Theoretical frame and concepts
In this section, the thesis will present theoretical concepts which were used within the construction of this thesis, and that provide a solid theoretical basis from which to study how a brand utilises persuasive principles within its social media discourse.
Critical theory has most often been applied to the study of marketing practice with a focus on how such operations contribute to the growth of consumerism or ‘the efforts of marketing practices aiming to turn individuals into consumers’, as described by Doyle (2011). Indeed, the societal impact of marketing practices as promoting consumerism has been closely linked to the upholding of a “monopolistic” capitalist system whereby demand of material goods is maintained and created through media (Benhabib & Bisin, 2002) and thus giving credence to the idea that individuals in society are being manipulated, influenced and even exploited by the most powerful in aid of the fulfilment of their profit-driven gains.
Critical theory is an approach that studies society in a dialectical way by analyzing political economy, domination, exploitation, and ideologies. It is a normative approach that is based on the judgment that domination is a problem, that a domination-free society is needed. It wants to inform political struggles that want to establish such a society. (Fuchs, 2015, p. 1)
Critical theory is explained by Rexhepi & Torres (2011) as originating from the Frankfurt School, within which many academics worked within the Marxist tradition (Rexhepi & Torres, 2011). Furthermore, Rexhepi & Torres (2011) describe research within the realms of critical theory as “rooted in the needs and sufferings of the most oppressed populations, while arguing how many were unaware of their true material circumstance and the structural and social barriers underlying their condition” (Rexhepi & Torres, 2011, p. 685). This tradition of thought is crucial to CDA research methodology as the aim of such a method is described by Machin & Mayr (2012) as “to draw out and describe the practices and conventions in and behind texts that reveal political and ideological investment” (Machin and Mayr, 2012, p. 4). Indeed, in this study, critical theory is applied through the identification of persuasive messages within social media discourse as a means of influencing the way in which the audience think. Whilst social media has been viewed as a distributer of power in marketing and communications from businesses to the consumer (Allamedine, 2013), Fuchs (2014) has also pointed out that capitalism is supported through social media as the most powerful remain the most influential, thus dominating discussion. Thus, critical and rhetorical theory share a close relation as, in many cases, power, influence and domination are exercised through rhetorical means.
Whilst social media is widely considered to be a platform which allows the consumer greater “power” (Ioanăs & Stoica, 2014, p. 295) in the marketing process, this study will examine the ways in which influential brands (in this case, Cadbury UK) are still able to exercise ideological influence and persuasion over their social media audience through the use of classic rhetorical devices within their content as a way of making their messages ‘persuasive’ and thus giving them credence of ‘believability’ amongst the audience. This, in turn, allows the brand to present themselves in a way which contributes to the fulfilment of their commercial aims, which will be explored further in the ‘social media’ subsection of this chapter. This section will now move on to discuss relevant rhetorical concepts which provide Cadbury UK a means by which to exercise persuasion and influence over the audience, within their social media messages.
The most commonly associated way in which control or influence is exercised from advertising to politics within messages, is through the use of rhetoric, which Keith & Lundberg (2008) coin as: “the art or study of using language effectively and persuasively” (Keith & Lundberg, 2008, p.3). Whilst traditional rhetorical theory has concentrated on the use of language, the multimodal approach that this study takes means that such principles will also be applied to the use of visual communication as a tool of persuasion. In order to understand Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts as potential opportunities for the use of rhetoric, one can consider the concept of the ‘rhetorical situation’, put forward by Bitzer (1968). Whilst much rhetorical theory is focused on public speaking, Bitzer’s framework can be effectively applied to the use of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as tools of rhetorical dissemination. The first requirement of any rhetorical situation according to Bitzer (1968) is an “exigence” or “an imperfection marked by urgency; it is a defect, an obstacle, something waiting to be done, a thing which is other than it should be” (Bitzer, 1968, p. 6). In the case of the concerned social media platforms, this ‘exigence’ could materialise as a lack of a ‘relationship’ between the brand and its consumers for example, something which is fixable using Facebook, Instagram or Twitter by posting content which the consumer can relate to. The second component claims that for any form of rhetorical discourse to take place, there must be an audience to hear it. On the platforms upon which this study is based, the accessibility of Cadbury UK’s pages makes them accessible to an unlimited audience – providing they are users of Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. The final component put forward by Bitzer (1968) is the presence of “constraints” (Bitzer, 1968, p. 8) which hinder the correction of the ‘exigence’ or problem. From a brand’s perspective, this could materialise as consumer apathy and lack of desire to interact with the brand, which, in turn, would make it difficult for a brand to solve ‘problems’ via social media such as changing the way they are viewed by consumers for example.
Looking more closely into material which may be used in a ‘rhetorical situation’ and arguably the most important piece of theory used within this study, are Aristotle’s ‘persuasive proofs’ or “ways of making speech persuasive” (Keith & Lundberg, 2008, p. 36). Firstly, what Aristotle termed logos, aims to identify the argument made in the text or “its logic; that is, the arguments it makes” (Keith & Lundberg, 2008, p. 36). When applied to this specific study, the ‘Logos’ of an organisation’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter post refers to how the organisation aims to offer reasons why the consumer should act in accordance to the message being communicated. For example, if the aim of the post is to promote a new product or service, how does it try to convince the audience that this would be a good idea?
The second of Aristotle’s persuasive ‘proofs’ which will be applied within this study, is the technique of ‘Ethos’, that is, how the ‘speaker’ aims to appear credible or trustworthy. Whilst this concept is not exclusive to social media marketing, the concerned platforms allow the consumer and brand two-way communication, thus potentially allowing the brand to develop closer relationships with their customers and appear more trustworthy than through previous marketing platforms.
The last of Aristotle’s persuasive ‘proofs’ to be applied within this study is the use of the technique referred to as ‘Pathos’, which Keith & Lundberg (2008) define as the “emotional state of the audience, as produced by the speaker or speech” (Keith & Lundberg, 2008, p. 39). Similarly, this is not a concept exclusive to this relatively new form of marketing, as it is widely used in more traditional forms of marketing. For example, how does the material aim to change the way in which the audience feel in order to generate a favourable outcome for the organisation?
Aristotle’s persuasive proofs will form the basis for my analysis as a way by which to identify the manipulative properties of marketing material, designed for a group of platforms widely considered to have changed the way in which businesses approach marketing operations (Solis & Breakenridge, 2009), transferring the control in such communications to the consumer (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). However, the persuasive proofs will be applied in order to explore how the power of influence is still exercised across such platforms in order to fulfil the commercially-driven objectives of brands. Indeed, as meaning is created by both visual and linguistic elements in social media posts, it is important also to note the work of Barthes (1977), who was most commonly interested in the study of semiotics and viewed image as a set of intentionally-produced, persuasive signs. Barthes was interested in the persuasive, rhetorical behaviour of visual advertising as opposed to traditional rhetoric, which was, as described previously, centred around the study of language and linguistics, rather than the influential elements of image. Whilst semiotics is a field of research almost independent of rhetoric, in many cases, such as within the study of marketing material, the two are commonly used simultaneously, highlighted in Barthes’ (1977) essay The Rhetoric of Image.
Because in advertising the signification of the image is undoubtedly intentional; the signifieds of the advertising message are formed a priori by certain attributes of the product and these signifieds have to be transmitted as clearly as possible. If the image contains signs, we can be sure that in advertising these signs are full, formed with a view to the optimum reading: the advertising image is frank, or at least emphatic. (Barthes, 1977, p. 33)
Aside from the persuasive use of rhetoric in traditional advertising content, rhetorical concepts have also been found to play a key role in the construction of ‘successful’ social media content (Stevanovich, 2012). In social media marketing, the notion that ‘content is king’ is a widely adopted belief (Stevanovich, 2012) and thus it has been noted that rhetorical concepts such as ethos, pathos and logos still play a large role in creating content (Stevanovich, 2012) which effectively communicates the messages of the brand, whilst also suiting the requirements needed for the successful production of social media content. The use of rhetoric within social media content thus enables brands such as Cadbury UK in the case of this study, to exercise influence over the way in which the consumer views the brand and/or its products which is in line with their profit-driven goals, whilst also contributing to consumerism, thus benefitting those who reap financial benefits to be had from this way of life, namely, brands. Indeed, this presents a rather novel form of ‘rhetorical situation’ where persuasive messages are used to manipulate and alter the brand’s image amongst the audience, compared to how rhetoric was used in traditional marketing such as advertising, where persuasive efforts were mainly angled directly at selling products or services. “When we look at the historical background of advertisements, we see that initially the aim was to inform people about any product or service” (Köksal, 2013, p. 78). However, the aim of rhetoric in social media can, just as in traditional advertising, be seen as a way of manipulating the audience into partaking in the consumerist culture by making brands seem more appealing or ‘friendly’ to social media audiences, and thus increasing the chance that it will create long term relationships between the brand and the consumer which, above all, are beneficial to those generating revenue from them.
When discussing communications between those considered as subjects of consumerist messages (the consumer) and the disseminators themselves (brands), social media has been noted as providing an important, novel way in which to do so that offers businesses cheaper and more instantaneous means, thus increasing their ability and scope to influence the consumer directly whilst ensuring that their ability to generate profit is maximised. “Social Media allow firms to engage in timely and direct end-consumer contact at relatively low cost and higher levels of efficiency than can be achieved with more traditional communication tools” (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). According to Kaplan & Haenlein (2010), in a theoretical context, social media can be defined as the following: “Social Media is a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content” (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010, p. 61). The modern notion of Social Media Marketing (SMM) has been most commonly linked with the more traditional practice of Relationship Marketing (RM) where firms are able to create and maintain relationships with consumers and thus increasing the value of their brand’s image amongst the audience (Moretti & Tuan, 2013), which has also been referred to as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) (Sheth, Parvatiyar & Sinha, 2015). They do so by interacting with consumers in a way which is said to give consumers greater power within brand-consumer interactions through mutual “knowledge sharing” (Moretti & Tuan, 2013, p. 252) whereby the brand communicates its message to an audience which also has the ability to create, publish and share content which provides the brand with valuable information about the audience themselves, which Moretti & Tuan (2013) claim are key in business growth and innovation. This indeed, allows the ‘boundaries’ between firms and consumers which could be argued to have restricted how effective marketing messages were in reaching the audience, to become significantly blurred and thus meaning that on social media, firms and consumers enjoy a ‘closer’ relationship, in that they are both active in the marketing process.
Table of contents
2. Background – Cadbury UK
3. Aim and research questions
4. Previous research
4.1 Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
4.2 Rhetoric in traditional marketing and communication
4.3 Rhetoric on social media
4.4 Businesses and social media
4.5 Social Media and the Audience
5. Research gap
6. Theoretical frame and concepts
6.1 Critical theory
6.2 Rhetorical Theory
6.3 Social media
6.4 Facebook marketing
6.5 Instagram marketing
6.6 Twitter marketing
6.7 Social theory in social media
6.8 The ‘media’ (and communication) in social media
6.9 Theoretical framework summary
7. Method (and material)
7.1 A qualitative approach
7.2 Critical Discourse Analysis CDA – A Multimodal Approach in identifying the use of rhetori
7.4 Validity and reliability
7.5 Case selection – Cadbury UK
7.6 The pre-requisites of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
7.7 Ethos, pathos and logos
7.8 CDA tools
7.8.1 Process of analysis
7.9 Limitations of the study
8. Analysis (and result)
8.1 Cadbury UK is a familiar ‘voice’
8.2 Cadbury UK is a brand who cares
8.3 Cadbury UK is a source of joy .
8.4 Cadbury UK shares festive family values
8.5 Cadbury UK is comforting
8.6 Cadbury UK is a cultural symbol
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Setting the joy free’ with Cadbury UK A CDA analysis of how persuasion is communicated within Cadbury UK’s social media discourse, according to Aristotle’s ‘persuasive proofs’