My initial responses to the article by Gui Bonsiepe (p.17 of the Rhetoric pdf). First published in 1957, then revised ‘and sharpen’ his text for an American audience in 1966. Bonsiepe and Tomas Maldonado were considered to be some of the pioneers to incorporate semantics to design, and moreover, how this relates to advertising and communicative design.

Bonsiepe compares ancient and modern rhetoric, how ancient Greeks regarded ‘the art of eloquence’ primarily to politicians, lawyers and priests as it was them who needed to force a decision/reaction/opinion onto others. Now, it is clear why rhetoric heavily influences advertising and marketing through its modern definition ‘the art of persuasion’, in other words ‘to shape opinions’.

It is important to note, as Rick Poynor mentions in the introductory paragraph to the article, ‘the notion of impartial objectivity is consequently a myth’; one cannot use rhetoric without being unbiased. This is the nature of marketing and advertising, what is the purpose of an advert if it does not steer the audience in one way or another? Can one communicate without influencing others (examples of such include ‘logarithm tables, timetables, and telephone hooks’? An advert may present both sides of an argument and appear as “neutral” but still invokes an opinion on the matter.

Bonsiepe goes on to develop the meaning of modern rhetoric which no longer focuses just on language but regards verbal and visual stimuli. He also reduces the components of classical rhetoric into two basic types of rhetorical figures: syntactic and semantic. One deals with the shape and sign arrangement, the other with meaning. This is only to analyse advertising information but reflectively the components that predominantly affects our modern culture.

A key quote from his article:

It is the usage among philosophers of language to contrast persuasion with information, opinion- shaping with documentation and instruction, and everyday speech with scientific language. In the eyes of orthodox representatives of a purified and unambiguous language, rhetoric is merely a handbook of verbal tricks, unworthy of the true scientist.

But Bonsiepe argues that as soon as a designer begins to work with “pure” information, it is already ‘infiltrated’ with rhetoric, it becomes ‘addressed information’. The associations attached to the manipulative nature of advertising, by this definition, is similar to the role of a visual designer. When did it become a negative thing to be associated to advertising? A designer advertises themselves as freelancers to agencies yet wish to ‘dissemble itself’ from the very activity they cannot do without.

It is interesting that visual rhetoric was in its infancy in the 1960s, it is hard to imagine forms of effective communication without visual/verbal combinations. How has this interplay developed through history? Has it become more subtle or dramatic? Or is there a third form of rhetoric that is incorporated into advertising? Sound? Motion? Does social interactivity count as a rhetoric tool?

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