What is it about?

We analyze a number of anti-consumer advertisements in order to show that it is in principle possible to persuade, or even argue, using visuals alone, i.e., without the help of language. Admittedly, this is a rather unusual case; but we suspect that with growing visual literacy "visual argumentation" will grow in importance.

Featured Image

Why is it important?

One of the hotly debated issues in rhetoric and argumentation studies is whether it is possible to persuade, let alone convince people of something with visuals/images alone. Most scholars in the field acknowledge that visuals can be used to illustrate a rhetorical point, and can evoke emotions, but hold that language is indispensable in argumentation. We disagree, and to counter this claim, we analyze a number of "subvertisements," messages that criticize commercial advertising in the form of the templates of that very selfsame commercial advertising. We show that some of these wordless print advertisements make a rhetorical point, and even provide some sort of argument for this. The key point we want to make that, if our examples are convincing, there are at least SOME visuals that can argue without the help of language.


Subvertisements are by definition parasitical on the advertisements they criticize. They must thus evoke these advertisements, and the products these promote, in terms of style, colours, theme, typography and or other characteristic. It is thus thanks to the fact that subvertisements always intertextually trigger the original ad, that they can function as a rejection of the claims in the original ad. It is to be noticed that brand logo's play a crucial role in this -- logo's are unusual visuals in that they are CODED, which is what makes their subversion possible.

Dr Charles Forceville
Universiteit van Amsterdam

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Arguing Against Corporate Claims Visually and Multimodally: The Genre of Subvertisements, Multimodal Communication, January 2017, De Gruyter,
DOI: 10.1515/mc-2017-0008.
You can read the full text:




The following have contributed to this page