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Billboards-Popular Culture and Society

Billboards-Popular Culture and Society

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Published by Pulkit Vasudha
An academic paper on the portrayal of women in Indian advertisements and on billboards.
An academic paper on the portrayal of women in Indian advertisements and on billboards.

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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: Pulkit Vasudha on Aug 09, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The earlier stigma associated with popular culture has given way to exhaustive analysis of its role and

influence in modern society. In this age of global capitalism, intense competition between product manufacturing units has led to a boom in the advertising industry. Billboards are crucial to the advertising campaign of any product that aims to create a niche in the market. As a visual medium of communication, billboards are able to establish a strong link with the masses. This determines their potential customers. Billboards are all about ubiquity, powerful visibility and establishing a relation of identity with people. There is, in fact, no novelty about this concept. Literature has, through the ages, thrived on the same principle. As an art, it mediates life from different perspectives but attempts to make its readers see their reflection in the characters portrayed. Popular literature goes a step ahead by transporting us into alternate realms of reality that we all aspire to be a part of. A classic example of such aspirational advertising is the creation of the myth of James Bond. Sexy, spunky and macho, Bond has leaped out of the pages of Ian Fleming’s narratives and has entered our lives in a phenomenal way. So we have Pierce Brosnan endorsing a Reid and Taylor suit and a Rado watch, convincing men that unless they own these commodities, they could be left behind in the race of life. One need not be a spy for your country and outwit KGB, but if one has the dough, one can at least live the way Bond does-in style. The things he uses and the way he uses them are described in the minute detail. This suggests that Bond is not casual about anything in life. Each part of his life, however small it may be, is important. The care and precision Bond invests in choosing his products proves him to be a person of sharp intellect and fine aesthetic sensesomething we all aspire to be. He is aware of his uniqueness and individuality and is coy about flaunting the same with attitude. The same Bond staring down seductively into our eyes, advertising a product is an invitation to enter his world of virtual reality, an invitation that is very hard to resist. Similarly, the cult of the Marlboro man and the Johnnie Walker man are examples of how myths often overwrite reality. The reader/viewer response works parallel similar lines whether one is reading a book or looking at a billboard. The magnified images on billboards, some of them digital, along with the logos and catch lines of the brand, offer to us myriad possibilities of remolding our identities. They dictate or define our desires by telling us what we need. Confident, blasé phrases such as “Time to Express Yourself” (Globus Wears), “All you Desire” (Toyota Innova), “Be in Fashion. Anywhere.” (Giordano Travel Accessories) blur the distinctions between the essentials and luxuries. The pen manufacturing company ‘Parker’ beats all others when it makes a categorical statement telling us that the kind of pen we use determines the kind of mark we leave on the world. So advertisements even offer us a set of ambitions that can easily be fulfilled, their subtextual triviality not withstanding. The purchaser seeking to rise above the mundane realities of his humdrum existence accepts these new desires and ambitions as a shortcut means of achieving a digitally enhanced, perfected image of him. The mediation of meaning by advertisements and its role in the communication of identities is compounded when the advertisements are in the form of enlarged visuals as in the case of billboards. In most cases billboards are placed at a considerable height that compels its audience to look up at it with a certain degree of awe and amazement. The combined effect of the large image, catch line and brand name is dramatic; it creates a void of desire in the viewer-a desire to attain, a desire to possess. The use of celebrities on billboards adds a high degree of ‘credibility’. The spectator feels he personally ‘knows’ the person endorsing any given commodity. This heightens his confidence in the brand. He is also prompted to make connections of identity with the celebrity.

which creates a wide customer base by employing several techniques of eye-catching visuals. cultural. The other significant question that arises is the effect of these images on the mass-perception and opinion. successful women feel incomplete until their Prince Charming sweeps them off their feet and introduce them to the world of red roses and champagne like in the Indigo Marina ad. often white-skinned (non-Indian) women are used on billboards to attract a male audience and create a male theatre of desire. More often than not. Its visual epistemology operates at two levels-it presupposes the existence of such multitasking women and makes this exclusive group its target customers. Even where they seem to break away from tradition. Then there is the ultimate stereotype of a workingwoman whose primary role and raison d’etre is that of a mother. scantily dressed and anorexic. Darko Kerim in Ian Fleming’s ‘From Russia With Love’ says “All women secretly wish to be slung over a man’s shoulder. This is enough to attract a large segment of potential customers even though the actual product has been relegated to the margins of the visual. The naturalizing of the canonized point-of-view of white. As an offshoot of this theory of exclusivity. In extreme cases of desultory advertising. This ad uses the color yellow as its background: yellow being in the middle of the spectrum of colors catches the attention of viewers immediately. ethnic community and class. The use of a woman celebrity in a seductive posture . European. Homogenization of identities has led to the concentration of just a few stereotypical images of women being projected worldwide. social and class identities. which objectify women as decorative and ornamental props abound in India.So we have Aishwarya Rai sporting an attitude of elegance that seems to come naturally by wearing a Longines watch. much in the same way as they are perpetuated through the literary medium. cooking dinner. James Bond becomes the quintessential ultimate ideal of masculinity and Scarlet O’Hara becomes the model of a free spirited girl with gumption. Photographs of women are used to advertise everything from men’s razors. the blown up picture of Aamir Khan announces his ‘desire to stay ahead’ by driving a Toyota Innova. there is the false. coaching institutes and even hardware shops. it creates a desire among those women who have been occluded and who then long to achieve the status of the ‘superwoman’. irresponsible use of the images of women. the billboard of Estee Lauder shows a shopping bag that says ‘Destination Estee Lauder’. Here. carried off to a dark cave and raped”. they are actually rehashing the same stereotypes. An example of powerful advertising. The obvious upper-class markers of women in these ads make the upper-class lifestyle normative and the natural thing to desire. shopping and managing office jobs. is the Levis ad for their new line of Slim Jeans. most billboards use the images of women as icons that diffuse national. Fleming creates the myth about women’s repressed sexuality. All the protagonists of Mills and Boons deploy and calcify stereotypes of the romantic hero and heroine. almost fashionable notion that all smart. These stock images gloss over differences in nationality. For example. Examples of women. She juggles between feeding and bathing the baby. For instance. is just one of the troubling aspects of the indiscriminate. Often the image of women as cultural signs appropriates all womankind in a tradition of femininity. This myth has been used in this billboard advertising jewelry. educated. In fact. The loss of identity as anything other than that which exists within the projected rubric. On another billboard. A supposed uniformity in the desires of consumers has led advertising pundits to restrict themselves to a few tried and tested formulae which have worked to create markets in the past few years. stereotypes are created by the visual medium of advertising. male blinds consumers to the dangers of universality and stasis of common perceptions.

calls such advertisements ads that ‘wink at the spectator. There is no interpretative openness here. we could become more astute and discerning consumers. The tagline ‘Be slimmer in just 7. The onus lies on us to resist the seductive but false visual epistemology of billboards. the dominance of global capitalism and the resulting consumerism ensures that desires are defined by market economics. If the same advertisement is seen sans the selling-value of the visuals used. While it is hard to resist the lure of powerful and fetishized images that surround us and threaten to subsume our reality. is an undisputed hotcake. Whereas on the one hand. These images or objects might not have anything in common except the fact that each image. If we forget that the use of women in advertising is a favorite marketing strategy. It follows that meaning results when signs are shared by both advertisers and consumers. The American Association of Advertising Agencies put it succinctly when it said that shopping isn’t merely the buying of products but the buying of identities. what is the correlation between watches and sex? Robert Goldmann. why should that make us buy a certain brand of sanitary fittings. in his book ‘Reading Ads Socially’. there incongruity becomes glaring.heightens the glamour. Of course there is always an attempt to pass off oddities in the name of experimentation but concrete. Ambiguity. argues Goldmann. consumers are being offered and exhorted to make their own choices. is no more than a masquerade-it is a deliberate part of the conspiracy. proclaimed ‘Man of the Year 2000. in this post-modern era that believes in the individuality and uniqueness of every person.that’s you’. On the other hand. which had a large mirror at eye-level. We can see how advertisers work as sign manipulators.8 seconds’ virtually fulfills the desire of women to look attractive. there has been a distortion of Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” which now reads “I buy therefore I am”. In this world where everyone is a consumer in one way or the other. visual presentations of the nature of billboards should be a serious cause of concern. The consumer is made to believe that he is being spoken to individually but his freedom of choice is illusory and there is a subsequent effective erasure of identity. The famous billboard. no ‘infinite intertextual play of signifiers’. ‘a function of market imperatives to seek commodity difference’. Shouldn’t we revert to the original? . in itself. could we ever conceive why a woman would wear a miniature washbasin around her neck? Or even if she does. In the name of creativity some most dissimilar images are yoked together to serve as an advertisement for a product.

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