Hello, and welcome back to Advertising and Society. Today, we begin a consideration of what's in a ad beyond that which meets the eye. Now, this question itself is a very broad one because it makes the assumption that what we see in an ad may not be all there is to it. This is really centering around a particular problem of interpretation of whether we get the meaning that was intended by the person who, or people who created the ad, or whether we see it in some other way. It also raises the question of what did they mean, and how can we know that, and do we know that? After all, if you think about it, when you open a magazine and start flipping through the pages, you have very little, if any, information about the people who produced the ad, even the company that did the advertising work for the company whose product is being advertised. You can't find the name of the ad agency in most American ads. So, the author is often obscured and we are left there with the advertisement itself and we take out of it, presumably, the meaning that this there. But does the meaning we take out of it match up with the meaning that was intended by the people who put it together? We're going to consider this week that question and we're also going to consider how we interpret ads and the various ways in which interpretation of advertising works. We'll be drawing heavily on the field of art history and how interpretation works in that field. And using lessons from it as we try to explore the question here of what it is that an ad means. We begin our exploration today by looking at a particular ad that appeared in on American magazines in recent years. This is a magazine and a campaign called Got Milk where several famous figures appeared and they always asked the question, got milk?,. and had a little milk mustache with them. In this case, we see it's Superman and the question is asked, got milk?, and it says simply super. That's how milk makes you feel. Now, the question of what does this ad mean and how does meaning work has been dealt with by a number of people. But in particular, I want to call your attention to the work of Judith Williamson and her book, Decoding Advertisements. It's a fairly old book and it uses British examples, which make it sometimes hard for people who aren't living in Britain to understand the meaning of the ad on its surface just because of the local cultural differences. But in this, Judith Williamson discusses the issue of semiotics in advertising. Now, I need to say a little bit to you about what semiotics is so that we can see how she applies this and how we might apply it to understanding meaning in advertising. Semiotics is defined as the study of systems of signs and how signs in turn is defined as a sign, as a system that consists of two parts, a signifier and a signified. Now, this concept, which may seem a little difficult to grasp at the beginning, has a very interesting pedigree. It was the term semiotics was coined by Ferdinand de Saussure who lived around the turn of the 20th century. He was Swiss and he wrote a book, actually published after his death by his students, who put his lectures together. But in this, he lays out the concept of semiotics as it applies to linguistics. Since then, it's been applied to a number of other fields too, to anthropology, to literature, to music, to all kinds of fields as a mode of interpreting things. Now, let's look at how it applies specifically to advertising. If semiotics is the study of the system of, a system of signs as I stood, I said, then advertising becomes the study of sign systems, the study of semiotic sign systems that make up advertisements. And these things, again as I said, consist of the parts, the signifier and the signified. Now, in the case of the ad that I showed you, the Superman ad, what we see in particular is how it works in this case. There is the sign, which is the ad for the milk. And in it, there are two parts, the signifier, which is Superman, and what gets signified, which is milk. So what's happening is that in the ad there's a linkage being made between Superman and his qualities and milk and its qualities. So we could then ask to understand the meaning of this. In this ad, what does Superman stand for? Well, if you think about this for a minute, you'll probably come up with some suggestions of ideas like this. Power, strength, superhuman abilities, youth, good looks, sexy, and so forth. Now in turn, these values and attributes of Superman get transferred through the sign to the commodity itself so that in the end, milk contains and has these attributes assigned to it in the advertisement. Power, strength, superhuman abilities, youth, attractiveness, and sexiness. It's actually a pretty simple procedure when we look at it like this. That the ad is a system for making links between something that signifies certain characteristics and transferring these to a lifeless commodi, the commodity that doesn't have these characteristics until there are supplied by the advertisement. So, we are therefore looking at sign systems and the parts that make them up, the signifier and the signified. This is really the essence of how meaning in the ads work, according to Williamson and various other people who follow her line of thinking. I, for my, I myself, for example, I'm very partial to this way of looking at how ads mean what they do. So let's explore this a little bit. Ads use signifiers to transfer attributes to commodities. This process of creating sign systems by linking the signifier with the signified is called semiotics. And therefore, I'll be using this term, a semiotic approach to advertising, to talk about the process of looking at an advertisement in terms of finding a sig, signifier or signi, signifiers and talking about what gets signified and attached to the commodity itself in the advertisement. Now, the big question for us at this point is how do signifiers and signifieds become linked in sign systems? I've asserted that that's what happens, but how does it work? Here's an ad I think that will help us understand this. It's an interesting ad because it only has really one word in it and that's the name of the brand. Campari is an alcoholic liquor bitter in taste, red in color, Italian in origin, and here it sits the bottle being shown to us, along with a drink made from it, also red. And we see a pair of women's lips, also red. Now, Williamson says that what's happening here is that what is being transferred to the product are the voluptuous qualities that the woman's lips have. It's romantic, it's erotic, it's sexy, it's beautiful. It's all the things that you think about and think is the case when you look at this ad. Now, if you happen to think those lips aren't beautiful, that they're ugly because they're thicker and bigger than the kind of lips you like, then a different set of things is, is at work here and might be transferred to the product. So to some degree, this is, would be a set of shared meanings that we're likely to associate. But it's always the case that individuals can tailor and make these meanings somewhat individualized in terms of what they understand the signifier to mean and therefore what characteristics get transferred to the commodity being advertised. Now, Williamson says this works in this particular case through the linkage of color. The color red where it exists in the ad is in three separate places, the product, the drink, and the lips. And it's like drawing a triangle, an imaginary triangle, between these things that says, put these three things together. They all belong together. The characteristic of one is the characteristic of the other. So, that's how we are taught through semiotic processes to interpret an ad like this, where there are no words to tell us really what it means. So, the voluptuousness and eroticism or whatever you see in it gets transferred in that way to this particular brand. That would be how a semiotic process works in advertising. Now, here are some examples from Williamson's original book in 1978. I want to use them because she has some very interesting things to say about them. These are, of course, very old ads and you wouldn't see them today unless you looked in some very old or archival sources for them. But here is a woman, a beautiful white Caucasian woman with blonde hair. And superimposed on her body is the bottle of Chanel number 5 perfume, a French perfume. And the name of the brand and also her name, Catherine Deneuve for Chanel. Now, ha, what does this mean? How do we understand this ad? Well, in the same way that we just saw with the Campari bottle, what happens here semiotically is that the characteristics of the woman are transferred to the product itself. Now, Catherine Deneuve happens to be someone that older people are likely to know. She's a famous French actress. She starred in some very important movies in the 60s and thereabouts. And a lot of people would know a great deal about her biography and the characters that she played and so forth. However, young people today looking at this are very likely not to even know who she is. And on top of that, she may no longer be the global standard for what beauty is. So at the time, I think it was suggested that this was the ideal European woman, of how she looked, a classic kind of beauty, and that's what the perfume is. It's a classic kind of perfume for sophisticated, classical, beautiful women to use. Now, one of the characteristics of sign systems is that they exist in relationship to other sign systems and that advertising itself is a massive set of all kinds of sign systems in operation with one another at the same time. Another way of saying that is brands create their own identities and their identity is in part constructed from the fact that they are in opposition to some other brands that stand for different things and different qualities. In her book, Williamson mentions another perfume that no longer exists, but it was Babe and we see a very different kind of woman associated with it. This woman is also an actress, Margaux Hemingway. You can see her kicking high and her hair is cut short and she looks very, very active. So what her characteristics are are very different from those that we saw with Catherine Deneuve. And that's the two brands, Chanel No. 5 and Babe are having transferred to them some very different attributes. So, just to summarize what we're saying. Chanel No. 5 uses Catherine Deneuve, who is a classical French beauty and she is, on top of all of that, not Babe, not like Babe. And Babe, by contrast, is Margaux Hemingway, who in the late 70s would have been considered a modern act, modern woman who was active, unconventional, and she is most definitely not the Chanel woman. So, part of the meaning of Chanel and part of the meaning of Babe comes from their contrast with one another. Of the, in addition to the positive characteristics that these women contribute to the brand, they're also standing for the distinction with certain other brands that use different signifiers and convey different meanings to their brands. Now let's take a look at something more modern. Here's a quite typical ad for Ralph Lauren Polo. This one shows a young man and we might well ask, what are his characteristics? When I asked this question of my own students at Duke, what they end up saying is he, he's good looking, he's sexy, he's, looks affluent, he's preppy and lots of things like that. And thus what happens, we are hearing here, are those are the characteristics that Ralph Lauren's Polo takes on from him and from other people who look like him when they appear in the ads. So this man conveys attributes to that brand, which, without it, has no attributes to speak of. Now, here's a contrast again, as we saw with the perfumes for women. This is Yves Saint Laurent and it's a very different image of a man here. This guy is bare-chested, hairy. He's actually a, a French athlete who would be well known in France. And this interestingly is done in a very different way. He's hairy. He's masculine. He is athletic. He's just very different from that young man we saw in that other picture. He's more mature. So, which kind of man appeals to you might have something to say about which kind of perfume or cologne is more likely to also attract you. Now interesting, I just would like to add something rather amusing about this and that is simply that this is the American version of this advertising campaign. The campaign was done and started in Europe and this is the version that was used there. It's often said to be the first example of full frontal male nudity, something that Americans are a little too prudish to tolerate, so we end up with something like this instead. But in Europe in Cosmopolitan magazine in the early 2000s this image did appear and it stood for this, which is very different from that young man in the Polo advertisement. Now, there are a couple of further theoretical points that we need to make following Williamson and one of these is that ads are ideological in nature. What she means by ideology is that they contain messages that we are not usually aware of consciously about relationships of power between people and in terms of social structure. It's a very complex notion and it's a little difficult to explain simply just what it is so that it would apply to all kinds of situations. But here's how it works in advertising. Ads borrow what Williamson calls referent systems from outside the world of advertising and they rework them. Now, these referent systems can be things like science, history, geography, evolution, ideas like this. Those ideas, those referent systems, are taken from outside the world of advertising, brought into it and used in ads and then the process of using them, they are sometimes reworked. According to Williamson, the ideological power of ads can be dealt with by understanding how ads work. She means by this that if we begin to understand the way that meaning works in advertising following the examples that I've given you today, then we can better deal with the ideological messages that are being promoted and given to us, sometimes willy-nilly and maybe not even being the main point of what the advertisement is trying to do, but is nonetheless there. For example, let me show you this situation of an ad for Virginia Slims cigarettes. Now, this is an American cigarette that emerged in the 1970s along with the women's movement, the second wave of feminism. And it was this cigarette that was marketed specifically to women. And it always showed this image of the flapper, the woman that you see there in in the front part of the ad. She's a sort of 1920s type, suffragette who marched in the streets in the first wave of feminism for women's rights. But here we see this being talked about in the, in the 1970s and here's what gets said about it. It talks about the evolution of Virginia Slims and you can see pictures of the evolution of men on the left side and the evolution of women on the other. Let's read what it says in the copy. It's a well known historical fact that through the ages, man has evolved with short fat fingers. The better with which to hold on to a wild boar. The better with which to hold an ax. The better with which to hold a short fat cigarette. Women, of course, evolved with long slim fingers. The better with which to hold needle and thread. The better with which to hold a dainty teacup. The better with which to hold the long slim cigarette designed just for her. And if you look back at the ad, you'll see this is what's happening in each of the four images of men and women, the things that are described there. But what it's doing is it's telling us a story about evolution and history that simply isn't how things worked. It's not a well-known fact that through the ages, man evolved this way and women evolved in a different way. But it's a story that's clever. It's made up here. It's a way of talking about the thin cigarette made especially for women and to promote it in a, in an amusing advertisement. It's playing with the idea of history and evolution. But the problem with this playing with it, according to Williamson, is that sometimes, people confuse what the ad says with what the reality outside advertising is. I'll give you an example of this in a personal case. One of my children, when she encountered poetry in the early years of grammar school, really liked it a lot and she came home talking about how much fun it was to study about it. I said look, we've got a book, an anthology of poems, let's read some of them together. So, I took it out and I started reading her some of the famous poems in English, especially ones like The Raven that children know and like. And when I got to Sonnets from the Portuguese and I started out, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the height and breadth. And at this point, she stops me and she says, hey, they stole that. And I said, what do you mean they stole that? She said, you know, the, the ad, the commercial on television. Butternut bread, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. And then she goes on and repeats the advertisement, which is a parody of the poem. Now, the problem is that if you don't know the poem first, then you don't realize that the parody is a parody. And if you don't know the way that evolution works and have studied that, then you don't know that this is a parody of evolution. This is the difficulty with some of the ideological messages in advertising according to Williamson. They tend to rework these things and they can confuse us sometimes about where is reality and where is parody, where is the actual things and facts of the world and historical truths versus the kinds of things that are sometimes played around with in a creative way in advertising. So, Williamson warns us against this and says that in order to deal with this, we need to understand this whole process of semiotics and how attributes are transferred through semiotic systems to commodities that originally lack those characteristics. And how sometimes in this process, advertising can use signifiers that really differ from reality in significant ways, and we can end up having an ideological trick played on us and thus become confused about reality versus the takeoffs on reality and the parodies of reality that we see in ads. Well, that's where we'll stop at this point, but I'd like to suggest that you consult the the required readings for this part of the course and begin doing that in ADText while we continue through this series of lectures on the interpretation of advertisements. This course is a collaborative venture of Duke University and the Advertising Educational Foundation.