Facilitation – Stein: Constitutive Rhetoric in Marketing

In this journal written by Sarah R. Stein, the strategies behind rhetoric in marketing is analyzed. More specifically, Stein aims to identify what made the 1984 Apple Macintosh advertisement so iconic in the history of marketing. She looks at various elements such as cinematic narrative, allusions, and constitutive rhetoric.

Here is a link to the 1984 Apple advertisement: https://youtu.be/VtvjbmoDx-I

While the other elements did play a role in this ad, they were secondary to the constitutive rhetoric that was the overwhelming power within the Apple ad. Stein references Charland’s theory of constitutive rhetoric. This theory establishes three primary ideological effects for advertising: 1) the process of constituting a collective subject through narratives that foster an identification superseding divisive individual or class interests; 2) the positing of a transhistorical subject; and 3) the illusion of freedom and agency of the narrative’s protagonist (Stein, 2002). Essentially, constitutive rhetoric aims to provide a sense of identification for the consumers. A person may feel more inclined to an advertisement if they can find some sense of freedom, or identification within the ad.

Another perspective that Stein discussed was that the Apple advertisement created a sense of a “better future”. The stereotypical future of technology that we all know is that technology is rapidly advanced, robots take over many jobs that humans used to do, and we are all prisoners to our technology. Apple capitalized on this idea, and created a brand essentially saying, “We won’t let it get to that point, we’re better than that”. This, specifically, is done at the closing screen of the ad. A different narrator from the rest of the ad begins speaking and says “Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you will see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” This implies that Apple, as a brand, is better than the stereotypical future. If you don’t want to be a part of that future, and you don’t want to be brainwashed, join us. Though, this may be seen as ironic depending on how you look at it now.  

The marketing world is what it is today due to the adventurous attempt at advertising by Apple in 1984. The step above the others to truly captivate an audience is what all advertisers today aim to be able to recreate. Apple didn’t even need to mention or demonstrate their product; the powerful constitutive rhetoric was enough for people to jump on board with the Apple brand and continue to purchase their products, even 36 years later.  

Below are several examples of advertisements that utilize some of the same elements as the 1984 Apple ad, along with short explanations.

In terms of cinematic narrative, there are various advertisements that try to utilize this concept. One that came to mind right away for me, is the advertisement “A Bridge for Santa – Coca-Cola”, that I saw on YouTube one day. It’s a much longer advertisement than most, almost like a short story, so by the end of it the audience feels a sense of attachment to the child and happiness that the town gets to experience Christmas. With the brand of Coca-Cola attached to various elements throughout this ad, the audience may attach the feelings of happiness and accomplishment to the Coca-Cola brand.

The Nissan Pathfinder advertisement from 2014 uses their product to allude to Noah’s Ark. With the gathering of humans and animals in bad weather, the Noah’s Ark reference also targets a specific type of audience. The Nissan Pathfinder is a family-style car. The target consumer that Nissan is aiming for are families with both children and pets.

While this Coca-Cola ad is not entirely centralized around constitutive rhetoric, the rallying spirit combined with a sense of humor is a powerful combination.


In an article by Rebecca Paramo, the constitutive rhetoric of “The AXE Effect” is illustrated. The three ideological effects, as mentioned earlier, are put into play in most, if not all of the AXE advertising schemes. The goal is to create a sense of identification in men and a rallying effect of using AXE products, to persuade men to purchase their products. Her article is a fairly short read and elaborates more on the AXE effect and constitutive rhetoric.