Curious and interesting

Research that captures how pictures persuade people

Joelena Leader

Barb PhillipsDr. Barbara Phillips, Edwards School of Business Marketing Professor and Rawlco Editor, researches visual images in advertising and how they communicate with the consumer. More specifically, her research asks, “How do pictures communicate with and persuade people?” The main off-shoots of her work revolve around spokes-characters, fashion, picture puzzles and visual brand images. According to Phillips, persuasion goes beyond simply advertising, encompassing many other aspects from logos to culture and their changes over time, to physical goods, services, and even social goods. 

What she found so fascinating and continues to drive her work forward in this creative and interesting field, are the many unanswered questions. Much of her motivation is to better understand the unknown and find answers to complex questions that have not yet been explored such as spokes-characters and rhetoric in visual branding.

For instance, within the area of visual branding, Phillips asks, “how much can you bend or change a visual brand before people no longer associate that advertisement with the brand?” In her book, Visual Branding: A Rhetorical and Historical Analysis, Phillips pulls together analyses of logos, typeface, color, and pictures to explain how visual devices are used in advertising and branding. “These devices are placed within a historical context, covering the 120-year period since brand advertising first took modern form,” said Phillips. She shared that, “this book includes copious real-life examples to illustrate how visual devices in branding have evolved and explains how historical and rhetorical perspectives on visual branding can contribute new insights for marketers.”Barb Phillips Visual Branding

Most recently, Phillips has been tackling important questions surrounding the use of death in advertising – an area of research that has not yet been studied in her field. Her work sheds light on a theme that is currently condemned as taboo in the field of marketing. While this research is currently in progress, she is quickly uncovering interesting findings that counter that perception. There has been a number of positive reactions to death-themed advertising among the different aged participants she is interviewing in response to “death ads” as part of her qualitative research study. Counter to popular belief; she is learning that death is not necessarily taboo in advertising, although can be done better. This work will continue to test perceptions to better understand the interplay between social norms and the appropriateness of death ads.

Phillips and co-authors Jane Caulfield and Michelle Day currently have an academic article under peer review for publication highlighting this research. This important work was also recently featured in a Globe and Mail article entitled "Death is not always deadly in advertising."Artist: Stephanie Mah, Designer: Cody Schumacher

Dr. Phillips also recently accepted the position as Editor-in-Chief for the Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising, which will officially start January 2019. In this role, she plans to uniquely draw in readers through the creation of two-minute podcasts under the title “Curious and Interesting” to highlight published papers in plain language for a broader readership.

For more information about Dr. Barbara Phillips’ research, check out her faculty profile page.

Phillips, Barbara J., Jennifer R. Sedgewick, and Adam D. Slobodzian (2018), “Spokes-Characters in Print  Advertising: An Update and Extension,” Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising, forthcoming.

Phillips, Barbara J. and Dionne Pohler (2018), “Images of Union Renewal: A Content Analysis of Union Print Advertising,” Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, forthcoming.

Hess, Brooklyn and Barbara J. Phillips (2018), “Exploring Advertising Equity in Fashion Advertising,” Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising, forthcoming.

Phillips, Barbara J. (2017), “Consumer Imagination in Marketing: A Theoretical Framework,” European Journal of Marketing, 51 (11/12), 2138-55.





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