A Conceptual Investigation of Absurdism in Print Advertising: Its Philosophical Roots

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The effects of absurd ads on consumers have not been investigated even though absurdism is often used by advertisers. The author suggests that absurdism fits within the marketing literature on pictorial stimuli. To begin the process of enhancing our understanding of absurdism, this study describes absurdism’s philosophical roots and its use in the disciplines of art, literature, and finally, advertising. In addition, relationships between the domain of absurdism and other constructs (e.g., surrealism, allegory, anthropomorphism, and hyperbole) are discussed. Within this section, the construct of absurdism is defined and theoretical mechanisms for the possible impact of absurd images are identified.

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This paper examines the effect of absurd advertising on memory and persuasion across cultures. Drawing on Hofstede's cultural dimensions, it is hypothesized that the effect of absurdity on recall is culturally invariant, whereas the effect on attitude toward the ad is contingent on the recipients’ cultural orientation. The assumptions are tested using a between-subjects experimental design, in which we manipulated type of absurdity and used the cultural dimensions as blocking variables. Data was collected from 274 students in the United States, Germany, Russia, and China. We discuss theoretical and managerial implications of these findings as well as guidelines for further research.
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For this paper, the presence or absence of an absurd image was manipulated in a simulated print advertisement for a fictitious brand of wine cooler. Consumers' prior attitude toward wine coolers was hypothesized to moderate the effectiveness of absurdity in advertising. Consumers' cognitive responses were hypothesized to mediate the impact of absurdity and prior product category attitude on consumers' persuasion as measured by consumers' attitude to the ad and brand. The results supported the moderating role of prior product category attitude and a distraction hypothesis explanation of this effect. For subjects with negative prior attitude toward wine coolers, those viewing the absurd ad had a more positive attitude to the ad and brand than those viewing the non-absurd ad. However, for subjects with positive prior attitude toward wine coolers, those viewing the absurd ad did not differ in their ad or brand attitude than those viewing the non-absurd ad. The results also supported the mediating role of cognitive responses of these effects. Finally, absurdity was found to impact brand name recall in a manner that paralleled the results for the persuasion measures.
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Examined the effects of surrealistic design and priming on the effectiveness of a print advertisement, using 94 undergraduates. Ss read a booklet containing a surrealistic or nonsurrealistic illustration and completed a 2nd booklet containing a priming or nonpriming message. Results support the social adaptation theory: Ss presented with priming statements were better able to incorporate the advertisement's arguments into their existing schemata and more easily absorbed the information. Accommodation was likely because the surreal format was unexpected, novel, and did not fit into any existing schemata. Surrealism motivated Ss to devote more attention to the processing of the borders of message arguments, lowering incorrect recall. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
The purpose of this paper is to use literary theory to extend prior categorizations of message claims that are likely to result in deception by implication from the level of the individual claim to that of the advertisement's overall meaning. The paper will first summarize three literary forms that advertising has adapted—metonymy, irony, and absurdity—and discuss each in terms of how form and content interact to yield the whole verbal meaning of a text. These forms can be used to structure an ad so that the totality misleads the consumer by perverting meaning in three different ways. Metonymy can mislead by adding multiple meanings; irony, by hiding doubled meanings; and absurdism, by conveying subjectively ambiguous meanings. Advertising examples will be presented in the discussion. The paper will conclude with research suggestions for gaining greater understanding of how artistic creativity can be balanced with the public policy need to protect the consumer from deception by innuendo.
Although advertisers have employed humor extensively as the motivational basis for their appeals, relatively little is known about the persuasive effect of humor. This article assesses the role of humor in persuasion and suggests an approach to future humor research.
Literary concepts from genre studies of classical allegory are adapted to analysis of advertising formats. Two classical forms—reification and typology—are discussed, and their importance for advertising summarized. Four basic allegorical elements are described to distinguish the forms, and two advertisements are analyzed to reveal the function of each in relation to product class, message appeal, copy structure, and media selection. Advertising consequences are proposed in terms of brand strategy appropriate to message type (informational or transformational), executional appeal (nostalgia and bizarre), and desired response (attention or empathy). Future research issues are suggested.
The plays of Samuel Beckett, Arthur Adamov, and Eugène Ionesco have been performed with astonishing success in France, Germany, Scandinavia, and the English-speaking countries. This reception is all the more puzzling when one considers that the audiences concerned were amused by and applauded these plays fully aware that they could not understand what they meant or what their authors were driving at. At first sight these plays do, indeed, confront their public with a bewildering experience, a veritable barrage of wildly irrational, often nonsensical goings-on that seem to go counter to all accepted standards of stage convention. In these plays, some of which are labeled “anti-plays,” neither the time nor the place of the action are ever clearly stated. (At the beginning of Ionesco's The Bald Soprano the clock strikes seventeen.) The characters hardly have any individuality and often even lack a name; moreover, halfway through the action they tend to change their nature completely.
The author examines the medieval literary tradition of allegory and relates it to contemporary advertising. Allegory is characterized by the use of metaphor, personification, and moral conflict. This tradition is the basis of advertisements that use fear to convey didactic instruction to mass audiences. The author describes the use of allegory in advertising strategy in terms of message appeal, product benefits, target audience, and media design. Five areas for future research are suggested: content analysis of allegorical advertisements, cross-cultural implications, fear and guilt appeals, taxonomy of personifications as presenters, and effects of metaphors and symbols on advertising recall and comprehension.
The presence of rhetorical devices in advertising is ubiquitous; however, research in this area is relatively limited. One type of visual device that has been virtually ignored, yet enjoys wide popularity in advertising today, is hyperbole. Depicting people, products, and objects in ways that far exceed their capability is a common strategy used to gain attention, inject humor, and emphasize product attributes. However, a lack of understanding of visual hyperbole has led some researchers and consumers to dismiss this popular figure as an instance of advertising puffery. This study makes important distinctions among these terms and shows that hyperbolic ads produce more ad liking than nonhyperbolic ads. Subjects measuring high in advertising skepticism and subjects who fail to comprehend the figurative nature of the hyperbole, however, respond more negatively toward the ads.
This study investigates Egyptian consumers’ attitudes towards surrealism in advertising held by a sample of 976 participants. An experimental approach was taken to establish the interaction between Surreal advertisements and product category attitudes. This interaction was found to be statistically significant. A 2 × 2 anova was conducted to evaluate the effect of sex on attitudes towards surrealism in advertising. The results indicated a significant interaction between advertisement type and sex. However, the impact of surrealism in advertisements on persuasion, as measured by consumers’ attitudes towards the advertisement and brand, was not found to be moderated by consumers’ social class/income. These results lend strong support to the advertisement adaptation hypothesis and suggest that advertisements produced in one country cannot be standardized or directly translated for use in another, particularly if they are culturally different.
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