AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Advertisers can develop more effective communication strategies by selecting the best "who" to present messages. In Lasswell's model of the communication process (1948), the firm itself is the ultimate sender of messages -- the answer to the question, "Who says so?" (Haas 1981; McConkey 1958). Yet as an organizational entity -- a collective of humans, machines, and money -- a firm is not able to "speak" directly to the public (Ong 1962). One way in which a firm can speak is through its advertisements, and the study of visible presenters, often celebrities, has received research attention (see McCracken 1989). However, since only about one-third of television ads and one-fourth of print ads (McCracken 1989; Rossiter and Percy 1987) make use of celebrity presenters, advertising's "who" requires further examination as a conceptual as well as a physical entity.
Recent identification of the presenter as a ubiquitous construct in advertisements -- even those without visible spokespersons -- suggests that such examination has already begun (Rossiter and Percy 1987). However, full consideration of the structural differences among advertising's presenter types has not yet occurred, for at present, no theory accounts for the majority of commercial messages that do not employ a visible presenter. Any such theory has to account for effects that stem not simply from the physical attributes of the visible spokesperson (who) or from the content of the advertisement (what), but also from the structural form that determines the message (how) (Stern 1989a, 1988a). The purpose of this paper is to begin to address the latter issue by drawing upon a framework from literary criticism (Stern 1989b) to present a theory of presentation styles. In this regard, literary criticism offers provocative conceptualizations that may be a source of hypotheses testable in advertising as well as in consumer research (Calder and Tybout 1987).
This paper begins its taxonomic mission by turning to the Aristotelian critical tradition (Fergusson 1961), whose goal of formulating broad laws of literature begins by first identifying its primary categories. Three major categories -- poetry, drama, and the novel -- are the major genres found in most modern literary taxonomies. These are treated, respectively, in the sub-disciplines of poetics, dramaturgy, and narratology. We borrow from Frye's great integrative work on the theory of genres (1973) to develop an analogous classification scheme for advertisements. Following literary precedent, advertisements are divided into three broad categories parallel to the major literary genres. The categories are distinguished by means of what Frye calls the "radical of presentation" (1973, p. 247).
The trichotomous classification scheme (see Abrams 1988) relying on differences among types of presenters is summarized briefly, with literary antecedents in parentheses, as follows. The first-person narrator is the presenter of his/her own story (lyric poetry); the third-person narrator is the presenter of a story about others (the novel); and the absent narrator is replaced by characters who present their own stories by means of speech and interaction (drama). The relevance of this classification scheme to advertising rests on the important but under-researched concept that an advertisement, like a work of literature, can utilize a variety of formal means to impart the same theme. By adapting literary theory to focus on the formal properties of the presenter we can begin to develop a theory of advertising presenters and imputed message effects whose principles will apply to the entire corpus of forms (see Wells 1989) across the range of media.
Choices about different modes of presentation must be made by advertising creatives, who, like other authors, are faced with the practical problem of how a story gets told. Since literary theory, especially narratology, deals with techniques of story-telling, it offers insights into the art of narrative structure beyond those found in communication theory. The latter has developed a model of source/message effects based on everyday language rather than on artistically created text (Straus 1987). While the basic functions of ordinary and creative communication are similar (Greimas 1971), the domain of fiction (art) differs from that of fact (life) in that narrative techniques -- the ways of telling a story -- are more complex (see Martin 1986, p. 154). Since advertising shares structural affinities with literary art, we propose narratology theory as a relevant resource enabling the researcher to focus on issues of the form of presentation that are not dealt with in communication theory.
This paper's adaptation of a literary taxonomy (Frye 1973) thus sets out to clarify distinctions among presenters by applying what we know about the fictional "who" to advertising text. Categorization of literary presenters is made on the basis of point of view, defined in modern narratology theory as "the way a story gets told -- the perspective established by an author by means of which the reader is presented with the characters, actions, setting, and events which constitute the narrative" (Abrams 1988, p. 141). The paper follows the distinction previously made in advertising research between lecture and drama (Wells 1989) by accepting the two categories of lecture (a narrator is present) and drama (a narrator is absent). The parallel literary distinction is found in Barthes's conceptualization (1966) of the absent dramatist (s/he leaves the audience to infer meaning on its own) versus the present narrator (s/he guides the audience by speaking directly to it).
However, our paper moves beyond the dichotomous lecture/drama opposition further into the domain of poetics and narratology theory (Martin 1986) so that hitherto unnoticed relationships may be explored. To do so, a trichotomous scheme is proposed for advertising, in order to account for distinctions between first-person and third-person narration, as well as those between narrated and dramatic (non-narrated) characterization. The paper begins with a discussion of each presenter type in detail, using advertising examples. It then presents advertising consequences in terms of media choice, message strategy, and overall communication objective and offers suggestions for further research on hybrid and parody narrative forms. One limitation of a paper that depends on literary theory -- a discipline concerned with classifying, analyzing, and interpreting works of literature (Abrams 1988) rather than with empirical support -- is that audience effects can only be imputed. Another limitation is that literary criticism excludes modes of presentation found in predominantly visual or musical advertisements, better left for researchers more familiar with music or art theory.
Form and Function of the Presenter: Who
A number of disciplines have developed frameworks to study various aspects of the presenter, and concepts useful to marketers have been drawn from rhetoric (Deighton 1985; Deighton, Romer, and McQueen 1989), psychology (Allport 1937), philosophy and speech act theory (Austin 1978; Pratt 1977; Searle 1969, 1979), communication (Fisher 1984), social psychology (see McCracken 1989 for review), and semiotics (Mick 1987). Most modern critics accept the concept that either a narrator (Booth 1983) or a character in a drama utters the words in a text (Eliot 1957). While many terms have been devised for the presenter (see Martin 1986), we follow tradition and borrow two-- "narrator" and "character" -- in common usage. The first is taken from narratology theory (Booth 1983; Chatman 1978), especially that of recent structuralist and semiotic …