The Multimodal Approach

As a Communication Studies major, I spend much of my time analyzing media texts and the way in which messages are delivered to mass audiences. However, it interesting to me to look at media from an even broader approach, and acknowledge that not all texts are mass media, and things as simple as a concert T-shirt are texts that send messages to more direct audiences. After reading “What are Multimodel Projects,” everything that I saw throughout my weekend became texts, and even more so, texts that appeal to many of our senses, and use multimodal approaches to target audiences. When giving this idea deeper thought, it dawned on me that most texts that have a concrete message to send use a multimodal approach, and none of the texts that I chose to analyze would be nearly as strong if they neglected to use multiple modes in order to communicate their messages.

1) Facebook ad for Nordstrom’s

While casually scrolling through my Facebook timeline, I stumbled upon an advertisement that caught my attention. The advertisement shows a pair of open-toed, beige, high-heeled women’s shoes, with the copy stating, “open-toed, all the time.” Using the multimodal approach, Nordstrom was able to achieve their goal of getting their audience, me, to click on their ad and consider their product. Linguistically, the word choice of “all the time” convinces the viewer that this product can seamlessly become a part of her everyday life, and communicates the idea that the product is valuable and practical. The focal point of the advertisement is the visual mode, as the close-up photo of a woman wearing the beige shoes while walking on the sidewalk, in a casual, everyday setting enhances the idea that these shoes can be worn anywhere, at any time. Finally, the spatial layout of the ad, beginning with “[names of two of my close friends] ‘like’ Nordstrom’s Facebook page,” completes the mission of capturing my attention, and by using names of my close friends, along with a pair of women’s shoes rather than something like a men’s watch, Facebook and Nordstrom’s together guarantee that I will stop for a moment and give the ad my full attention.


2) “Ann ArBAUGH” T-Shirt


Spirit fills the air on Football Saturdays at the University of Michigan, as Michigan fans are bound together by school spirit, and are accustomed to understand the common lingo of Michigan Football. At 3pm, a wave of Michigan students trudged through the rain in a sea of maize and blue to experience the excitement that is The Big House on Saturday afternoon. Something that grabbed my attention, not one time, not two times, but maybe thirty times were T-Shirts of all different styles that read “Ann ArBAUGH.” This text, although a simple T-Shirt, also uses a multimodal approach of communication through linguistic and visual techniques. The most prominent mode is perhaps linguistic, such that the words “Ann ArBAUGH” communicate the idea that the entire city of Ann Arbor revolves around Coach Harbaugh – especially on Football Saturdays. This play on words brings fans together with a language that only Michigan fans can speak, in mutual support of our beloved coach who has reignited the flame and intensity of Michigan Football. However, this message would be incomplete without the prominent, bright maize letters against the dark blue shirt; if the use of these colors was neglected, it would be unacceptable for anyone to even wear this shirt to The Big House.

3) Twitter Meme – @CommonWhiteGrls

Finally, the media that took the strongest multimodal approach was a meme on my Twitter feed. This meme is especially strong because each component of it alone has the potential to have a completely different meaning, and it is the use of the multimodal approach that allows for only one, comical interpretation of the post. The visual component of the post shows a young woman in a dully-colored setting, asleep at the bottom of a carpeted staircase, gripping a worksheet and a folder, and surrounded by notebooks, pens, and a calculator. When the photo stands alone, all we know is that the girl is asleep, and we cannot confirm the absence of other factors that might have led her to collapse while apparently doing homework. The spatial component of the photo helps to clarify the context; the girl is not asleep in a bed or even on a couch, but is rather at the impractical, uncomfortable bottom of a staircase, with her schoolwork scattered around her, implying that she was physically incapable of making it to the top of the staircase. The gestural mode enhances this idea, as her body language suggests that she is exhausted and completely drained such that she needed to abruptly stop her life, regardless of her location, in order to rest. Finally, linguistics complete the message, as the caption quotes, “’how’s the school year going” and clarifies that the photo responds to the “Common White Girl’s” feelings about school, and ultimately assumes that the audience is made up of girls who are still in school and are struggling with the start of classes.


Just about all of the texts that we interact with on a regular basis use a multimodal approach of communication, however, none of the texts that I examined used all modes. Texts can be very direct and very powerful, and not every text needs to use all five modes in order to powerfully communicate a message. However, one mode is often not enough, and a multimodal approach is essential to effectively communicating the message. The advertisement for the shoe is extremely different from the Twitter post, as the photo of the shoe alone shows the product to the viewer in the everyday setting in which they want the audience to see it, while in the Twitter post, it is essential for the modes to work together to communicate the appropriate message. The mode that I found the most interesting across these posts was the linguistic mode, as it clarified the target audience and the meaning of the texts through direct language. It is said that an image is worth a thousand words, but sometimes, with specific audiences in mind, the text will take control and concretely select a few of those thousand words for you.

2 thoughts to “The Multimodal Approach”

  1. I love how you related all of your analyses to your major in Communications, and especially how you picked apart the Ann Arbaugh shirt. I’ve seen it around a lot, but never really thought of how the basic Michigan colors and format are used to make Jim Harbaugh as vital a part of U of M as the departments and teams which have these sorts of shirts.

  2. I like how you used everyday examples, examples from your average newsfeed and local culture. It really demonstrates that everything that conveys a message is multimodal, even things that we may see as normal enough to not consider. Also, I like how you analyzed the White Girl meme. I also analyzed humor (though in a different way) and I appreciate not only the validation that I’m not crazy that multimodality created the humor, but also that you explicitly describe how the many modes work together to piece together an implicitly understood message between author and viewer. Good work!

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