con·tem·po·rary per·sua·sion

Contemporary Persuasion is marked by characteristics of the present period. Now more then ever, images, language and the media play a role in how we persuade.

Visual Images

Contemporary persuasion utilizes visual images as a way of representing reality, serves as proof for a persuader's message and suggest the argument to the audience. Color, Form, Lighting, Spatiality and Movement all have meaning within the message being communicated.

  • Persuaders must get the attention of an audience in order to be sucecssful. Images grab attention and can accomplish this goal.
  • Different colors communicate different things. Dark Blue, Gray, and Black are seen a colors that convey authority and power. Purple suggest dignity or sadness as where Green is associated with fertility. Form (Dots, Lines, Shapes) attracts attention and influences the meaning we assign to images. For instance, the triangle communicates tension and conflict. Lighting can be used aesthetically to either eliminate or create shadows that are typically associated with emotion or suspense. However other types of lines can also be used to stress continuity, order or chaos.



Kenneth Burke, an influential communication theorists, suggests that Language is a way of acting. Rather, when we use words, we engage in action. Burke developed the pentad to help discover the motives that cause us to look at the world a certain way. The pentad consists of five elements:
  • Act
  • Agent
  • Agency
  • Scene
  • Purpose
Act refers to what is being done. Agent refers to the person performing the action. Agency is the means by which an action occurs. Scene is the setting or background for the action. Lastly, Purpose is the reason or rationale behind the action. Burke says that these pentadic term can create a ratio, where one controls the other.

Below is a recent speech from Senator Barack Obama on race relations in the United States. How can YOU apply Burke's pentad to his speech?

What is the act? Who is the agent? Which agency? What is the scene created? What is the purpose?

Senator Barack Obama's "A More Perfect Union" Speech


Media is an important part of how persuaders communicate their arguments. The medium that is used, the media source and the media content present us with mediated realities. Or in other words, the pictures we have in our heads of the world and the people in it are not always based on real experiences but rather are formed through our exposure to media images. Think about Entertainment Media and how that can shape or affirm our beliefs, good or bad.
  • The Medium is the type of channel that is used to communicate a message. Print, Radio, Television and the Internet are all media channels that can change the content is carries, the people who send and receive it, and the culture in which the transmission takes place.
    • Specifically television and print images can be more persuasive because of the use of camera angles and point of view. For instance, if the camera is angled to look up at the subject, the subject appears to be more powerful.
  • The Media source is the specific person or group who produces a message. Media sources can serve as gatekeepers or advocates.
  • The Media content is the programming carried by the channel.

Look at this TV ad from Senator John McCain and notice how it uses different camera angles, framing, movement and space to communicate his message.