Visual Arguments and Moral Causes in Charity Advertising: Ethical Considerations (pages 167-185)

Ioana Grancea

ABSTRACT: Social advertising often employs persuasive imagery in support of a morally laden cause. These visual arguments can take the form of veridical representations of the given situation or the form of purposeful visual blends. Both visual routes to persuasion have serious ethical issues to confront. In what concerns the purportedly veridical images, controversies about picture retouching and framing have cast many doubts on their success in offering unmediated access to a given reality. Editorial interests have proven far too influential on the destiny of what and how is presented to the audience from the amount of visual material available on a topic. Even when the audience is certain that photos are not doctored, the use of veridical images may be seen as unethical. Their disproportionate affective impact may lead the audience to hold biased opinions, since other concerns may be impossible to capture in a vivid picture. Visual blends may be the answer to this problem, employing the fictional or the figurative to help the viewer grasp the moral anatomy of a given situation. Their generous use of figurative meaning may be seen as their strength and their weakness at the same time. It makes them less likely to face accusations of distorting reality, because they do not claim to be windows on reality per se. At the same time, it makes them vulnerable to interpretations that miss their true point – one might appreciate the artistry of a visual metaphor or a visual pun and fail to consider the statement it makes about a given situation. Contemporary philosophical approaches to the place of visuals in moral persuasion inform my analysis of the use of visual arguments in charity-oriented advertising.

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