Heroes or criminals: discursive representation of cancer patients in health awareness advertisements

Janet HO*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


This article compares the use of metaphors in breast and lung cancer awareness advertisements in order to examine the positioning and identity construction of the respective cancer patients. A semantic annotation software tool was used to identify the overuse of semantic fields in each corpus of cancer awareness advertisements and multimodal metaphors were identified following the protocols of Bounegru and Forceville’s (2011) article, ‘Metaphors in editorial cartoons representing global financial crisis’, Forceville’s (2009) essay, ‘Non-verbal and multimodal metaphor in a cognitivist framework: Agendas for research’ and Pérez-Sobrino’s (2017) book, Multimodal Metaphor and Metonymy in Advertising. Findings showed that breast cancer awareness advertisements deployed more positive words than did the lung cancer awareness advertisements and they used a wide range of source domains such as WILD ANIMALS and FIGHTERS, showing the creative representation of deeply entrenched conventional metaphors as well as the use of humour and euphemism. On the other hand, lung cancer awareness advertisements were much less metaphorical and mostly sought to persuade people to quit smoking. The metaphorical use of military weapons showed that ‘shockvertising’ was recurrent in lung cancer awareness advertisements. The present study argues that both types of advertisements partially present the facts of breast cancer and lung cancer, and the guilt-loading of smokers in the lung cancer awareness advertisements invisibly transformed the physical threat appeals into social threat appeals.
Original languageEnglish
Article number147035721988752
Pages (from-to)159-183
Number of pages25
JournalVisual Communication
Issue number2
Early online date16 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021

Bibliographical note

This article is dedicated to the memory of Prof. Stephen Evans.
I am indebted to Dr. Elisabetta Adami and the reviewers for their valuable comments. I would also like to thank Ms. Anna Harrold for her help and support.

This article was supported by Lingnan University (grant AC16089). There is no conflict of interest.


  • cancer
  • gendered discourse
  • metaphors
  • stereotyped diseases
  • threat appeals


Dive into the research topics of 'Heroes or criminals: discursive representation of cancer patients in health awareness advertisements'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this