What roles do aesthetic categories play in advertising imagery? How does aesthetic communication affect advertising? In light of such questions, this paper aims to point out the importance of aesthetic communication in advertising. It set off from a contextual discussion on the particularities of aesthetic communication in advertising imagery. Next, it elucidates the conceptual frame of such advertising component. To further highlight the aesthetic communication functions, this paper proceeds to revealing the primary aesthetic categoriesspecific to advertising imagery. On the positive side, it points out the beauty, the sublime, the graciousness, the humour, the poetic etc. On the negative side, it reveals the ugliness, the grotesque, the monstrous etc. In the end, conclusive remarks reiterate the role of aesthetic communication in advertising.
Keywords: Aesthetic communicationadvertising imageryaesthetic categories
In this paper we aim to develop an interdisciplinary exploratory research regarding the role of
aesthetic communication in advertising. For this purpose we use qualitative research methods specific
for aesthetics, advertising design and communication studies, consisting of participant observation,
content analysis and interpretation of offline and online advertising imagery. Our research will begin
by highlight the conceptual frame and the specific of aesthetic communication in advertising imagery,
further it will discuss the related aesthetic categories, and finally it will underlining some conclusions.
The scientific relevance of the approached subject consist in the increasing importance of the
aesthetic components in advertising imagery of the recent years, contributing to the success and
effectiveness of an advertisement. Furthermore, the aesthetic and stylistic components of advertising
ensure the difference between qualitative advertising images and ordinary or kitsch advertising images,
their correct application being a key requirement for the advertising design. Thus, to get an audience to
pay attention and interest, advertising should deliver a coherent and pertinent message. It should also
be aesthetically appealing. Its aesthetic dimension, design originality, and stylistic value may contribute
to the practical efficiency of advertising. Such factors define inasmuch as they inform. In our opinion,
besides the purely aesthetic value which convey innovative graphics and original design, aesthetic
aspects entail a communication function associated to the symbolic reference which gets displayed on
the structural-formal and compositional organisational levels of the advertising. Thus, the higher the
symbolic and aesthetic codifications are, the more complex the advertising message is. A visual
message conveyed through artistic language makes advertising communication efficient (Bonaiuto,
Giannini & Chiodetti, 2001). It complements the verbal language and the accompanying audio tracks
of the advertising.
Aesthetic communication in advertising imagery
Besides the representational depiction of signs, we are also able to distinguish different aesthetic
components of the advertising imagery such as form, composition, texture, chromatic palette. The
graphic design of the advertising imagery requires artistic creativity and originality. Under a structural
aspect, the design of the advertising imagery abides by a series of aesthetic principles: order,
proportion, ratio, equivalence, size, unity, variety etc. (Vit & Gomez-Palacio, 2012, pp. 34-38). Along
these mentioned components, aesthetic communication in advertising involves applying aesthetically
specific values, shapes and categories. These relay a pleasing and at the same time high-end quality
aspect. Though, the advertising imagery must definitely not remain a pure aesthetic object, its practical
value being validated by its capacity to capture audiences interest. To be able to represent a product
when discussing the advertising imagery, numerous aesthetic issues must be considered, aspects that
are not always familiar to the general audience, but which reacts when it receives them.
A successful advertising imagery, from the aesthetic point of view, will capture audience attention
with its form and content. Thus, the content of the advertising imagery is relevant for the sent message,
object or product it advertises for, encoding more or less complex significations, as social, economic,
political, religious etc. The image’s content is more often symbolically moulded in accordance with the
aesthetic vision of the creative team; it’s symbolic dimension, alongside the aesthetic one, manifests a
psychological impact on the audience (Wozniak, Budelman & Kim, 2010, p. 43). The shape of the
advertising image fulfils the role of visually externalizing the content aided by an ensemble of
techniques, processes and graphic means. The form is thus the expressive element that aesthetically
transfigures the content, attributing profile, and expressivity depending upon different artistic means,
most notably being the style and the aesthetic categories. We surely find the form of the advertising
image, where the case may be, as being original, thus artistic expressive, pronouncedly recognizable,
spectacular, unique or it can be standard (easily mistaken for other shapes), expressionless, ordinary,
often incapable to be visually impressive. Even though, when the advertising imagery are, ultimately,
an industrial product, we find originality as the main factor that ensures visual identity, thus, at first
stage, the impact of advertising images are due to the aesthetic expressiveness of their.
The stylization of the advertising imagery entails structural moulding by means of specific artistic
expression in accordance with the general aesthetic vision of the creation team. From this point of
view, we can sustain, that regardless of its value or depiction, any advertising image is expressed
through artistic language, more or less standardized. The style of the imagery confers a tailored
attribute, distinct, unique, advancing the visual identity and recognition quality of the particular image
discussed. Originality in regards to design has the capability to become artistic imagery, expanding to
an metaphoric or symbolic representative quality, with aesthetic value (McNeil, 2010, p. 14). In this
context, the advertising imagery is engrafted from the aesthetic content of its components, expressed in
various artistic styles specific for fine art (Hetsroni & Tukachinsky, 2005) with re-designated and re-
The aesthetic of the advertising imagery must consider a complete series of ground principles of
design regarding compositional elements, the most important being (McNeil, 2010, p. 14-15): the unity
of the image; the harmony, the compatibility, and the succession arrangement of its elements; the
accent, regularly focusing in on a particular element, privileging its depiction compared to the whole of
the other elements, and it can be, for instance, a particular character, an object, a colour. We can also
mention: the contrast and the variety of dimensions, shapes and colours that confer particularity; the
equilibrium, namely equally sized and shaped elements on both sides of the image; the colour,
necessary to lift and highlight certain elements or products, the capture and guide attention, unleashing
emotiveness, able to communicate a defined state; the background and the spaces, which are basic
instruments in creating an impactful layout. Accompanying these elements, we further add: the format,
overlap of layers on the image to highlight essential information, the use of zooming techniques to
avoid losing the panoramic effect in advertisements, stationary photography or frames, ensuring image
Visual techniques, moreover, represent a merge of diverse and different percentage of these
elements and seldom prove to be found in a singular depiction in the aesthetic of the advertising
imagery. Furthermore, when discussing the basal aesthetic components of the advertising imagery, we
need to underline (Vit & Gomez-Palacio, 2012, pp. 34-38): surface graphics, sizing, profiling, partition,
media texture, pictorial fields, printed photography, framing - varying according to the style used,
positioning or outlining, shooting angles and electing the objective - decisive in representing image
quality. We identify the usage of a multitude of visual aesthetic representations, the most notable being:
positioning and representation of the brand, of the slogan and of the title, typically found in the upper
register of the image; of the main body of the informative text; the graphics of the logo permissive to
be interpreted as signature of the advertising; figurative representations like objects, characters,
situations that outline the content.
Composition is one of the fundamental artistic instruments, proving an important role in orienting
the perception of the image; it must be constituted in such a manner to determine the receptor to select
the key information surfaces. G. Péninou, considering the reading paradigm, identifies four
configurations when discussing the advertising imagery (1983, pp. 185-212), the first two being:
“focused construction” (characteristic, colour, luminosity, drawing to eye to the strategic point of the
image); “axial construction” (main information body is placed in the centre of the image) and
“perspective construction” (perspective décor, the foreground presents the central element). The other
two consist of: “sequential construction” (sequentially canvasing the image, conclusively, the focus
centres on the main idea, more often we encounter a Z formation, flowing from the upper left to the
upper right to ascend on lower left and product presentation lower right) (Péninou, 1983).
According to Alain Joannes (2009, p. 87), the image, depending on certain characteristics, is able to
convey different emotional messages to the receptor. Thus, the vast “size” of the image can generate a
control, domination impression, in opposition, a small scale image creates an intimacy, proximity,
safety but at the same time demure impression. The “luminosity” of the image, an essential
characteristic, is able to spontaneously capture attention, but also conceivable complex associations in
the receptor’s mind, signifying knowledge, mystery etc. The “composition”, if too dynamic, clustered,
detail-heavy determines a suffocating impression, opposed to vertical lines used to convey stability but
also rigidity. “Texture” in imagery, expresses the realism or idealism degree. A fundamental place and
role we find for colours as well when discussing the configuration of the image, their psychological and
physiologic effects being multiple. The entirety of these characteristics are contoured by different
aesthetic mouldings. The emotional content of advertisement imagery in divers, able to determine
positive as much as negative emotions (Bonaiuto, Giannini & Chiodetti, 2001), alongside each other
we mention happiness, enthusiasm, nervousness, discouragement, disgust, phobia, fear etc.
An advertising image that lifts itself aesthetically has a strong visual identity, captures attention and
facilitates recognition (Hirschman, 1986), whilst a superficial or improper image can bring about a
rejection attitude. Thus, aesthetic communication in advertising offers indirect clues regarding the
specificity of the product and contributes to create a first impression, able to negatively or positively
influence the subsequent perception at the audience level.
Discussion: Aesthetic categories specific to advertising imagery
Aesthetic categories are notions of maximal coverage applicable in characterizing the artistic but as
much the extra-aesthetic field; these categories cannot adequately be defined, however we all perceive
them (Achiţei, 1988, p. 93). Though, aesthetic categories have and adjectival origin, representing
essential or specific qualities of the aesthetic object form, in our case, the advertising imagery,
conveying a certain structure, representation, dimension, volume, colour etc., being concurrently the launching element of aesthetic attitude. In regards to the later, aesthetic categories designate the
conceptual apparatus identified a judgment of taste predication. Therefore, aesthetic categories present
a dual nature, defined by factual objectiveness (referring to a fact, situation, character, object etc.) but
also a conceptual and idealistic value, able to allude, in a metaphoric manner, to indirect significations
observed by means of aesthetic sensitivity. Except the beauty, the aesthetic category par excellence, the
other categories represent the transfer of notions from different fields into the aesthetic sphere. For
instance, the sublime is taken from religion and ethics, the tragic and absurd from philosophy.
Inoculating of the aesthetic categories at an advertising image and the reception of them are
conditioned by numerous factors regarding the audience: age, lifestyle, culture, artistic education,
mentality, state of mind, acknowledged values, socio-economic factors etc. (Achiţei, 1988, p. 90).
The beauty is the main aesthetic category, the other categories representing variants of it: the
positive or preponderantly positive ones, as the graciousness, the sublime, the poetic, the humor, the
heroism etc., accompanied by the negative or preponderantly negative ones, as the ugliness, the bizarre,
the obscene, the grotesque, the horror, or the neutral ones, as the agreeable or the interesting. We
manage to find these aesthetic categories in advertising adapted for each of its dimensions: textual,
auditory, visual. Certainly, here we are concerned only with the visual dimension of the aesthetic
categories specific to advertising imagery. We mention that these aesthetic categories are never to be
found in their pure depiction or isolated in the advertising imagery, a certain aesthetic category being
associated in cases with other categories. As an example, the beauty can be complemented by elements
of the poetic, of the interesting or of the pathetic. The tragic, the humour, the sublime, the ugliness, the
absurd are also candidates for a dose of the pathetic. In equal measure, they determine different
amounts and degrees, sometimes discrete, restrained, other times exuberant or even ostentatious. Each
category is perceived in a different manner, thus distinguishing between the beauty, the tragic or the
sublime emotion in an advertising image.
Specialist literature falls often times in methodical difficulty to accurately define the aesthetic
categories. In the following lines, we shall nevertheless intend to offer a synthetic approximation of
their specific (Achiţei, 1988; Scruton, 2011) with reference to advertising imagery:
determination, splendor, glow, harmony, shape balance and equilibrium, symmetry, proportion,
synthesis between spiritual and material, external-internal synthesis, quality in general, (Moutsopoulos,
1976, pp. 37-38; Solomon, Ashmore & Longo, 1992). Advertising imagery specific beauty main
variants are: the marvelous, depicting miracles put into fruition by means of otherworldly forces; the
pretty or the cute, meaning ambiguous attributes of beauty, not capable of revealing its beauty
attributes convincingly enough; the picturesque, more specific for natural beauty, expressing the nature
in advertising imagery by harmonious and balanced shaper. We can also mention as variants of beauty:
the idyllic (shapes inducing an emotional ideal of happiness), the miraculous, the enchanting, the
magical (advertising imagery often times specifically renders an ideal world, an edenic, fairy-tale or
characterized by elongated continuity of graphic trajectories. Of substantial value in this part we accent the tempo of graciousness, situated between the exaggerated slowing down (affection, preciousness)
and exuberant precipitation (Moutsopoulos, 1976, p. 52). The most importnat variants of the
gratiousness in advertising imagery are: finesse, delicate, suave, diaphanous, tenderness, frail,
slenderness (for instance, often depicted in perfume advertising imagery).
metaphorical or allusive depiction of emotional significance expressing exuberance, happiness,
freedom, innocence, tenderness. In a wide sense, the poetic confers plastic expressiveness to
advertising imagery, connected to the actual aesthetic and style specific.
and provoke strong emotions. It offers and conveys an ostentatious expressivity in advertising imagery,
generating a state of enthusiasm (occasionally false) articulated with grandiloquence.
known and the unknown are expressed, its appearance and essence, of the new and novel” (Achiţei,
1988, p. 118), intending to rouse audience perception and interest, potentiating the appreciative
attitude. Regarding the shape and content in advertising imagery, the interesting manifests as a refusal
of monotony, platitude, and ordinary.
enchanting without reaching deeper areas of perception, For example, we can certainly identify
agreeable colours, faces or characters in the advertising imagery.
grandeur, exaltation, the grand and the powerful in an extended sense, dynamic state (in advertisement
imagery often being associated with nature), virtue, shape simplicity, shape amplitude (Moutsopoulos,
1976, pp. 44-45). Also associated with the concept of the absolute and moral or religious values, thus
archetypes, more specifically the ones associated with the sacred, are more often represented through
the discussed aesthetic category on the advertising imagery level. Variants of the sublime that appear
often in advertising are: the momentary, the stately, the heroic, the magnificent, the solemn, the
admirable, the luxurious.
and ethical resonance, depicting the disappearance or destruction of certain human or non-human
values and ideals “which yet have not depleted their potential resources” (Achiţei, 1988, p. 149). Tragic
expresses conflict, instability and antinomical situations. It is present in numerous advertising images
associated with campaigns against discrimination, domestic violence, child abuse, smoking etc. As
variations of the tragic, we mention the dramatic and the melodramatic. The dramatic depicts an
conflictual state or value, not necessarily on the verge of extinction, for instance advertising images
used in environmental awareness campaigns. The melodramatic in advertising imagery express human
problems in exaggerated emotional manner, sometimes with false pathos, for example when depicting
the social status or role of different categories of the population, as unemployed, homemakers,
the phenomena that arouse laughter as a result of dissonance or inadequacy between two aspects: appearance-essence, whole-part, form-content, value-non-value, and means-end. The advertising
imagery often makes use of the humour depicted as situational or character comedy. As manifestations
of the humour in advertising imagery we mention: the funny, the ironic, the amusing, the ridiculous,
the sarcasm, the satirical, the zany, the parodic and the tragic-comical (ambiguity of tragic and comical
relation), also the silliness (Catanescu & Tom, 2001). As a graphic configuration, we notice the
encounter of comics, cartoons and caricatures in the advertising images, used for humour effect created
by referring to a specific physical or behavioural trait of a person (for instance, oversizing or
considerably diminishing physiological details, amplifying unnatural human inter-relationships). In
advertising, the referral to the humour is a recurrent practice, besides its aesthetic value, being a
cultural and social construction (Gulas & Weinberger, 2006, p. 125).
paradoxical, antinomical situations, the illogical but also the alienation, feebleness, agony, the
irrational. For example, advertising campaigns against discrimination or violence of any type regularly
depict images of absurd situations.
acknowledged as aesthetic category opposed to the beauty and different form the paraesthetic and
kitsch. Being one of the hardest categories to define, the ugliness can be depicted as negating any of the
valences of beauty (Moutsopoulos, 1976, p. 41-42). Generally, the aesthetic representation of the ugly
brings the absence of balance and equilibrium, lack of shape integrity, also negative traits in people,
mentalities and attitudes, often being related with ethical values. It is important to mention, when
looking at the advertising imagery, that the ugly here does not mean lack of aesthetic expressiveness,
but quite the opposite, a shocking expressivity, out of the ordinary, disregarding and rejecting
standardized, official forms, being associated with a constructive criticism significations. Thus,
unconventional advertising contains images determined by this aesthetic category, also worth
mentioning are the environmental awareness advertising campaigns that illustrated images of pollution.
The advertising imagery also offers aesthetic categories inclined with negative signification, more or
less pronounced: the banal (in opposition to the pathetic, representing dull, boring shapes which do not
bother but alike do not delight), the bizarre (withdrawal from mundane principles), the vetust
(depicting forms that do not actively partake in the active aesthetic times). Other negative aesthetic
categories in advertising imagery are: the trivial, the obscene, the grotesque (in opposition to the
sublime, expressing both, the moral and physical ugliness, disproportionate situations and finally also
ridiculing ideals), the horror, the monstrous, the garish. We often encounter these categories being
utilised in the design of advertising imagery with a violent expressiveness of form and content, highly
impactful on the audience, aiming to shock in order to capture attention. The adherence to certain
aesthetic norms, values and conventions alongside the representation techniques of these aesthetic
categories in advertising imagery define the factor that differentiates them from the paraesthetic
The starting principle in applying aesthetic categories to the advertising imagery is that specifically,
this type of visual communication must be conceived as targeting a wide variety of audiences, with
different aesthetic taste and education. In advertising imagery, the role of aesthetic communication,
mediated by aesthetic forms, values, and categories, consists not only in configuration of a specific
disposition of the audience. Aesthetic communication in advertising imagery is complementing the
message transmission function and can configure aesthetic emotions and occurrences. We can sustain
that, originality, stylistic quality and artistic expressiveness of the advertising imagery are due to
exactly the applying of demarcated aesthetic values and categories. The remaining components of
advertising, as verbal language, slogan, sounds, are certainly as important, and adjoin the harmonious
junction of these components to optimise the performance and reception of the message, but this aspect
was not the objective of this study. Originally designed advertising imagery, presenting unique
aesthetic attributes is perfectly suited to capture interest and attention, rapidly communicating pertinent
information. The aesthetic components are decisive in this aspect; semantic valences of the imagery
with aesthetic value being able to positively determinate the audience attention. In order to be both
expressive and successful, the advertisement imagery must not only convey information, but define an
aesthetic function, and determine a positive reaction on the audience. Furthermore, when various
aspects of aesthetic communication are properly and correctly expressed in advertising imagery, they
can refine and expand aesthetic taste and order.
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04 October 2016
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Cite this article as:
Petrovici, I. (2016). The Role of Aesthetic Communication in Advertising. In A. Sandu, T. Ciulei, & A. Frunza (Eds.), Logos Universality Mentality Education Novelty, vol 15. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 748-755). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2016.09.95