*

*Analysing advertisements
from a cultural perspective, based on the book by Arthur Berger

Advertising as communication Berger's model of ³focal points in the study of communication´ Art Audience

Medium

Artist

Society

Analysing advertisements Berger uses different approaches to analyse advertisements, including: ‡ Semiotic analysis ‡ Psychoanalytic theory ‡ Sociological analysis ‡ Feminist analysis ‡ Historical analysis ‡ Myth/ritual analysis ‡Feminist analysis

Semiotic analysis Semiotics is the study of signs ± how things can be used to deliver some kind of message. The important point to remember when considering how things functions as signs is that the meaning attached to them is arbitrary. The meaning of signs is a convention that is learned within a group/society, the sign is not a natural and universal meaning. ‡ What signs, symbols and codes can be found in the advertisement?

Psychoanalytic theory Freud suggested that our ego continually balances the primitive subconscious desires for satiation of our id against our superego, which provides critical self-examination and anticipates the potential damage of actions proposed by our id. Advertisers frequently try to encourage our id in order to get us to notice and desire their product ‡ How does the advertisement make use of the human psyche to sell products?

Sociological analysis Consider how elements of the text are relevant to such matters as socio-economic class, gender, race, sexuality, status and role. ‡ How does the advertisement reflect social concerns, and the problems of people in their daily lives?

Feminist analysis Feminist analysis is particularly concerned with power structures in society, especially those that position women as inferior. ‡ How does the advert reflect the values of malemale-dominated society?

Historical analysis Here the ad can be evaluated in terms of the changes that have taken place in advertising over the years, how the advert fits into a larger campaign and/or previous advertising campaigns. ‡ How does the advertisement relate to historical events?

Myth/ritual analysis Advertisements often contain allusion to contemporary popular culture. In addition, there is a vast wealth of shared cultural knowledge relating to mythical knowledge, such as biblical stories or classical mythology. ‡ How does the advertisement relate to ancient myths?

An example: Fidji perfume advertisment
How might we use Berger's six different approaches to analyse and understand this advertisement?

Semiotic analysis
‡ empty space ‡ position of mouth in photo ‡ posture of mouth/lips ‡ Polynesian woman? ‡ long, dark hair ‡ orchid ‡ Fiji: the tropics (escape) ‡ language: French

Psychoanalytic theory
‡ the snake: phallic symbol ‡ the snake: anxiety ‡ the word 'sex' contained in the advert (subliminal) ‡ removal to the tropics, away from the civilising influence of home

N.B. This advert appeared in some countries without the snake. Why?

Sociological analysis
‡ value and importance of romantic heterosexual love

‡ target audience: young women seeking escape? ‡ prestige product: expensive perfume, French language and associations with high culture ‡ role of women: providers of sexual pleasure, temptress ‡ ethnic assumptions: women from less developed nations seen as less repressed, more passionate (more primitive)

Feminist analysis
‡ snake: phallic symbol? = subjugation, dominance ‡ women's role as objects of male pleasure ‡ objectification of women in adverts: accessible to the male gaze, on show to gratify male desires ‡ holding the ³desirable´ bottle of perfume, but perfume's purpose is to please men: women perpetuate male dominance? ‡ return to paradise = return to male dominance? (Garden of Eden: ³And [your husband] shall rule over you´)

Historical analysis
‡ Cleopatra killed by a snakebite ‡ Advertising: historical context

Myth/ritual analysis
‡ Medusa ‡ Garden of Eden ‡ Women as dangerous, snakelike, venomous ‡ Temptation

References
Berger, Arthur Asa (2007) Ads, Fads and Consumer Culture: advertising's impact on American character and society. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield

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