Of all the Dawn Wooley articles on the interpretation of adverts that I have read, the only one that specifically explores the relationship between text and image is one that advertises a butter called “Lurpak” (Looking at adverts: 3).
The article reveals a mechanism often used by advertisers, a kind of visual rhetorical figure, where by opposition and confrontation of contents the viewer is invited to actively search for meaning, which implies that he fixes his attention for a few moments in the ad, and after deciphering, he is rewarded by the satisfaction of the achievement, which will make him remember the announcement in a positive way.
The intentions of the publicist are not always clear, and although in the examples proposed by Dawn Wooley, it seems clear that there is an intentionality, the deciphering of the mechanisms under which certain advertisements operate seems to throw many doubts. Certain adverts could be designed for a specific audience, with a specific cultural and visual background, which can help them to interpret right the content of an advertisement. In any case, I think that the visual and stylistic resources used in advertising operate directly at the subconscious level in the individual and therefore, it is neither necessary nor convenient for the consumer to know the mechanisms that make advertising work.
Advertising works on desire, and its intention is that the subject associates the acquisition of a certain product, with a positive feeling that he would obtain buying such product; In everything I’ve read so far, I noticed that the techniques used to achieve this objective are different: to present the product simulating a scenario of undeniable credibility (# 4), association of a symbol with a mood, and this in turn with the product (# 5) or using celebrities as possessors of attributes desirable by the consumer (# 6).
However, one of the articles that has interested me the most is the one that deals with the transformation of the advertising techniques with the use of psychoanalysis and the knowledge of the subconscious. It mentions Edward Bernays, one of the pioneers in the use of these propaganda techniques:
“If we understand the mechanisms and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without them knowing it”.
From the book Propaganda by Edward Bernays.
From Bernays’s work, the paradigm of advertising changes, from offering objective information on what a particular product can do, to provoke in the consumer the desire of what he could do if he bought it.
I have always been struck by the advertisements of fashion and perfumes, which show unrealistic models in attitudes that are unnatural, individuals who live unconcerned, inhabiting spaces that are not accessible to normal people. They live as in imaginary worlds, dreamlike spaces where they wander with their faces without expression. What are these neutral characters trying to depict? Why are these unrealistic characters using to stimulate desire in a potential customer?
It’s striking how in the work of the French photographer Guy Bourdin -who worked for Vogue, Chanel, Ungaro and Charles Jourdan among others- the body of the model is presented in a fragmentary way, in some cases adopting provocative attitudes or even resorting to violent elements that involve torture or death. These images provoke an almost instant reaction in the viewer, creating a feeling of restlessness that either makes him immediately withdraw his gaze or stimulates his morbid curiosity and makes him stay for a few more moments contemplating the scene. In any case, the image leaves not only a visual imprint on the retina of the subject, but it will be recorded with all its violence in his memory, from where it will surely creep into his subconscious. Some of these advertisements, such as the mannequins in the showcase presented by Dawn Wooley in her article, are built around small narratives, which use elements such as irony (double meaning), possibly with the intention of inciting the viewer to interpret the scene or at least to provoke a smile. In both cases, the viewer will receive a positive stimulus.
The fragmentary use that Bourdin made of the model’s body in some of his advertising images, in which he intentionally discards part of the body of the subject, can also be interpreted in a psychoanalytic way: the recurrent fixation in a part of the body of the model can be interpreted as the substitution of an absent desired object by an element accessible to the subject that has the ability to stimulate and incite the desire: that is, a fetish:
“During the 1970s the pages of French Vogue became an erotic interplay between [Bourdin’s] hyperreal colour images and the starker, more blatantly fetishistic styling of Helmut Newton’s work. Both benefited from the immediacy of the image, which commanded an instant non-intellectual emotional response, an instant desire for the fantasy they provided, and yet an equally powerful sense of uncertainty in the face of such explicit artificiality” (Lunning, 2013)
In a comment I did about the picture of the mannequins in Dawn Wooley’s article, I propose an alternative reading to that suggested by the author; These types of ads are open multiple interpretations; It will be the background of each viewer that will add meaning to each advertisement, making the viewer feel integrated into the advertising act: again we move from the paradigm of a simple transmission of advertiser-consumer information, to provide mechanisms for the consumer to be an active member in the process and create meaning from the elements that the advertiser makes available for him.
“I think the message of the mannequin could be a just the opposite: The two models are dressed and don’t have a swimming hat, while the mannequins are deseperating trying to catch their attention from the “darkness” of the shop, maybe trying to advert them to adopt the fashion trend of the majority (they are three!!). The model seem to ignore the advert, walking firmly towards the light (using sunglasses to protect their eyes)… The photography tries to convince costumer how free from imposed fashions they would feel buying those swimming costumes.”
To conclude, anyone with normal intelligence knows positively that the scenarios on which seen on some of these glamorous ads are unrealistic and fanciful, they are out of all reach and realization, the models’ bodies are fake bodies modelled using Photoshop and the narratives and attitudes represented on these scenes have little on common with real life… but perhaps the desires have to grow on such terrain: the land of fantasy.
Macdonald, F. (2017). Guy Bourdin: A fetish for fashion. [online] Bbc.com. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140501-fetish-fashion [Accessed 31 Mar. 2017].
Lunning, F. (2013). Fetish style. 1st ed. London: Bloomsbury.
Woolley, D. (2017). Looking at Adverts: 7 – WeAreOCA. [online] WeAreOCA. Available at: https://weareoca.com/photography/looking-at-adverts-7/ [Accessed 31 Mar. 2017].