Impossibly good looks: A pragma-ontological approach to unearthing the latent rhetorical structure of anti-ageing advertising discourse

George Rossolatos


This paper aims at unearthing the appeals, the argumentative schemes and the modes of rhetorical configuration that make up the rhetorical structure of the anti-ageing skin care product category’s print advertising discourse. To this end, the pragma-ontological approach is put forward as an offshoot of the pragma-dialectical perspective in rhetorical analysis and criticism. The pragma-ontological approach adds interpretative depth to the overt argumentation structure of anti-ageing products’ ads on the grounds of fundamental ontology/existential phenomenology. The analysis points to three levels where the ads’ arguments function: an overt level and two covert ones. On the overt level the ads function against the background of mixed ethos/pathos/ logos appeals that buttress an argumentation scheme from values. On a primary covert level, the ads appear to be functioning through an indirect appeal to fear, while resting on an argumentation scheme from consequences. On a secondary covert level, the ads are shown to be appealing indirectly to ontological angst, while manifesting an argumentation scheme per impossibile. The cultural implications for policy-making are highlighted amidst a predicament where anti-ageing claims are attracting heavy criticism.


rhetorical analysis; critical discourse analysis; anti-ageing advertising; fundamental ontology; existential phenomenology

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SIGN SYSTEMS STUDIES. ISSN 1406-4243 (print), 1736-7409 (online). E-mail: Postal address: Sign Systems Studies, Dept. of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Jakobi St. 2, 51014 Tartu, Estonia