White Space Is More than Burning Money: Economic Signalling Meets Commercial Rhetoric



Previous work has demonstrated that the use of white space in advertising communicates specific meanings to consumers, and that this meaning derives from particular historical moments in art and visual rhetoric in 20th century western culture. The use of “empty space” in ads, however, can also be conceptualized as a signal of burning money, which could influence consumer perceptions about size and power through completely different mechanisms. Somewhat surprisingly, nearly all empirical demonstrations of burning money in a consumer advertising context also manipulated white space, leaving the mechanism of action unclear. Results of two studies indicate that white space is different from other ways of burning money, and its meanings are sufficiently different across cultures to give strong support to the rhetorical explanation over the economic signalling one. The findings call into question whether consumers ever infer quality from economic signals of burning money and have implications for the subsequent study of visuals in marketing.
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Dr. S. Puntoni