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]