HEPP Seminar in May 13

Picturing crises in companies’ crowdfunding campaigns: Visual rhetoric of vulnerable and promotional actors in COVID-19 pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war

Abstract by

Maria Eronen-Valli, University of Vaasa, School of Marketing and Communication 

Virpi Salojärvi, University of Helsinki & University of Vaasa 


This study explores how two kinds of mega-crises, namely the global COVID-19 pandemic and RussiaUkraine war, are portrayed in crowdfunding campaign-calls by small and medium-sized companies. Such companies are crisis experiencers and eye-witnesses but also commercial actors aiming at their own promotional goals, which makes crowdfunding a unique and not yet much analyzed context from the viewpoint of crisis portrayal. The study focuses on visuals (166 photographs, 43 photo collages, 25 GIFs, and 23 videos) in 54 successful crises-related crowdfunding campaign-calls: 19 Finnish, 18 North-American, and 17 Ukrainian ones on three different crowdfunding platforms. The data is analyzed by visual rhetoric analysis with the focus on visual denotations and connotations as well as on metonymic, metaphoric, and enthymematic visuals. The study contributes to previous crisis-related visual analyses by finding five connotations: suffering, endurance, resistance, peer support, and hope. The study argues that companies typically represent themselves as active but vulnerable which resonates with their promotional aims: photorealistic representations of instant suffering were not common but endurance involving the idea of striving vulnerable actors was the most prominent category in pandemic visuals, while resistance connected to fighting vulnerable actors was highlighted in the war-related imagery. 


Keywords: crowdfunding, visual analysis, visual rhetoric, photographs, crises, Russia-Ukraine war, COVID-19