipients. Their true power lies in their ability to blur the distinction to such an extent that certain irrational but attractive connections, implanted in the minds of the audience, take part in subsequent decisions in the real world.
The present study attempts to uncover the ways in which certain unrelated elements are skillfully brought together in a context allowing for such a juxtaposition in selected Polish TV advertisements for various medicine and health-related products, which are in a large part also advertised internationally in a very similar way. The method employed is an in-depth content analysis of the material, followed by an attempt to integrate the identified mechanisms with the models of meaning-making mentioned above. The results will hopefully help in better understanding of the ways in which particular components of the context structure may interact with the message expressed verbally or pictorially in the construction of multilevel meanings in advertising communication.
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