Select and critically analyse AT LEAST THREE contemporary advertisements that make use of photography.

Pay close attention to the ways in which text and image are used and to the format and context of the advertisements’ display and/or their means of transmission. If, in general, one can say that advertising is oriented to address and to manipulate one’s desires, how is photography being used to do this in the adverts you have selected?

Advertising has taken a central role within Western culture nowadays. It has developed into a key area of study when culturally analysing contemporary society. As a reflection of ourselves, advertisements can be read in many different ways. Photography has been developed hand in hand with advertising to achieve the advertising agencies’ goals. Visual culture is the inseparable continuum where the advert takes place, and the photographic within the visual culture has been the most successful way to channel the new face of current capitalisms. The use of photography in contemporary advertisement is the subject of analysis in this essay. If the cultural production of modern societies speaks about our identities, it is also my intention to conclude whether the use of photography aids the shaping of our ideologies or that is what one is made to think.

Susan Sontag describes the idea of modern society as follows: “...a society becomes “modern” when one of its chief activities is producing and consuming images, when images that have extraordinary powers to determine our demands upon reality and are themselves coveted substitutes for firsthand experience become indispensable to the health of the economy, the stability of the polity, and the pursuit of private happiness”1. Photographic images have inherited the power of shaping our lives and defining our

p. 153 Susan Sontag, On Photography


The diversity of developed societies has had an unexpected outcome: the historical struggle between classes has changed into an economic struggle. and by the sense that their social identities and roles are shaped substantially in relation to consumption (rather than.”2 It is therefore important to bear in mind that the person to whom the advert is directed. photographic images are constantly being used to maintain the status quo. say. Societies have developed into global societies. economic in the sense of adquisitive power and material possessions. the viewer of the photographic image. The Image Factory 2 . only to become a term unavoidably linked to one’s hability to spend money to a less or greater extent.2. Analysing modern advertisements can also lead to understanding the ways in which social terms that are essential to the human condition have been manipulated. Paul Frosh. In this way. in relation to work or political power). 2 p. where the capability to purchase goods becomes the egualitarian force between nations. The concept of freedom in the industrial era has long lost its meanting.identity. is an individual whose idea of self is inheretedly related to consumption. “’Consumer culture’ is an important term here because it suggests that the industrially manufactured visual environment of complex media societies is dominated by the treatment of viewers as consumers of commodities.

investis. This advertisement campaign. An outstanding analysis is the one that Henry Giroux makes on “Consuming Social Change: The “United Colors of Benetton”: “Benetton is important not only because of its marketing success but also because of its bold stance in attempting to use advertising as a forum to address highly charged social and political issues. 21. which is the selling of its product in a maximised way. Henry A. There is a growing body of literature dedicated to visual culture and advertisement in particular.”4 Henry Giroux explains in this text how Benetton is a major influence in the shift within promotional culture. The need to be ethical.The first selected advertisement (above)3 belongs to one of the well-known United Colors of Benetton campaigns. therefore visual culture.Giroux Consuming Social Change 3 . Consuming Social Change 5 p. Henry Giroux describes the Benetton advertisement imaginery as depending upon a double movement between decontextualization and recontextualization5. or as Benetton calls it “a new global communication 3 4 http://www.jpg p. The way photography is used in the Benetton advertisement is a reflection of the company’s intentions: appropiation of the individual’s idea of justice and equality. spread justice and be tolerant has apparently taken over the main raison d'être for any business. Henry A.

as including words with great meaning. and as an uncontested truth. Henry A. and as such the different meanings that a photograph can have are narrowed down. The first and one of the main characteristics of the Benetton ad campaign’s is the disappearance of the product is trying to sell from the photographed images. or the individual’s daily life. The individuals portrayed above are all from Africa. exotic and alien to our Western mentality and own experience of work. with “dignity”. 21. might carry out the same kind of jobs that we do or want the same things that we want.benettongroup. viewers in the commodified world) that they are local inhabitants of Africa. a musician.7 6 7 http://press. as it would be far too risky to imply that the Africans in the advertisement (and by extension. 4 . by showing us our own ideas of what the world should be like. there is no chance for misunderstanding. has spread through the global marketing space. But also the type of work their tools are related to. In a long tradition of campaigns. like “dignity” will only increase the viwer’s attention span. Giroux Consuming social change. That is what the photograph says. a jewellery maker and a decorator pose as Benetton explains. The colour of their skin tells us so. all the Africans from the Africa they represent) are similar to us. we understand (us. These photographed tools are all related to manual and traditional work. a farmer. This is an example of how Western ideas are translated into images depicting our own take on the Third World. Two textile sellers. Benetton characteristically has appealed and used other type of images to sell. So long that the portrayal is easily recognisible. Photography in this way helps to maintain the differences between the first and the third p.campaign”6.

The fact that a couple of fish and a t-shirt have been drown along the scissors that establish where to cut the page. enabling the viewer to place them in whichever space we understand they might come from. Judith Williamson explains that “There is nothing ‘wrong’ about symbols as suchobviously systems of signification are necessary and inevitable. the graphics on the dotted line and letters of the text are touched by that kind of roughness we relate the third world to. More as a parody of the third world. But besides the function of symbols in ideological systems. imperfect. whilst the text above them is shaped as the end of page of some kind of contract to be cut from the rest of the page.”8 The current imaginery has somehow evolved from the one Judith Williamson criticizes. Awkwardly denied of space. as in the Benetton advertisement. yet again appealing to the commodified world’s ideas of what the poor of the world are. and on the white paperlike background. adds on to the ideology of the image. It seems to be scratched. Decoding Advertisements. 169 Judith Williamson. nature and society. 5 . the photographed image resembles more a political campaign where the idea of the contract (as per the dotted lines) reminds the viewer of the social contract and justice Benetton is appealing to. The advertisement space is filled with dehumanized people. 8 p. with the human figures resembling possibly some cut out dolls. imperfect. which.The linguistic message in the advert reads Microcredit Africa Works. the people stand on their shadows. as I have suggested. is to deprive us of knowledge and create a mystification about history. not developed. The figures are placed on a white background. The text is placed on top of the portraits. Still. there is also a danger in having people involved as part of the currency in these systems. This gives the whole photograph a comic-like quality.

we are fully aware now it is United Colors of Benetton and we become interested. 6 . conveniently placed above the Birima Growing With Microcredit logo. The only thing that tells us this is not a global campaign is the United Colors of Benetton logo. The equation finally complete: there is a need for social justice and equalitarian society. we are called upon to exercise our freedom of choice and decide what is it that we will buy. as actively involved in the spending society. therefore United Colors of Benetton endorse it through its campaigns with the following result: social justice can be safely bought as it has been commodified and transformed into a myth. The logo actively commodifies the idea of social justice that Benetton is appealing to. That idea is long lost in the message. As a consumer of images we are told that if we buy Benetton we are buying social justice. The logo adds the familiarity to the photograph. the viewer would have hardly notice it and possibly discarted it as “another campaign” that does not affect our daily life. If the image had been published without the logo.This advertisement makes use of photography in such a way that the viewer forgets it is only an advertisement for clothes.

The second advertisement I have chosen to analyse is a controversial advert by Dolce& 7 . gives away a number of signs.eitb24. The men look on statically whilst the woman wants to free herself from the strength of the stretched powerful arm. There is a group of men surrounding a woman. As an advertisement for an expensive brand of clothing.9 For an advertisement campaign whose only real aim is to sell a product. This signifier. The male model in direct contact with the female model hides his eyes behind a pair of sunglasses. Instead. the way the looks are exchanged as she avoids eye contact with her alledged aggresors tells the viewer is a moment of tension. another move to manipulate the viewer into thinking that he is trying to hide any sign of feelings. or signifieds. This photograph is widely seen as tresspassing the accepted barriers of correctness. The scene is a little unusual and immediately catches the viewer’s attention. who appears to be forcibly pinned down to the ground. is that it refers to a gang rape scene. and the reason for all the controversy. It was banned from the Spanish media in the first quarter of 2007. to talk about it and possibly have an opinion about it. It depicts models wearing Dolce&Gabbana clothes. There is criticism to it because it supposedly depicts something that is illegal and breaks all rules in regards to violence and sex. The commonly accepted. None of the portrayed show any sign of playfulness that would give the photograph an entirely different meaning. Once exposed to this image the viewer is compelled to remember it. It is only because it’s more obvious than other images why this campaign receives this treatment. following Barthes theory. this is possibly a 9 http://www. this campaign caused much debate in the media and marketing world at the time.

therefore free the viewer from any anxiety or confusion. The main point where the viewer can relate to is the criticism of such scene in real life. Rhetoric of the Image. Visual Culture: The Reader. 37. the ancorage of the iconic message. There are certainly other more subtle ways to manipulate one’s desires on this photograph than the obvious reaction to shock.very welcomed outcome. 8 . Without the words Dolce&Gabbana suspended in the “air” of the photograph the viewer is left without any familiar reference. as if to say that scene belongs to the Dolce&Gabbana world of scenes. using Barthes methodology. The message implied in the scene is still carried by the individuals the viewer needs to identify with beauty: young. This signifier is common in almost all fashion advertisement. The linguistic message helps to identify the image. Roland Barthes. The text on the photograph is. The models that are depicted show what the viewer should be thinking in terms of perfect bodies. thin and white models. 10 p. “to fix the floating chain of signifieds”10. The texture of the words matches also the photograph underneath them. where space is hardly a specific location but a juxtaposition of screens and skies.

therefore into the viewer’s eyes. Lauren (we know her because the linguistic message readily informs us of her identity) sits on a sofa with only a pair of American Apparel socks and knickers. The usual campaigns the American company uses to sell its products feature young looking models in quasi pornographic situations. or at least pretending to. The main linguistic message makes reference at the fact that she still has got the American Apparel socks on. The widely accepted statement “sex sells” is used in its photographic imaginery unapologetically. is alluring. The portraits on the side of the advertisement of her in bed reaching climax. The fact that 9 . Far from that. It could have been portrayed as a very domestic scene. her gaze into the camera.American Apparel portrays sex in a different way than the Dolce&Gabbana’s advertisement above. spell the signified message for us: she is about to or has just had sex.

the underside of their world picture. “Most of our lives are the ‘unlived’ lives of advertisements. unconscious. Decoding Advertisements 10 . The text on the photograph as well reminds us that we would still be buying ethical clothing (sweatshop free-brand-free clothes) whilst also encouraging the viewer to engage with the advertisement.sublimated. possibly wish it was us participating in it.”11 Appealing to the viewer’s wishes for a different reality seems to be what the photographed in the American Apparel’s advert is doing. and the model in some sort of interactive play(Look her up on Google). 11 p. Campaigns like the ones by American Apparel present as the main subject of the social desires an underage looking model in a borderline pornographic pose. 170 Judith Williamson.she appears defenceless is another example of how the social ideas of what gender relations are like and should behave like reach the photographic image used to sell. The amateur quality to it will certainly appeal to most of the viewers who are not professional photographers. So this reality becomes almost literally unreal. therefore it is yet another image easy to relate to.

with all our differences. but we are not given any other option. 11 . What the viewer is not told is that there are other possible worlds. Hence as Henry Giroux calls upon. network of networks. not ruled by the economic powers endorsing the very values upon which our society is built. This is possibly what the business minds behind the photo shoots want the viewer/spender to think.This final example of contemporary advertisement and use of photography focus on the idea of the world as a global city. In this sense. The idea is already thought on our behalf and translated into visual language. we are told what we are. The advertisement imaginery reflects contemporary identities to a certain extent. whereby all citizens are connected. The manipulation of the photographed in this composition helps the idea of proximity between all cities and peoples. the need to react and approach the cultural studies with a critical mind. Portrayed on an island. creating the illusion of a global city where all are represented. Photography shapes the corporate intentions of global domination. the most significant iconic buildings of the major cities of the world are juxtaposed or placed side by side.

the signifieds of the advertising message are formed a priori by certain attributes of the product and these signifieds have to be trasmitted as clearly as possible. The Image Factory 12 .“In advertising the signification of the image is undoubtedly intentional. 1.34 Roland Barthes. we can be sure that in advertising these signs are full. Rhetoric of the Image.” p. they are routinely overlooked by most of their viewers. or at least emphatic. formed with a view to the optimum reading: the advertising image is frank. They are the wallpaper of our consumer culture. unremarkable and effectively “invisible”. If the image contains signs. “Part of the background. Paul Frosh. most of the time.” p.. Visual Culture: the Reader.

Rather.“The ordinariness of these images is neither naturally given nor easily achieved.” (re stock photography) p. 2. 13 . distribution and consumption that is itself largely concealed from view. Paul Frosh. it is a result of an elaborate system of manufacture. The Image Factory.

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