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IAP 4 exercise 4.1 decoding adverts

I enjoyed reading Dawn Woolley’s deconstructions of advertisements, and selected one of her posts to comment on. For ease of reference I have copied the relevant advert here top right.

The immediate impression I got from this advert was that it was intended to evoke a VE Day street party. In my eyes it is a direct copy of photos of VE Day celebrations such as the one below it, rather than the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee as suggested by Woolley and some of those commenting on the post. Admittedly, the same overall street party format can indeed be seen in photos of the 2013 Jubilee celebrations (see bottom right), but for me the advert’s muted colour palette and the style of the foreground woman’s V-neck dress predominantly evokes VE Day rather than the 2013 Jubilee. However, given that Woolley’s post was written in 2014, it is likely that the 2013 Jubilee will still have been in people’s minds (a lot more strongly than it is in mine now, writing in 2020) and that the advert is actually intended to evoke both the original VE Day street parties and the Jubilee parties of 2013 and thus convey a sense of continuity over a long period of time – a sense of continuity that is transferred to the product in the advert.

The ad has packed in as many signifiers of Britishness as possible, most of them nostalgic, so again referring back to a distant time. Union Jacks, bunting, cucumber sandwiches, strawberries, planes suggestive of both the Battle of Britain and the Red Arrows, a suburban environment of terraced houses and trees, the foreground woman’s striking resemblance to the Duchess of Cambridge bringing in the idea of royalty. These nostalgic references again emphasise the advertised product’s own long history, which the advert tells us extends back to 1924.

The idea of celebration is conveyed both by the evocation of a VE Day street party and the euphoric expressions on the faces of the three women facing us. All three are significantly more euphoric than the people seen in either the VE Day or the Jubilee celebrations, indicating that the advertised product brings more joy than either national liberation or national celebration. Perhaps this is the case. Everyone loves a good hair day! (I happen to know that Silvikrin is a hair care brand, having used its shampoos in the early 70s and being able still today to picture clearly not just the tall, slim, flat containers the shampoos came in but also to vividly recall their fresh, sharp odours.) In any case, the euphoria certainly suggests the “magic” that Judith Williamson (1978) describes as being an important element in personal care product advertising.

References and resources

Williamson, J. (1978) Decoding Advertisements. London: Marion Boyars
Woolley, D. (2013) Looking at adverts 1. Available at https://www.oca.ac.uk/weareoca/photography/looking-at-adverts-1/ [accessed 18.03.20]

IAP 4 exercise 4.2 image and text

Coronavirus social isolation is now the order of the day, but I decided to go for a walk into town to find some images, keeping a safe distance from others who were also out and about. I hadn’t consciously noticed before that there are actually no billboards at all through the whole of Kemptown all the way into the central shopping area of Brighton. There are, however, plenty of smaller ads on bus stops and on small street display stands, so I took some photos of those. I don’t buy magazines or newspapers as I get all my news online, so decided to concentrate on the ad images for this exercise.

Image 1: Pepsi Max Cherry

This ad for Pepsi Max Cherry is basically an image of a can, which wouldn’t give anyone much idea of why it might be desirable without the graphics and the text. There are 12 words in total in the image, seven on the can and five around it. The word maximum (or its abbreviation max) appears three times within this total, no sugar and cherry each appear twice, while recycle, Pepsi and taste occur once. These words close down the potential range of meanings the viewer might infer from the image and direct them towards interpreting it as representing a tasty cherry-flavoured drink that they can consume without fear of putting on weight or destroying the planet. The fact that it is in fact a chemical concoction of carbonated water, colour (caramel E150d), sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame K), flavourings (including caffeine), acids (phosphoric acid, citric acid) and preservative (potassium sorbate) is concealed. The inclusion of the word cherry (twice), the extensive cherry colouring and at least five graphic cherries suggests that its ingredients also include cherries, but this is not in fact the case. Meanwhile the fact that the drink contains more caffeine than standard Pepsi is not explicitly mentioned, but the repetition of max/maximum leads us to infer that the drink is in some way more than standard Pepsi, and the strong, all-caps, slightly italicised fonts suggest a powerful forward motion and channel us towards the idea of an energy drink.

Image 2: Greggs bacon roll

The words in this ad again aim to close down the meaning of the image, directing the viewer’s interpretation towards an idea of nostalgic homeliness to be associated with the pictured bacon roll. The term “oven-baked” is a strong signifier for the idea of something that was made at home rather than in a factory, despite the fact that in this case the product is mass-produced on an industrial scale. Meanwhile the phrase “the nation’s favourite” adds to this a nostalgic idea of community and even the suggestion that a vote may have taken place, neither of which would be conveyed to the same extent by, for example, the superficially similar phrase “the country’s favourite”. Together the terms “oven-baked” and “nation’s favourite” evoke all the cosiness and bonhomie of The Great British Bake-Off. This is emphasised by the softly rounded font used for “It’s the nation’s favourite”, which (like GBBO) has an overall homely and cheerful demeanour with a small dose of cheekiness supplied by the elephant’s trunk-like uplift in the letter R. The disclaimers at the bottom of the image are not intended to be read as part of the ad and are there to ward off any potential claims of inaccuracy:
The “Nation’s Favourite” claim is based in part on data reported by Mealtrak TM for the volume of sales in the hot sandwich category containing bacon for the 52-week period ending on 21 June 2019 for the UK (excludes NI) Food on the Go Market (copyright 2019 Mealtrak). Subject to availability. Serving suggestion.

Image 3: Barbour

Once again (and as is generally, if not always, the case in adverts) the text closes the image down, channelling the meaning of a rugged rural landscape with countless possible associations into the idea of a clothing brand. The brand name Barbour is emblazoned across the sky like a title, while the only other word included in the advert, #BarbourWayofLife, signifies two apparently contradictory ideas: one, that the clothing brand and the raw, undeveloped landscape are one and the same, and the other that the brand is modern and hi-tech. The contradiction is resolved when we realise that the target audience for this advert is not in fact those who inhabit the rural landscape pictured, but an urban client base for whom the countryside amounts to a part-time pursuit or merely an aspiration.

IAP 4 research point 4.1 anchorage and relay

Anchorage

Barthes (1977) defines anchorage as text that tells the viewer what an image is about, narrowing down its potential range of meanings and significance to that intended by the publisher of the image. It helps the viewer “to focus not simply [their] gaze but also [their] understanding”. Anchorage text often takes the form of a caption, and is most frequently seen alongside news images and advertising images.

Relay

Barthes defines relay as text that can advance the narrative of an image by including meanings that are not to be found in the image itself. Relay is often used in the memes that are now so common in social media, where it is used to humorous effect to subvert the apparent meaning of the image. Examples include the “distracted boyfriend” image, which has been paired with many different versions of relay text.

An awareness of the effects of these different kinds of text and their respective impacts on the viewer’s reading of an image – anchorage pinning down meaning and relay adding meaning that isn’t evident in the original image – is useful for the photographer because it widens the scope of what can be achieved in terms of communicating with an audience.

References and resources

Barthes, R. (1987) Image Music Text. London: Fontana.

IAP 4 exercise 4.4 news captions

Original caption from BBC News:
Police have told tourists to stay away from Lake District

Alternative viewpoint caption 1:
Families take advantage of lockdown to connect with nature

Alternative viewpoint caption 2:
#selfishpricks trends as Twitter users slam those ignoring lockdown rules

Recontextualising the image:
A guide to camping holidays in the Lake District

Original caption from the Guardian:
The usually congested Harbor Freeway in central Los Angeles pictured during lockdown

Alternative viewpoint caption 1:
Bliss for road users as LA freeway clears

Alternative viewpoint caption 2:
Global depression looms as economic activity stalls

Recontextualising the image:
Roads empty in LA as gas price hits $25 a gallon

Original caption from the Telegraph:
Police speaks to people sunbathing in Greenwich Park

Alternative viewpoint caption 1:
‘Heavy-handed’ enforcement of lockdown criticised by human rights lawyers

Alternative viewpoint caption 2:
Public demand police enforcement of social distancing rules

Recontextualising the image:
Dancing policewoman video goes viral

Original caption from the Daily Mail:
Britain’s hidden coronavirus victims: new figures reveal up to 600 elderly patients could have died in care homes – but bosses warn true figure is even HIGHER and reveals ‘two-thirds’ of homes have outbreaks

Alternative viewpoint caption 1:
Government failure to provide PPE for care homes leads to high rates of covid-19 infection

Alternative viewpoint caption 2:
Care homes criticised for failure to protect vulnerable inhabitants from coronavirus

Recontextualising the image:
Pensioners ‘delighted’ by announcement of 20% state pension increase

Comments

I believe the underlying intention of this exercise is to make us more aware of the polysemous nature of images and the different ways the viewer’s interpretation can be influenced by accompanying texts, but to be honest I found it rather uninspiring, not least because it’s almost identical to an exercise we did in the CAN module – as in fact was research point 4.1 on Barthes’ Rhetoric of the Image.

IAP 4 exercise 4.5 words and images

When a man is stressed he will withdraw into the cave of his mind and focus on solving a problem. […] If he cannot find a solution to his problem, then he remains stuck in the cave. To get unstuck he is drawn to solving little problems, like reading the news, watching TV, driving his car, doing physical exercise, watching a football game, playing basketball and so forth. Any challenging activity that initially requires only 5 per cent of his mind can assist him in forgetting his problem and becoming unstuck. Then the next day he can redirect his focus to his problem with greater success.

When a man goes into his cave he is generally wounded or stressed and is trying to solve his problem alone.

The biggest challenge for women is correctly to interpret and support a man when he isn’t talking.

Men generally have little awareness of how distant they become when they are in the cave.

The number one complaint women have in relationships is, “I don’t feel heard.”

A man’s deepest fear is that he is not good enough or that he is incompetent.

It is difficult for a man to listen to a woman when she is unhappy or disappointed, because he feels like a failure.

When women talk about problems, men usually resist. A man assumes she is talking with him about her problems because she is holding him responsible. The more problems, the more he feels blamed. He does not realise that she is talking to feel better. A man doesn’t know that she will appreciate it if he just listens.

Words from Gray, J. (1992) Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. New York: HarperCollins.

I have enjoyed this exercise more than the others in this section, and also found it the most useful. It showed me how I can point the viewer towards a reading of an image that might otherwise not be considered up by them – a way of saying, this is what I see when I look at this photograph. This seems to be both a closing down and an opening up of meaning, but ultimately I think it’s an opening up because the viewer is free to (and inevitably will) make their own interpretation of both the image, the accompanying text and the relationship between the two.