I aimlessly scrolled through my newsfeed, scanning the latest political tweets dispersed between random thoughts from friends and blurbs from nonprofits and businesses. Video links from the latest episode of The Voice caught my eye — I wonder who made it through to the next round? Then a gif of Wendy’s latest deal appeared, and I felt my stomach growl. Right before I closed the app a new tote bag from Madewell popped up along with a link to purchase, and I briefly considered opening the website. I set my phone down, remembering more advertisements than anything else as I walked to class.
We live in a world accosted by advertisements ranging from high way billboards to the logo embroidered on my sweater. Culture is inundated by ads; I can’t open my social media or watch a YouTube video without first watching an advertisement roll across my screen. Because ads are everywhere, they are part of the aesthetic of culture.
Dramatism, a communication theory developed by Kenneth Burke, states that every word in language is used to create a rhetorical world in which the speaker persuades the audience through his or her use of words. To apply the Dramatism theory to cultural artifacts, Kenneth Burke created his Dramatism Pentad. The Pentad is comprised of five key terms, and these terms help readers understand the importance of words within the artifact. The five key terms are as follows: act, agent, agency, scene, and purpose.
To show how Dramatism can be applied to advertising’s effect on culture’s aesthetic, I’m going to apply the five key terms to various advertisements of three Twitter accounts: @Wendys, @NBCTheVoice, and @Madewell!
1. Act is the “what.” For this case study, our “what” is the advertisements of Wendy’s, The Voice, and Madewell on Twitter. Each ad is designed to persuade viewers to buy their products!
2. Agency is the “how.” Even though Twitter is limited in its character count per tweet, businesses have the flexibility to get creative with their advertisements. For these three companies utilizing this platform, using less words has a bigger impact. Instead of reading lots of text when you view the ads of Wendy’s, The Voice, and Madewell, you’ll find yourself looking at creative gifs, video clips, YouTube highlights, snappy comebacks, and perfectly curated pictures. Wendy’s specializes in creative gifs (such as the announcement of the Biggie Bag), whereas Madewell shares photos of its latest releases. The Voice creates gifs from recent episodes (such as this reaction from Kelly Clarkson), and it also tweets YouTube links of special highlights from the show. Agency can be flexible!
3. Agent is the “who.” For this aspect of culture’s aesthetic, Wendy’s, The Voice, and Madewell are all the “who.” I chose these three companies because they represent different sectors of the market. Wendy’s is a fast-food chain, and The Voice is a seasonal TV show. Madewell, on the other hand, is a trendy clothing brand. We could also argue that Twitter is a “who” too because it’s the platform setting the rules and procedures for advertising within tweets.
4. Scene is the “what” and “where.” Each of the three companies have chosen to use implement Twitter as part of their social media strategy plans, and they’ve built strong fan bases through generating creative content, brand loyalty, and aesthetic advertising that matches their respective vibe.
5. Purpose is the “why.” All three companies share the same purpose; they each want to increase engagement and sell their products. They’ve interwoven the aesthetic of their brands into their advertising, and in turn, their advertising (and their products!) have impacted the aesthetic of culture.
It’s easy to gloss over the advertisements around us; after all, we see them all the time all day long. Personally, I find myself desensitized to the cacophony of ads vying for my attention, and I rarely think critically about what the ads are telling me and how I’m responding to them. By applying Dramatism to advertising, I can so easily detect the purpose of each and every ad, and it’s refreshing.
We can live life on autopilot, reveling in culture’s aesthetic and embracing every changing trend to keep up with the changing tide, or we can acknowledge culture’s aesthetic for what it is. Just because you see an ad doesn’t mean you have to buy the product, so think critically and watch wisely!