Mabelline Ad

This week’s readings provide a set of criteria by which we can evaluate how images are used to make rhetorical arguments. While both Stephen Bernhardt and Diana George argue that visually organized texts presented to the right audience have the power to make an argument more powerful than can be made by plain text alone, George focuses what makes advertisements, such as the above, rhetorically effective. According to George, “The advertiser’s job, too, is to persuade potential customers to see a product in a particular way” (390). Product advertisers want their audience to believe that their product is one worth purchasing. As George says, “Quite often, ad designers use visuals to convince readers without having to put the argument into words” (388). Assuming that the designers of the Maybelline advertisement above chose the visual in order to persuade their audience to buy the brand’s bright red lipstick, I argue that the advertisement taken as a whole is rhetorically effective based on George’s criteria.

George’s first criteria under “Making an argument visually” is that the designer knows what he plans to argue (397). The argument in the image above is that Maybelline’s “Moisture Extreme Lipcolor” is a product worth purchasing because it will give the consumer healthy and sexy lips. The bold white lettering set against the red background makes this clear, as George suggests that a rhetorically effective visual text should (445). However, the image also makes this argument clear in a way that the text alone never could. The image portrays a young woman with flawless skin and a bouquet of roses in her hands wearing the bright red lipstick. Considering that Maybelline advertisements are often found in fashion magazines that market to young women in their 20s-30s, the choice of image suggests that the designers knew their audience and correctly predicted how they would respond to the advertisement (397). In this case, the designer figured that the audience would see this image and envy the model. She is thin and beautiful, and the roses hint that her appearance may have appealed to someone of the opposite gender. Ideally, the designers would like the reader to think, “If I buy this lipstick I will be as happy as the model.” While I am not persuaded to purchase the lipstick myself, the message the designers attempt to convey is clear: purchasing the Maybelline red lipstick will give you sexually desirable lips, and this result is worth the cost of the lipstick.

The above suggests that the white text relies on the image to convey the advertisement’s argument.  This leads to George’s next two evaluation factors: (1) why choose a visual argument and (2) where is your text likely to appear (397). In George’s Chrysler example, the designers chose a visual argument because they assumed that magazine readers would be attracted to the image, instead of focusing on the words the way they would if they heard a verbal argument (391). Along these lines, the Chrysler advertisement designers altered their text and image in order to appeal to different audiences (391). Like Chrysler ads, Maybelline ads are posted in both magazines and aired as television commercials. However, if this ad were aired as a television commercial, the audience may be more focused on the moving image than on the “Moisture Extreme” words being spoken. Thus, the purpose of the advertisement — to purchase the product — is lost. As a visual argument, “the words shape the way we read the images” (392). Instead of just seeing a beautiful woman, the audience can see that the woman is beautiful because she is wearing Maybelline lipstick. Second, it is clear that the designers know that this text is likely to appear in a women’s magazine. Knowing that beauty is a popular section found in the vast majority of magazines that market to young women (Cosmo, InStyle, Glamour, etc.), this advertisement allows Maybelline to sell an image of beauty, just as the Chrysler ad allows Chrysler to sell an image of speed and luxury (391). Women’s magazine readers want to be beautiful just as Outside readers want adventure. Knowing that magazine readers typically flip quickly through the advertisements, it is not surprising that the designers chose to sell an image rather than print volumes of text describing how purchasing their lipstick will make the reader appear more attractive than she would be without making the purchase.

Lastly, George asks designers to consider what will be the balance between verbal and visual (397). In rhetorically effective advertisements, the images are key elements of the argument but the written text completes the argument (392). In George’s example of the ACLU ad, the images alone do not clearly convey the purpose of the advertisement but “the immediate and the most emotional argument is made in the two images with their captions” (392). In this case, the argument cannot be made with no words at all, but since the images help convey most of the message, only a few words are needed. The same is the case in the Maybelline ad. The image alone might make the reader admire the model’s lips, but it does not tell the reader how to best mimic the model’s appearance – by buying the lipstick herself. Additionally, the image does not say which lipstick will provide the reader with the desired look. Thus, the words “Maybelline” and “Moisture Extreme Lipcolor” are necessary to give the image a rhetorical meaning. While the smaller messages, made less visible in the overall ad such as “Color comes alive!” and “Moisturizes with 3x the power of lip balm” aren’t as important as the product and the brand themselves, these texts give the reader extra reasons to purchase the lipstick. They also force the reader to slow down and evaluate the ad more carefully instead of skipping over it quickly if the ad only contained four big words.

Overall, this advertisement is a rhetorically effective visual text that draws significantly from images to convey its meaning. The designers have carefully considered the message they wish to convey, to whom they will convey it to, and how they will go about conveying it. The text and the image work together to send a message to young women that purchasing Maybelline’s lipstick will give them healthy, sexy lips and then they will have a reason to smile like the model.