Friday, 15 April 2011

Semester 2: Assignment 2 Adverts and Polysemy

For our second assignment we were asked to read an essay by Roland Barthes entitled “The Rhetoric Of The Image”. It discusses the relationship that is present with images and text and introduces us to the concept of polysemy. Polysemy, as a definition, is the existence of many meanings. So, for example, if I were to describe an image as being polysemic then it would have more than one meaning, which most images have. Barthes however states that this multiple meaning can be changed if we are to add text. Now adding text does not always give it one meaning but it can allow different meanings to emerge on a similar theme.

Believe it or not I would recommend Barthes’ essay to at least likeminded creative types, even if for a bit of bathroom reading ha ha! Okay so it took me several attempts to get into it and another couple of rereads and many a look in the dictionary just to understand half the words to roughly get the gist of it…selling it to you yet?? It is an interesting read, if a bit beige but does introduce some curios ideas that some people might find useful if they are trying to create a winning image or advert for their wares.

For this assignment I chose to do option 3 and look at advertising. Having looked at child advertising and the effects it can have on children in a previous assignment I was interested to find out by simply manipulating an existing set of adverts, in this case removing the text, how people would perceive the image. It was also an opportunity to find out peoples reaction to the advert once I showed them it with the text and brand logos.

Four images were then chosen that did not make it to obvious what it was trying to sell. The original unaltered images are as follows.

Advert 1

Advert 2

Advert 3

Advert 4

To get a good number of responses in a short time I decided to create a small questionnaire that I split into 3 parts. First part showed the new altered images and the following questions:

1) Explain in your own words what do you see?
2) How does this image make you feel when you look at it?

Second part was something JB had told us to stay clear of whilst doing the questioning and do it at the end but I decided to do it in the middle to see what the initial responses would be. I asked them:

1) If this image was to be included in an advertising campaign what do you think it would be for?

The final part was the pictures unaltered, as you would find them in magazines, and the following questions:

1) What’s your response to the image now you know what the advert is?
2) How good do you think this is as an advert?

I ventured out an asked some people and collected the results before analysing all my information.

Already full aware of what the images were getting used for I was surprised by some of the response I got for a couple of the images. Advert 3, for example, was an advert for Adidas swimwear. To begin with my responses were varied in terms of how the viewer felt towards it and what it could possibly be advertising. Out of the six people asked, a third were confused by it, another third were intrigued by it and the other third were disturbed by the image. Four of them thought it was for something positive like energy drinks or fitness clothing. The other two flipped it and went dark suggesting it was a self harm campaign or steroid abuse. After they were shown the real image everyone unanimously liked the advert commenting that the idea behind it (that wearing Adidas swimwear makes you swim as though you were a fish!) worked perfectly. One person actually said it would make them buy the brand.

The responses for advert one went slightly differently. Five of the six thought it was funny and made them laugh. Most suggested it was an advert for waste reduction or being green and a car advet because, as she said, “they always do stupid things like that!” The sixth response felt angry about this image. He described the image as being a vandalised bench and suggested it to be an advert for the police force. After they were shown the real image the group split into to camps. First three did not expect it to be about saving water but were still positive about it claiming it was a great advert that got the point across whilst keeping it fun and light hearted. The second group, containing the angry man, hated the advert claiming it was stupid and really thought it could have been better.

Looking through the results and seeing how varied the answers were when the people were shown the altered images it reinforced the thoughts of Barthes who explained that an image can conjure up several different ideas but with a simple piece of text you can focus peoples views to a similar conclusion. However I think that what this experiment has highlighted for me is that depending on the knowledge of the people would determine on what message they picked up on. Barthes talks about an advert containing 3 messages (using advert 3 to demonstrate), these are a linguistic message (this would be the Adidas logo and text), a coded message (this would be the knowledge that Adidas is a sports brand and it has a swimwear range) and a non-encoded message (this would be the knowledge that fish have are great swimmers and they have gills to breath). Due to peoples own personal knowledge and experiences it will determine what answer they give. For example the responses that suggested advert 3 maybe a self harm campaign or the angry man saying advert 1 was for the police may have a reason to do so. These people might have had some personal experience with these subjects. With the text restored everyone is steered towards a similar conclusion.

The use of images in adverts varies really good to poor if we are talking purely about the image. Some adverts can get away with no text and only a logo of the brand, others need both before it can be fully understood. How effective these different types of adverts work depends on the individual, this small experiment show it can vary from advert to advert and person to person.

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