BreMM19 | Stöckl

Hartmut Stöckl
Salzburg University | Salzburg, Austria

Pixel Surgery and the Doctored Image – The Argumentative Potential of Visual Compositing in Advertising

Recent work on multimodal argumentation (ROQUE 2017; BATEMAN 2018) has shown that, be­sides multimodal rhetorical figures (MCQUARRIE/MICK 2003; PHILLIPS/MCQUARRIE 2004; MULKEN 2006), argument construction also crucially relies on the nature of the visual image itself and its propo­sitional and rhetorical contributions (KJELDSEN 2012). In a study on argu­mentation in social ad­vertising (STÖCKL 2019), I was able to show that the second most fre­quently used type of image – in the sense of a generalized content and overall rhetorical technique – was a digitally manipu­lated, composite image fusing two or more recognizable ob­jects/image contents into a single uni­fied gestalt. I ar­gued that by presenting two visual image el­ements or propositions, this image type provides a rhetorically useful constellation that in itself possesses some argumentative force or can effectively be exploited in a multimodal argument.

Based on a compilation of 200 commercial advertising images that have been classified as high-quality visual art (LÜRZER’s INTERNATIONAL ARCHIVE 2019), I am seeking here to explore the ar­gumentative potentials of what in digital art (DAWBER 2005; BÜHLER/SCHLAICH/ SINNER 2017) has been called ‘compositing’ or ‘composing’. Firstly, this involves a concern with pictorial form i.e., the question of how such composite images are con­figured and produced, and which different rhetorical struc­tures they offer. Secondly, the enquiry attempts to link such emerging types of digital art with their rhetorical potentials for multimodal argumentation. This shifts the focus to the types of ar­guments (LEHN 2011: 163–184; JANICH 2013: 131–147) the vari­ous digital form manipulations facilitate, the kinds of text-image relations (BATEMAN 2014) these require and the overall rhetorical text structures (MANN/THOMPSON 1986, 1988) needed to embed the emerging arguments.

The study is a corpus-based qualitative sketch of the digitally doctored advertising image, aiming to shed light on the relation between pictorial form and rhetorical-semantic potential for constru­ing brand/product argumentation.


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BATEMAN, J. A. (2014): Text and Image. A Critical Introduction to the Visual/Verbal Divide. Abingdon/New York: Routledge.

BÜHLER, P. & SCHLAICH, P. & SINNER, D. (2017): Digitales Bild. Bildgestaltung – Bildbearbeitung – Bildtechnik. Berlin: Springer.

DAWBER, M. (2005): Pixel Surgeons: Extreme Manipulation of the Figure in Photography. London: Mitchell Beazley.

JANICH, N. (2013): Werbesprache. Ein Arbeitsbuch. 6. Auflage. Tübingen: Narr.

KJELDSEN, J.E. (2012): Pictorial Argumentation in Advertising. Visual Tropes and Figures as a Way of Creating Visual Argumentation. In: F.H. Eemeren & B. Garssen (eds.) Topical Themes in Argumentation Theory. Twenty Exploratory Studies. Heidelberg/London/New York: Springer, 239–255.

LEHN, Isabelle (2011): Rhetorik der Werbung. Grundzüge einer rhetorischen Werbetheorie. Konstanz: UVK.

LÜRZER’s INTERNATIONAL ARCHIVE (2019): 200 Best Digital Artists Worldwide. Wien: Lürzer’s Int’l Archive.

MANN, W.C & THOMPSON, S.A. (1986): Relational Propositions in Discourse. Discourse Processes 9 (1), 57–90.

MANN, W.C. & THOMPSON, S.A. (1988): Rhetorical Structure Theory: Toward a Functional Theory of Text Organi­zation, Text 8(3), 243–281.

MCQUARRIE, E.F. & MICK, D.G. (2003): Visual and Verbal Rhetorical Figures under Direct Processing versus In­cidental Exposure to Advertising. Journal of Consumer Research 29 (4), 579–587.

MULKEN, Margot van (2006): Towards a New Typology for Visual and Textual Rhetoric in Print Advertise­ments. European Advances in Consumer Research 7 (2006), 59–65.

PHILLIPS, B.J. & MCQUARRIE, E.F. (2004): Beyond Visual Metaphor: A New Typology of Visual Rhetoric in Ad­vertising. Marketing Theory 4/12 (2004), 113–136.

ROQUE, G. (2017): Rhetoric, Argumentation, and Persuasion in a Multimodal Perspective. In: A. Tseronis/C. Forceville (eds.) Multimodal Argumentation and Rhetoric in Media Genres. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 25–49.

STÖCKL, H. (2019): Rhetorik der Sozialen/Not-for-Profit Werbung. In: N. Janich/K.S. ROTH (eds.) Handbuch Wer­berhetorik. Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter, ohne Seiten.


Hartmut Stöckl is full professor of English and Applied Linguistics in the Department of English and American Studies at Salzburg University, Austria. His main research areas are in semiotics, media/text linguistics/stylistics, pragmatics and linguistic multimodality research. He is particularly interested in the linkage of language and image in modern media, typography and an aesthetic appreciation of advertising. Together with Helen Caple and Jana Pflaeging, he recently co-edited the volume Shifts towards Image-centricity in Contemporary Multimodal Practices (2020, Routledge).

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