A picture is worth a thousand words. Or as I learnt this week, a federal election.
‘The Children Thrown Overboard’ used by the Howard government to swing public opinion in their favour; until they were caught out; is a prime example of images influencing the public. Advertisers use it all the time. You can take any advertisement and work out the denotation and the connotation.
Denotation is what is there right in front of us with an image. There’s a puppy chasing toilet paper. Done. It’s cute and soft. Now look further, connotation is what it makes you think of. The toilet paper is soft like a puppy. Ah, is that what we want to think about when using toilet paper? How do you un-think that???
Welcome to the unforgettable world of semiotics. The science of signs, origins of linguistics and the study of meaning. Humans share a universal meaning of certain signs and symbols. The McDonalds golden arches is the most recognisable symbol worldwide, the Christian cross is the second most. How does the the symbol for fast food become so recognisable? Well when you look at it what do you see? A golden M. Now what do you really see? Food, deliciousness, fat, social outing, excitement, special treat, a scary clown, disgusting…. The list goes on. But the point is, images have a much deeper meaning that what is seen in the first glance.
I’m going to be using two ads to show how this works. One ad that I believe to be not as sexual as the public was lead to believe, and the other that got a bigger reaction from my tutorial class than what I thought it would.
Marc Jacob’s Lola Perfume advertisement staring 17yr old Dakota Fanning. First up the denotation. A girl back lit on a pink background. She’s sitting with a perfume bottle between her legs. Looking blankly/ expectantly at the camera. She looks bored. Now the interesting connotation starts. Is this like a porn shot? Is her age the factor that creates the controversy? Or is it the fact that perfume aimed at teenagers shouldn’t be sexual (that’s a bit ironic if you ask me)? I believe it is the pose and that the flower on the bottle could be a metaphor for ‘deflowering’ (thanks for that idea Sue!). The more I look at it, the more I start to see the issues raised about the ad.
‘Don’t talk to him while he drives’ advertisement. An image of a wife jerking back from the phone. Blood spurting out of it. This got gasps from my tut group. But why? When I first saw the image I thought it was very clever. The amount of blood did not shock me. But looking closer with my connotation glasses on (not related to Google glasses at all), I see a cold, blanked, washed out background about to be brought to life with the blood splatter. Is that a wake up call to the intended audience?
For both advertisements the more you look at them, the more obvious the connotations appear. Annoying as advertisements can be (I’m looking at you Harvey Norman), they are there to get the audience to remember them. Whether that be in the supermarket, while hungry and hung over or while faced with a wall of near identical items, ads are there to make life a little more interesting, confrontational and to remind you that you’re hungry.