In this article, past consumer research dealing with advertising images is analyzed and critiqued for its underlying assumption: that pictures are reflections of reality. The case against this assumption is presented, and an alternative view, in which visuals are a convention-based symbolic system, is formulated. In this alternative view, pictures must be cognitively processed, rather than absorbed peripherally or automatically. The author argues that current conceptualizations of advertising images are incommensurate with what ads are really like, and that many images currently dismissed as affect laden or information devoid are, in fact, complex figurative arguments. A new theoretical framework for the study of images is advanced in which advertising images are a sophisticated form of visual rhetoric. The process of consumer response implied by the new framework differs radically from past concepts in many ways, but also suggests new ways to approach questions currently open in the literature on the nature and processing of imagery. A pluralistic program for studying advertising pictures as persuasion is outlined.
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