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The Principles of Rhetoric in Media


All forms of media, including their written and visual variants, are used to relay messages. Be it a single individual, a group, or an entire community, various forms of media can be used to transfer information from one party to another. However, it should be noted that any form of information must first be organized and packaged in a certain way to transfer it over the means of media. Practically, people call that process constructing a message. Each message has its distinct structure and can be analyzed by understanding that structure. Additionally, the encoded information contained within constructed messages is rhetorical in nature, meaning that it is a form of communication designed to convince others.

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Rhetoric, as a philosophical term, refers to a skill or an ability to present information in a way most suitable for convincing other people and making one’s words hold social meaning. A number of philosophers tried to understand, codify, and discuss the topic of effective rhetoric, including such figures as Aristotle and Cicero. The former of the two is seen as the founder of the current understanding of good rhetoric, using the principles of logos, pathos, and ethos to establish the most important considerations in one’s speech. Similarly, the latter is credited for the distinction between 5 particular parts of rhetoric itself (Pudewa). These five principles, namely invention, arrangement, style, delivery, and memory, can be used to effectively identify a structure of a media message.

Visual media use evocative, appropriate, and deliberate construction to more quickly and effectively translate their messages. This can be most clearly seen in analyzing advertisements, as they use the media as a vehicle for selling products. By taking advantage of the five canons of media structure, messages are made to be as memorable and noticeable as possible. For the purposes of this analysis, a specific piece of advertisement will be used, in particular, an ad for the FEED brand of handbags. This review will discuss all of the principles of rhetoric in regard to a specific example and cite appropriate evidence when needed.



The first canon of the five is an invention, and it pertains to the ability to construct a cohesive and convincing argument. A particular idea is presented while being supported by a rationale or evidence to make it more understandable to the viewer. The invention is the first canon of rhetoric and the central piece upon which all others are built (Pudewa, 2017). The important consideration in this part is defining an audience. The process of choosing and narrowing down a particular group of people can help the message to feel more impactful and pointed, as well as informing its main sentiments in many cases. When a particular group is chosen as a target of a message, facts or information most relevant to that group will be chosen as the prime part of the message, in turn increasing its outreach and the ability to connect with an audience.

In the case of the particular advertisement in question, the process of establishing an argument is done through the headline combined with the following text. The words “Bags with a mission for women on a mission” state the purpose and utility of the product, while the text following them clarifies the kind of “mission” the organization selling them has. The information presented establishes a claim and then follows it up with elaboration and justification of its words.

The process of identifying and appealing to an audience is similarly accomplished with the use of the leading phrase. The target demographic for the ad is stated upfront to be women “on a mission.” In this particular case, the phrase can mean both women that are active in social causes and those leading a busy life, as it serves both the role of an indicator and a uniting message. Historically, advertisements focusing on the personal qualities of women, particularly those that are considered to be professional, tend to be effective, as seen with such products as cigarettes (Anderson). By positioning the product as designed for busy and involved women, the ad makes it feel more necessary and important to their success.


The arrangement is the second canon of messaging that will be discussed. The arrangement, as can be surmised from its name, means the process of organizing and visually presenting a message. The arrangement of elements on a page and the decisions to add visual flair or call attention to specific aspects of the narrative all of these elements create a sense of hierarchy and order in the presentation of the subject.

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In the case of the advertisement discussed, the visuals are striking and simple. Most of the space is occupied by a big image and a single phrase, which immediately makes the main focus of the ad appears. The message is aimed at selling a product, and it wears its purpose on its sleeve. Similarly, the big lettering helps the text to be legible and easily readable, making it the first big of information that catches a reader’s attention. Research notes that viewers’ positive first impression of a visual piece of media negatively correlates with its visual complexity, making simple images with a smaller amount of text more appealing (Tuch et al.). The additional text is provided to clue interested viewers in a while also providing minimal visual information to the ad. This helps to make the image appear simpler and put emphasis on the most eye-catching parts.


The next and third canon of effective messaging is style, and it relates to a variety of choices regarding the presentation of information. For a particular message to be impactful while also having the ability to clearly state its points and be understood, it must be presented in an appropriate style. Style pertains to a combination of characteristics that make up the visual appearance of an object. Deliberate choices are taken to create a particular appearance, one that is able to both evoke an emotional response from the audience and convince them of the message. Various key concepts of design are used to deliver a message in a way most adequately fitting for the message. Aesthetic choices are made to better convey emotions and moods while typesetting and the overall color coordination of the image help it be in line with the message contained within.

In the case of this particular ad, the colors chosen are natural and calm, grounding it in the objective world people live in. This helps the advertisement stay relatable and be taken seriously by its audience. Additionally, the use of the image is also deliberate. In general, images are used in the advertisement as a visual shorthand, a way of conveying information quickly and concisely. A woman holding a bag both displays the product and reinforces an intended audience while additionally making the ad more relatable (Kumar and Gupta). Talking about the more general sense of using photos in the advertisement, the practice can be used to make a message feel less cluttered while also helping the audience associate the information with its visual companion. In terms of font and typesetting, the work uses straight, bold, large letters to its advantage.

Generally, the type of lettering used can determine the impact a piece of text makes, as well as its tone of conveying a message. Depending on the nature of the information conveyed, a more informal-looking writing style can be preferable in many cases. In the ad discussed, the topic of discussion is both the message of social change and an advertisement for a brand. The text seeks to convince its audience of the particular unique qualities its products have, using text that makes a large first impression. Additionally, the use of straight letters helps to make the statement feel emotionally strong, which further reinforces its appeal to busy women. The key sentence of the ad is presented as a statement of importance, one that is said in a strong and deliberate manner. The font helps to create a more serious tone while also sounding authoritative.


The fourth canon is delivery, which is both similar and different to style in most of its aspects. While the latter determines particular aesthetic choices, the former is responsible for the form these aesthetic choices take. This can mean determining a level of representation for a concept, its execution, or the specific aspects that are highlighted. For example, both illustrative and photographic works can be used as a visual aid in messaging, but their use creates a wildly different impression on the viewer and requires further coordination with the rest of the work to be fully complete. Furthermore, the process of deciding on a style’s delivery is what finally decides how effective a message is.

No matter how good an initial idea or concept is, if the execution is lacking or inappropriate, a message will not be understood. In the case of the FEED ad, its creators chose to use a photographic representation as the main focus. This choice is deliberate, seeing the size of the image and its prevalence in the ad. Furthermore, the use of a real image meshes well with the product advertised, as the company has an opportunity to present its bags in an upfront and honest fashion. The use of professional photography is especially important to marketing and brand image, as it directly promotes a product using its inherent visual qualities and makes it more recognizable to the audience. In this ad, the idea of bags for women on a mission is immediately connected with the visual of a FEED bad, cementing it in the mind of the consumer.


Memory is the last and final canon of the five canons of rhetoric, and it must be touched upon to fully cover the topic. Memory plays an integral part in messaging, as it helps connects the new information with the variety of old information possessed by the audience. Additionally, it helps people to remember the message they see and determines how they remember it. In the process of rooting one’s message in its audiences’ heads, using emotions as an anchor is most needed. Emotional reactions can often elicit the strongest memories and using feelings of joy, sadness, and even anger can be effective in getting information across. In the case of the bag advertisement, an appeal to the prior experience of women is made, making them think about the product and its appeal. Oftentimes, using memories and emotions connected to them can be the strongest tool advertisers have, and its utilization has been cemented in the industry as effective and necessary (Brandt). Furthermore, the promise of helping people in need that is contained in the text elicits feelings of compassion, righteousness, and happiness from most individuals, helping an idea of FEED bags inside the audience’s head.

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In conclusion, the present review has shown and identified that rhetorical tools are used in constructed messages as a way of making them more pointed, impactful, and outreaching. All messages transferred through media are using rhetoric to find the best way to be understood. Smart use of all the five canons of rhetoric, then, can maximally enhance the qualities of a message and ensure that it is appropriate for a particular type of people. The utilization of argumentation, coloring, blocking, focus, design, emotional and rational appeals, and others are applied as a way to direct information to its intended audience. The use of these tools helps enhance the inherent qualities of information and products, making them remain in the minds of people for as long as possible. Such concepts are oftentimes most prominently applied in the advertisement, where they serve the purpose of selling a service or product.

Works Cited

Anderson, S J. “Emotions for Sale: Cigarette Advertising and Women’s Psychosocial Needs.” Tobacco Control, vol. 14, no. 2, 2005, pp. 127–135.

Brandt, David. “Understanding Memory in Advertising.” Nielsen, Web.

Kumar, V., and Shaphali Gupta. “Conceptualizing the Evolution and Future of Advertising.” Journal of Advertising, vol. 45, no. 3, 2016, pp. 302–317.

Nesbitt, Morgan. “Why Product Photography Is Important to Your Business.” Medium, Medium, 2020, Web.

Pudewa, Andrew. “The 5 Canons of Rhetoric.” Memoria Press, 2017, Web.

Tuch, Alexandre N., et al. “The Role of Visual Complexity and Prototypicality Regarding First Impression of Websites: Working Towards Understanding Aesthetic Judgments.” International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, vol. 70, no. 11, 2012, pp. 794–811. Web.

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