A Rhetorical Analysis of Pharmaceutical Advertising

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No, item is not peer reviewed.
Scholarly level: 
Undergraduate student
Date created: 

Rhetoric, commonly regarded as the art of persuasion, is a subject of study and fascination that can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. As many scholars have suggested, rhetoric is a quintessential part of communication itself. Studying rhetoric affords us an understanding of how texts and the messages within them come to encapsulate a society’s values and ideals. This is particularly true of advertisements and, specifically to my purpose, pharmaceutical ads. In this paper I draw on the theories and methods of Glenn Stillar and Kenneth Burke in the analysis of three pharmaceutical drug ads. I analyse a Cialis poster ad, a Toviaz magazine ad and a Mirapex television ad. I use Stillar’s three tiers of analysis (discoursal, rhetorical and social) in combination with Burkean pentad analysis and the associated Burkean theory of the negative and substance. Using these frameworks, I ­explain how the ads present an ideal of health, youth and attractiveness as directional substance. The use of this ideal can be expanded to a discussion of autonomy in terms of attaining and maintaining of health, youth and attractiveness. The drugs offer autonomy by ameliorating the symptoms of the medical conditions that keep us from the ideal of health, youth and attractiveness. However, this capability exists only within and because of a framework of the drug’s constraints. Through rhetorical analysis, we come to understand the simultaneous constraining and enabling effects behind each of the advertisements and recognize that our autonomy exists somewhere between them.  

Document type: 
Graduating extended essay / Research project
Copyright remains with the author.
McCarron, Gary
Onufrijchuk, Roman
School of Communication