Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising


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But the way in which this material is used and ordered inside advertisements. Thus the referent always means the actual thing in the real world. The referent is external to the sign. These mythologies I call Referent Systemszlcf.


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Part II. In Al we saw how two things—an object from the ordinary world jetty and a product tyre —were connected. The jetty stood for a certain quality strength. The intermediary object, the jetty. Currency is something which represents a value and in its interchangeability with other things. It thus provides a useful metaphor for the transference of meaning; especially as this meaning is so intimately connected with real money transactions.

As a preliminary to this chapter I want to start with a look at colour in visual advertising: it provides an introduction both to my method of analysis. Although the colour cannot be reproduced here it is described in the analyses.

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The next six examples all use colour in a slightly different way, but in each case it is the basis for a connection or connections unstated by the verbal part of the ad. Paladin Press. Oxford I A2 in when there's grill nxln. Beautiful Blue. Cometnthe gr mil taste. This connection already suggests a warm. This gold colour is echoed in the golden corn which surrounds the couple.

The other colour connection in this picture is the white of the couple's clothes and of their bag. It helps tell a story. This hint is supported by the additional fact that the golden sun isjust about to set. And so. The theme is. In this way there is an almost total reversal ofthc meaning one might expect.

The blue cigarette packet merges into indistinctness in the blue of the denim. The colour that does stand out. The bottle and the mouth are joined by colour as clearly as ifthere were an arrow from one to the other. There is an obviously sexual suggestion here: however.

The assumption here is that because the containers are the same in terms of colour the products have the same qualities: here. The visual link between the packet and the world is exaggeratedly apparent: literally everything in the room is black and white and geometrical. The people are the contents of the room just as are the cigarettes of the packet. Thus the words can be read as relating directly to the people; they are obviously terms usually applied to people and not things.

So here the colour correlation brings explicitly into focus a link between the people and the cigarettes that was implicit in the words chosen. There is. Instead of the product being created out of a need in the world. Her white clothes immediately link her to the slightly open cupboard.

Decoding Advertisements Ideology And Meaning In Advertising

This gives a suggestion of availability. The woman's skin is precisely the same colour as the eggs. Her hair matches the cupboards. This is positive, but at the same time it exploits the illusion of a fragmented ego, unified and united, made coherent, by the product, which claims to represent all our different personalities, the elements that in their totality create us. Publicity sets itself up as presenting us with the object of desire.

The object of desire is actually the self. This is impossible since the subject, in its self-appellation, perceives itself as different. We can recognize that the mirror image is meant to symbolically signify us, but for it to signify us it inevitably can never be us. It is distant precisely because it is portrayed as a reflection of us, something which is intended to mean us.

Since it means us, it is clear that it can never be us. Lacan: the ego is constituted…when the subject fastens himself to an image which alienated him from himself, so the ego is forever irreducible to lived identity. It suggests it is the same as us, while being undeniably and inevitable separate and different from us.

We want to merge with, be a part of, something which only signifies to us when separate from us. The advert implies that we can recreate ourselves. Using these imaginary lost objects we can re-unite ourselves with our appropriated image. In buying products with certain desired images we are recreating and rebuilding ourselves, and our lives. We are sold ourselves. Instead, they offer us the future, an image of improvement, making consumers envious of themselves as they might be. However, while advertisements speak in the future tense, the actual achievement of this future is always deferred.

This leads Berger to conclude that publicity is not in fact about objects which we can posses. Rather, it is about social relations, offering, not pleasure because the object itself is absent but the happiness of being judged enviable by others. It does not create these daydreams; rather it exploits them in suggesting to potential costumers that although they are not enviable yet, they could be, if only they buy this particular product. Publicity presents itself as placing the subject in a situation of freedom, giving us the impression that we are free to produce meaning for ourselves, in an active participation in transference of meaning.

The subject is only a part or link in the exchange system.

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Although we are constituted as the free and active creators of meaning, we are only discoverers of a meaning already pre-given by the ad. The missing piece in the jigsaw can only possibly, logically, have one shape. We do not deicide what the ad means, freely and actively, but we are given the pretence of active involvement which obscures the unchosen and passive involvement. Yet we do not produce anything. Rather, we consume a solution pre-determined, and pre-constructed by the advert itself.

Our freedom to create or find meaning is non-existent within this frame, since the meaning is bounded and restricted to the meaning the advert demands for itself.

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Adverts function most effectively not by allowing meaning to be immediately and easily apparent, but by implying that we have to hunt for it, thus implying that we are acting as free and active agents. The message is seen as the prize of our solving the puzzle that is the advert, and this obscures the fact that there is only ever one message which has been constructed by the advert and that we only step into the absence of the receiver to make a link pre-made for us. Often, an advertisement has no subject, no focal person who represents the improved version of the subject.

The subject enters into a narrative which appears open and free, without an image which is different from us and yet set up as us, however this apparent freedom is in fact closed, because it demands that the subject step into the role of the absent presence in the ad.

Sometimes a product is not even portrayed in the advert. Instead, there is a replacement, where something is used to signify the product, and this signifier is in fact itself an attribute that has been given to the product, and thus a signified of it.


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The product is given a value that it does not have in reality, and can never adequately represent. Erving Goffman: Most of the advertisements presenting men and women refer more of less openly to the traditional division and hierarchy between the sexes. Even when the man does not appear in the image, he is conspicuous by his absence, as the clues in the advert signify him, and often the woman is just another of these clues.

Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising
Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising
Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising
Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising
Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising
Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising
Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising
Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising

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