glamorous couple on a plane to appeal to consumers

Gillian Dyer and Lines of Appeal


Gillian Dyer (1982) argued advertisements no longer relied on basic references to the goods and services to convince people to spend their money. Advertisers were now creating complex fantasies and validating the product with personal and social meanings. They were selling us a lifestyle.

You will find lots of examples of celebrity endorsements and representations of glamorous places when you scroll through your social media feed. We want to focus on how these lines of appeal influence the audience and reinforce a culture of consumption driven by profit rather than the needs of the consumer.

The Classification of Ads

Finding a framework for classifying advertisements is important because you need to organise the data to “uncover any prevalent or recurring pattern” that might reveal “possible meanings and messages”. Dyer divided advertising functions and techniques into five categories:

Informational ads are brief, factual, and often without the patter of persuasion.

Simple ads feature specific functional information, such as the price, the advantages of the product, the ingredients and where it can be bought. These advertisements are often aimed at the hobbyist who is able to make a reasoned judgement on the claims.

Compound ads rely on images to encode meaning, including attractive-looking models or aspirational settings, so the consumer will associate the product with a sense of prestige and success.

Complex ads concentrate on the representation of luxury, status, and power rather than the product or service. The product merges into the background.

Sophisticated ads offer dream-like fantasies which explore hidden or subconscious feelings.

If you would like more detail about these appeals, read our guide to Hall and Whannel’s (1967) classification of advertising.

Lines of Appeal

Rational arguments and factual information are not always enough to persuade consumers into spending lots of money on goods and services. Companies also need to find ways to separate their products from similar offers on the market. That’s why advertisers use more complex and sophisticated ads to provoke feelings in the audience, including guilt and fear, and funnel us into taking a specific action.

Dyer suggested thirteen themes which could be used to classify advertisements:

  • Happy families
  • Rich luxurious lifestyles
  • Dreams and fantasy
  • Successful romance and love
  • Important people, celebrities, or experts
  • Glamorous places
  • Success in career or job
  • Art, culture, and history
  • Nature and the natural world
  • Beautiful women
  • Self-importance and pride
  • Comedy and humour
  • Childhood

Consumers might be sceptical of the claims made by advertisers about their products, so advertisers use these lines of appeal to create representations of lifestyles which are more difficult for us to resist. They carefully and deliberately construct a story that will resonate with our experiences. However, these stylised versions of reality often play on our insecurities or make us dissatisfied with aspects of our lives.

Dyer quoted an advertising trade journal from the 1920s which stated, “satisfied customers are not as profitable as discontented ones”. In other words, advertisements should always encourage people to buy goods and services to solve their problems.

The next time an advertisement pops up on your screen, think about its line of appeal. How is it positioning you to desire the product?

The Economic Function

The lines of appeal create “fantasy situations and satisfactions” because companies are trying to “sell their goods in sufficient quantity” to cover production costs and generate bigger profits. These advertisements are shaped by the system of production and not the needs of the individual or society. Each campaign perpetuates the “promotion of the capitalist enterprise” and our consumer culture.

Many advertisements are not even intended to influence sales directly with specific calls to action. They are designed to represent “private corporations as benevolent, public-spirited and socially responsible”. Brand trust is now the most important value for a company.

Advertising makes the world go round.

The Ideological Function

Complex and sophisticated advertisements are not just generating demand for goods and services, or selling us a lifestyle. We need to critically assess these lines of appeal because they usually offer “unobtainable fantasies” that “conceal the deficiencies we experience” rather than providing meaningful solutions to our problems. These simulations can feel more “real” than our experiences, but they are not profound reflections of reality.

The patterns of representations could also reinforce harmful stereotypes. Dyer drew attention to a 1978 study that found 13% of central characters portrayed in paid employment in advertisements were women despite women making up 41% of employees in the UK. Women were also being defined in terms of the commodity. If the media is a socialising agent, these advertisements were teaching audiences to accept traditional gender roles and expressions.

Editorial Ambiance

Dyer believed there was a convergence between editorial and advertising content because the newspapers were heavily reliant on revenue from advertising to remain profitable. Editors “internalized” the demands of the advertising industry and made sure their newspapers remained attractive to sponsors.

Newspapers realised they could also create this “ambiance” by adding features and special pages so advertisers were able to target readers who might be interested in a particular product. For example, The Daily Mail publishes a supplement which contains articles and advertisements about travel. This section appeals to holiday companies that want to promote their services because they are connecting with readers who are more likely to be in a position to book a trip.

Most papers and online brands publish sections targeting homeowners and gardeners, sections about managing your money, and entertainment guides. Of course, these sections will include relevant advertisements.

Dyer argued the popular phrase “freedom of the press” referred to the advertising industry’s freedom to promote products. She drew attention to one case of advertising pressure on editorial matters when a local newspaper in North Wales supported villagers in their protest against the building of a gas-storage depot close to their homes. The Gas Board retaliated by withdrawing its advertising from the paper.

Newspapers are not independent because they depend on advertising.

Although broadcast media are influenced by the economic power of the advertising industry, the advertisements still need to use the right line of appeal to attract the attention of the audience. Perhaps the final line of appeal is hidden in the “ambient” and favourable content.

Baudrillard, Jean (1980) “Simulacra and Simulation”.
Curran, J. (1978) “Advertising and the press”.
Dyer, Gillian (1982) “Advertising as Communication”.
Hall, S. and Whannel, P. (1967) “The Popular Arts”.

Further Reading

Thanks for reading!