Open versus closed advertising texts and interpretive communities

Natalia Yannopoulou
University of Warwick

Richard Elliott
University of Bath


There has been a noticeable shift in print advertisements from functional to symbolic approaches as the use of rhetorical style in magazine advertisements has grown progressively more complex and elaborated over time. Whereas advertisements from the 1950s used only one rhetorical figure and explained it in words, advertisements from later time periods tend to use unanchored rhetorical figures and layer them more thickly (Phillips & McQuarrie 2002). Advertisers appear to have assumed a greater degree of competency with respect to consumers' ability to read and understand rhetorical figures and other stylistic devices, and as a result have developed an increasing preference for figures that will be likely to evoke elaboration on the part of consumers (O'Donohoe 2001). Thus, they have moved from telling consumers how to interpret rhetorical figures to showing them the figures and leaving the interpretation up to them. Consequently the interpretation of brands and marketing communication has become extremely challenging, mainly due to the plethora of available cultural meanings and interpretive perspectives in combination with the instability of social categories (Firat & Venkatesh 1995; Holt 2002; Kates 2002). As there have been few studies that have explored real consumers' interpretations of advertising texts, the aim of this paper is to examine print advertising interpretation by different interpretive communities in order to establish empirically how audiences interpret open and closed advertising texts.