Critical Visual Analysis

HANDBOOK OF QUALITATIVE METHODS IN MARKETING, Russell Belk, ed., pp. 303-321, Aldershot, UK: Edward Elgar, 2006

31 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2005


This chapter presents qualitative methods for researching images, including advertising images, websites, film, and photographs. I draw on a theory of visual consumption to show how cultural codes and representational conventions inform contemporary marketing images, infusing them with visual, historical, and rhetorical presence and power. Critical visual analysis offers researchers an interdisciplinary method for understanding and contextualizing images - crucial concerns, given the cultural centrality of vision. If marketing depends upon images, including brand images, corporate images, product images, and images of identity, then research methods in marketing must be capable of addressing issues that such images signify. By connecting images to the cultural context of consumption, researchers gain a more thorough - yet never complete - understanding of how images embody and express cultural values and contradictions. To illustrate how theory informs critical visual methods, I invoke an analytical concept of consuming difference to describe a relational framework of contemporary branding campaigns. I discuss how marketing communication draws upon the ideology of the group portrait as a visual technique for representing identity. I treat advertising imagery much the way an art historian treats pictures as I analyze illustrative examples through the classic art historical techniques of formal analysis, compare and contrast, and interpretation - framed within representation understood as a cultural practice.

Keywords: Interpretive Research Methods, Advertising, Visual communication, brands, identity, history

JEL Classification: M30, M37, Z10

Suggested Citation

Schroeder, Jonathan E., Critical Visual Analysis. HANDBOOK OF QUALITATIVE METHODS IN MARKETING, Russell Belk, ed., pp. 303-321, Aldershot, UK: Edward Elgar, 2006, Available at SSRN:

Jonathan E. Schroeder (Contact Author)

Rochester Institute of Technology ( email )

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