Advertising is serious business.

Advertising is serious business. You can’t just show a picture of your product, you have to sell the scene, the lifestyle. Use this deodorant and women will find you irresistible, use this perfume and men will think you’re sexy, feed your kids this juice and they’ll be healthy and happy. Product advertisement is often stuff you can tune out – it’s just the nonsense that pops up in between segments of Criminal Minds. Advertising for causes is a different story though, and is often quite provocative and challenging; check out this collection (from 2010) of extreme ads, notably those from Amnesty International, the RSPCA, RSF, and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. The workshop I took part in this week has worked to make me aware of a lot of advertising tricks – show a happy family to sell your soft drink (healthy, fun), show “the great outdoors” to sell your washing powder (fresh, clean, bright), et cetera.

During the workshop my team was given this image, and asked what we thought about it – what was the feel of the image, what does it portray, what’s the main theme of the image and what props does it use, what might it be advertising? (Okay, we weren’t asked the advertising question, but all of the images used in the workshop were advertisements (with any text and brand logos removed), some more obvious than others.)

What do you think? My quickly-scribbled notes for this image look like this (but in barely-legible handscribbles): sexy knitwear, Armani-ish?, intimate, loving, black & white – romantic, distinguished, elicit, clandestine (we thought these two might be having an extra-marital affair!), mysterious, black/white clothes, opposites attract, and sophisticated. One good key word for this image shouted out by another team was “luxury”.

It’s actually an advertisement for a mink coat. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to guess that, but it probably would have been a while. We were thinking something along the lines of perfumes and chocolates!

We were given the task of hitting the streets and asking Real People (not art/design students) for their thoughts on the picture. It was a bit of a scary thought, approaching people on the street, but I think Kristen, Stephanie, Sheila, and I took it in our strides. Luckily for the rest of us, Sheila had the confidence to do most of the actual people-approaching.

First we asked a porter in the Dundee University Dalhousie building (where the workshop had taken place – start with an easy one!), a 62 year old male, who straight away spotted that it was an ad for a fur coat, which led me to believe he’d done this before! He said that the ad was obviously about the lady, and the man seemed a bit pointless, really. The ad trying to sell “the finer things in life”, and “a man loves a lady who wears a fur coat.” Next we spoke to three male students in their late teens, who noted the feeling of closeness and intimacy in the picture, and they thought it might be advertising perfume or jewellery (the lady’s bracelets in the forefront). They didn’t seem especially surprised when we revealed the purpose of the ad, as they had expected it to be something somewhat luxurious or “high-end”, although I suppose we aren’t really exposed to advertising for furs nowadays. Lastly we spoke to a female student who I thought to be about 20. She thought the image was possibly for a fashion campaign, and noted that it was trying to show love and a caring attitude, like the man really cared for the lady and is “a really nice guy”. She also thought it seemed quite posed, or fake. When we revealed that it was a fur coat ad, she was quite happy to have guessed at fashion campaign.

This was quite a fun exercise in the end, and I wonder what other opinions we’d have gathered if we could have found more people willing to stand in the cold with us for a minute or two. I would have especially liked to hear more female opinions, to get a more balanced view. It seems that in general people are actually quite good at deciphering scenes and images, when we take a few seconds to analyse them. I guess that also means that advertisers have to be quite clever!

Having thought about it a bit, I think people probably would be more likely to buy washing powder with an image depicting freshness, outdoorsiness (totes a word), and “summer breezes”, rather than a picture of some clean clothes, which is quite funny really, since that’s what you’re going to get out of using washing powder. I’m looking forward to learning more about “what images mean” and doing this kind of exercise again to a higher degree in preparation for our next assignment.

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About Hannah

I'm Hannah, a twenty-something-year-old textile design student from Scotland. I'm learning a lot, and I want to learn more.

One response to “Advertising is serious business.”

  1. Sheila roussel says :

    Great post Hannah.

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