Analysing Visual Representation

A war of words and visuals of peace

In 1972 National Lampoon, a leading American magazine, placed a full page advertisement for John and Yoko Lennon, that depicted New York’s Statue of Liberty but the product it was persuading people to ‘buy’ was so intangible that it must have seemed surreal to readers of the magazine. They were selling ‘peace’ or at least the prospect of the Vietnam War being over and the possibility of peace.

The readership for this highly irreverent, edgy magazine skewed to counter-culture, young people was in the millions so you can imagine the high profile given to this clever advertisement.

John Lennon, former Beatle; songwriter; and musician and Yoko his artist wife were iconic ambassadors for World peace, especially during the Vietnam War, a prolonged war from 1969 -1975 with American troops withdrawn in 1972.

In December 1971, the song Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon, Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band (4) was released prior to the actual end of the Vietnam War to encourage peace.

As anti-war activists John and Yoko created an amazing advertising campaign from 1969 “WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) Happy Christmas from John and Yoko”. These billboards were shown across New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Rome, Athens, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

They utilised billboard and magazine advertising to rally the public to accepting the reality that they were able to make peace happen if they wanted to; they just needed to ‘Give Peace a Chance’.

Their magazine advertisement in 1972 with the title of “Happy New Year” (1) used the Statue of Liberty as a highly emotive, iconic symbol that all Americans knew and loved, especially New Yorkers. It represents liberty, that all men are created equal and Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The dove imagery around the statue adds to the overall emotive appeal as a metaphor for freedom.

What a perfect emblem in an advertising campaign for peace. The black and white imagery is brilliant too as it is so stark and confronting. Simple bold text at the base of the advertisement is appealing as the graphic makes the biggest statement.

However if you notice the familiar torch which represents ‘Shining enlightenment on the World’ has been replaced with a male arm and fist in this advertisement. I believe Lennon’s anti-establishment ideals are showing that it wasn’t the government who won the war; it was the strength of the people (the soldiers) who gave their blood to win the war.

2. Appealing to the masses

In studying advertising, Jib Fowles formulated Advertising’s Fifteen Basic Appeals to assist with understanding the philosophical and psychological needs that advertisers appeal to in order to effectively market a product. I believe this advertisement by John & Yoko Lennon is appealing to the twelfth basic appeal – the need to feel safe. “We want to be safe and secure; buy these products, advertisers are saying, and you’ll be safer than you are without them.” (2)

As this advertisement is highly unusual as it’s selling a ‘state of being’ not a product as such, this appeal to the safety aspect is still viable as it is telling the public “Happy New Year – War is Over” which is a double edged appeal to the readers’ inane desire for happiness and safety. Everyone wants to be free from threats of any kind especially war.

Philosopher Marshall McLuhan, wrote in Understanding Media that effective advertising works “by giving form to people’s deep-lying desires and picturing states of being that individuals privately yearns for.” (3) I can see how this advertisement placed in a high profile American magazine would be have been effective in gaining attention and affecting the type of communication that John & Yoko desired – let’s live for World Peace.

3. Ancient rhetoric for modern times

If you study the advertisement in terms of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos which are the forms of rhetoric that ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle related to the art of persuasion, then you can immediately visualise the thought process behind creating Lennon’s advertisement for “War is Over”.

Ethos rhetoric is obviously used in the advertisement as celebrity appeal is a dominant persuasive tool to create respect and engage attention. John & Yoko Lennon are well known world-wide, with John being an iconic figure because of his connection to the Beatles and talent as a songwriter. Since 1969 they were publically protesting against war and trying to create an ideology of World Peace.

So their names and greeting at the base of the Statue of Liberty graphic endorses the advertisement with a strong persona of celebrity prominence. Secondly pathos is another rhetoric tool used with immense appeal to the reader’s emotions through the use of an American iconic statue, the thought of liberty and freedom, rights of mankind, national pride, and the relief that it will be a Happy New Year and war is over.

As the rhetoric tool Logos appeals on logic or reason, I believe it is not used in this particular advertisement unless you analyze the way some readers may perceive or rationale that if the Lennons tell me ‘War is Over’ then it must be; but that seems more of an Ethos style.

A side element of this advertisement which is worth mentioning is that without stating any high-sell product information, the advertisement would have been implicit in bumping up Lennon’s sales of his records especially War is Over which was released two years earlier. The effectiveness of this type of soft-sell, emotive advertisement style is incredibly clever in how it appeals to a wide range of audiences, young and old.

It’s more like a personal card than an advertisement isn’t it? The handwritten signatures also add to the charm and personalising of this advertisement, along with the clever way of keeping Happy Xmas and writing in hand over it “Happy New Year (War is Over)” as that is a subtle reminder of Lennon’s record.

John and Yoko spoke in many interviews about their protests for peace and that they were selling peace like soap with this magazine advertising and their billboard advertising. They thought people (John actually said housewives) might look at the advertisements and think what are the products they’re selling? War or peace – oh well I’ll choose peace then!

Think PEACE, Act PEACE, Spread PEACE

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.”

Works Cited

1. Adflip. 70’s advertisements. Happy New Year magazine ad by John Lennon.

Web Feb. 2010


2. Fowles, Jib. Advertising’s Fifteen Basic Appeals. Excerpt from Common

Culture: Reading and Writing About American Popular Culture. Ed. Michael

Petracca, Madeleine Sorapure. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1998.

Web Feb. 2010


3. McLuhan Marshall. The Media is the Message. Web Feb. 2010


4. Lennon, John. Imagine Lyrics. YouTube – John & Yoko Lennon interview,

Happy Christmas (War is Over). Web Feb. 2010


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