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Ferdinand de Saussure

April 26, 2010

“The Course in General Linguistics”, written by Ferdinand de Saussure, edited by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye in collaboration with Albert Reidlinger and translated from french by Wade Baskin. Ferdinand de Saussure provides a theoretic foundation to trend of linguistics study.

The nature of the sign

Language is identified by its elements with each corresponding to a thing it names. This approach is naive in its manner and brings us to the fact that the linguistic unit is a double entity, one formed by associating two terms. The linguistic sing unites a concept and a sound-image (the psychological imprint of the sound- the one it makes on our senses). This combination of a concept and sound-image is what makes up a sign, but in current usage it only refers to the sound-image, or the word. For example, the word “arbor” carries the concept tree, with the result the idea of the sensory part implies the idea of the whole. In this case, sign now designates the whole and concept and sound-image is replaced respectively by signified and signifier.

The bond between the signified and signifier is arbitrary, and thus the linguistic sign is arbitrary. This means it is unmotivated, arbitray in that it has no natural connection with the signified.

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Images in Advertising: Theory

April 12, 2010

Advertising is a form of visual communication where companies work with persuasion – the power to influence consumers to associate or establish connections with a certain image and their product or service. The use of images and videos in advertisements is evidence that what is being shown has really happened and allows the images to be seen as direct copies of reality. The visual connections established is to elicit some form on mental connection and ultimately to pursue a certain type of behavior.

There are three major roles that images play in an ad:

  • Elicit emotion by simulating appearance of a real person or object
  • Serve as photographic proof that something did really happen
  • Establish implicit link between thing being sold and some other image(s

Using both pathos (emotion) and logos (logic), advertisers hope to ultimately persuade a person to purchase their product.

The different modes of communication have different implications and uses on how people interact. It can be described as having either semantic or syntactic properties. Semantic focuses on how the elements of a particular mode (words, images, musical tones, whatever) are related to their meanings. Syntactic deals with the interrelationships among the elements themselves as they combine to form a larger meaning. Each mode of communication has a combination of these two features.

Semantic properties are a central concern for semiotics, the study of signs. Scholars have identifited many ways to classify the relationships between “signifiers” and “signifieds”, but the most common scheme is used is the one identified by Charles Sanders pierce.

His triadic classifications entails three categories:

  • Icon. Iconic signs are characterized by some form of similarity or analogy between the sign and its object.
  • Index. Indexical signs are are those that serve as a physical trace pointing to the object’s existence.
  • Symbol. A symbol is an arbitrary convention – things that referred by virtue of social convention.

Why do we react the way we do to certain images? Several reasons ..

Semantic

Pictures that resemble some aspect of reality are clear examples of iconic signs. According to Pierce, iconic signs need not provide a particularly close replica of its’ objects overall appearance. Example would be a river on a map – an iconic presentation of the course of the real river or a child’s stick figure drawing of person. Researsh has shown that cognition and perception that even a rudimentary match between image and reality is enough for the brain to employ real world processes of visual interpretation.

Visual representations made from photographs or videos also qualify under Pierce’s notion of a sign produced by a physical trace of its object. Meaning that not only are they iconic, but indexical signs as well. The fact that the photographs are direct physical imprints of reality it plays an important role in persuasion.

Syntactic

Syntactic aspects of images, the theoretical literature is less systematic and less developed than it is for visual semantics. Visual communication is characterized by a lack of explicit means for identifying ways in which images may be relayed to each other. What visual communications lacks is called propositional syntax. People who work in visual communications develop precise conventions for indicating spatial or temporal relationships among two or more objects, but visual communications does not have explicit syntax for expressing analogies, contrasts, causal claims, and other kinds of propositions. In the context of advertising, the “deficiency” of visual syntax makes it a principal strngth – it allows people to make their own connections and interpretations of the images.

Iconicicty, indexicality and syntantic indeterminacy are the three properties used in the attributes of visual persuasion. The real world around us surrounds us with social, cultural, and personal norms that we associate with each day. The associations come from unique experiences of each individual combined with common, shared influences of culture and biology. Certain images can reproduce the appearance of reality (icon) and can evoke a variety of “preprogrammed” emotional responses.

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Semiology

April 7, 2010

Roland Barthes speaks on semiology outlined in Chapter 4 of his book. Let’s take a closer look into semiology and the meanings it creates for images.

Semiology is an approach taken to analyze images with an in-depth look of the meaning behind it and traces it in relation to broader systems of meaning. The word itself means “the study of signs;. Semiology depends on a scientific knowledge that contradicts ideals of ideology. Ideology legitimates unequal social power relations and is based on represntations that reflect interests of power. Williamson describes ideology as “the meaning made necessary by conditions of society”. It is a need to belong, to have a social place in society. Semiology is concerned with the social effects of meaning. Advertisements are a prime example of semiology linked with ideology. Ads make a connection that we can relate to our own lives, and thus, believe in these embedded assumptions that lie deep within. Williamson explains her understanding of adverts that there is a clear distinction between ‘real’ structures of society (class relations) and ‘false’ knowledge of social differences imposed by adverts.

Semiological studies tend to concentrate on the image itself with a focus on signs that compose the image. The social effects of an image is also of concern to the modality of the site. Semiology fulfills the criteria needed to examine visual images and take apart the meanings that lie beneath.

When examining images and their meanings, semiological components are utilized. First is the sign, which is made up the signified and signifier. Signified is a concept or object and signifier is a sound or image that is attached to the signified.  Ferdinand de Sassure developed this systematic understanding of signs, and stated that there is no necessary relationship between any signifier and signified, and thus is arbitrary. For instance, the word ‘baby’ in English is ‘bimbo’ in Italian. Also, the same signified can have multiple meanings. Baby is a term used between adults to show affection and endearment, and in english ‘bimbo’ is a term used to stereotype certain kinds of women. The referent is the actual object to which the sign is related.

Pierce had a different way of looking at signs. He classified them into three kinds of signs – Icon, Index, and Symbol. Icon being that the signifier represents the signified by having a likeness to it. Things such as a photograph of a tree would be an icon for a tree. Index is an inherent relationship between the signifier and signified. This is different dependent upon culture. A symbol is an arbitrary relation between the signifier and signified.

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Advertisement : What It Really Means

March 1, 2010

What do you see when you look at this ad?

Incorporating the concepts from Barthes, Sassure, and Williams – there is much to interpret in this advertisement.

First, let’s just look at the overall picture. Man and woman (celebrities Carolyn Murphy and Nicholas Holt – both quite sexy) with a caption in the bottom left corner “Tom Ford”. At first glance, it looks as if the lady (Carolyn Murphy) is wearing a nude-colored tank, but if you look closer, that’s not quite the case. She is nude with tan lines emphasizing a bra layout.

Let’s look at his outfit- a white suit with black/white bowtie and it seems to blend in with his pale face. Rockin’ the “dorky” type look with bowtie and hair style. White emphasizes luxury, elegance, and power in this sense.

Both of their eyes are penetrated onto you. They are both staring into your eyes. Although she has sunglasses on, her eyes are still quite evident and piercing.

She leans on him for support, a sexual type stance. Her messy “bed-like” hair and nude body invites sexual innuendos and provocative thinking.

This advertisement entices the idea that with these sunglasses, you will also have the qualities presented by these models – power, sexual appeal, and beautiful.

Tom Ford is known for his controversial ad campaigns, but this one may be the least racy.

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Myth Behind the Photo

February 25, 2010

This historic and iconic photo took place on February 23, 1945 representing the Iwo Jima Flag Raising. The history behind this photo takes us back to WWII to a tiny volcanic island of Iwo Jima, located 775 miles from Japan.

Background of Barthes’ Myth

An excerpt from Roland Barthes’ Mythologies titled “Myth Today” explains myth as a system of communications and a message. Myth is not defined by the object, but the message it utters. It is a mode of signification, a form. Signifier and signified, from the concept of Sassure, is the first system- the linguistic system. The last term of the lingustic, or the first term of the mythical, known as the signifier is renamed meaning in the lingustic and in mythical it is the form. The signified is the concept and the combination of the form and concept makes signification.

The myth dives deeper into the sign formed by the first layer combined with its own signifier to form signification.

Having given a bit of background, let’s dive into the myth behind this photo.

Iwo Jima Photo

This picture shows six soldiers climbing up a rubble of land to raise the American Flag. Although it is a black and white photo, it is evident that these soldiers are strong leading men, covered in dirt treading up a hill with all their might, pride, and power.

The signifer (concept): Six soldiers climbing a hill raising the American Flag, amidst rubble.

The signified(meaning): The strength and power of these soldiers to climb to the top and represent pride for their country. By raising the flag over Iwo Jima, this shows victory and defeat of the war.

Myth: America is a strong leading international power that can defeat all those who try to get in the way. Soldiers stand together with their pride and toughness to show the world that America will not be defeated – one for all and all for one.

9-11

Another iconic photo is this one taken after 9-11 as the firemen raise the US flag amidst rubble. The war on terrorism shocked us all and the tragedy of 9-11 will never be forgotten.

The signifier: Three firemen, covered in ash, stand together to raise the flag on top of the World Trade Center – also on top of rubble and broken pieces.

The signified: The US will not be broken down. We take pride in our nation and will come together to restore the pieces that have been broken. To all those who are lost, a memorial is put up in their memory.

The myth: The US is a strong nation and all those living in America stand together to help one another. Though tragedy strikes, we raise our flag in honor for our nation and all that which it means: freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To all those who try to bring us down – we stand strong.

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Magic – The Idea

February 25, 2010

When you think of a car, what exactly comes to mind? How about when you picture “Joe the Camel” for Camel cigarettes? Think about some of the ads you seen in magazines or the car commercials on TV.

In most minds,we think of masculinity and power when we think of a car. The speed, the luxury, the “chick magnet”, right? Joe the Camel offers similar attributes with the idea of masculinity, and the cowboy type of guy, the cool guy, the guy every guys wants to be.

Well, if you really get to the bottom of things, it boils down to a type of “magic”. Raymond Williams explains this magic system in an excerpt I read from his book, The Long Revolution. “Advertising: A Magic System”, written by Raymond Williams first explains the history of advertising – as it dates back to the days of the slave trade. Historically, newspaper ads were simply classified ads, outlining features and benefits of a product, and occasionally an endorsement from the royal empire.

Advertising has grown quite significantly since then. The transformation began in the beginning of the 1900s. This is when emotions and power were being influenced through the advertisements. During the First War, many posters began to emerge using methods of psychological warfare. For example, a drawing detailed to perfection showing: curtains, armchair, grim face of the father, a little girl on his knee pointing to her open-picture book, and a little boy at his feet playing with toy soldiers. The caption, “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?” Not only using the traditional appeals of patriotism, this also outlined personal relationships and anxieties. Letting down your country meant letting down your sweetheart.

Thinking about modern day advertising, appeals of emotions, authority, and logic (three principles of Aristotle – pathos, ethos, and logos) are commonly used today. It identifies not just a product or service, but personal and social values. Williams described advertising as “magic: a highly organized and professional system of magical inducements and satisfactions, functionally very similar to magical systems in simpler societies, but rather strongly coexistent with a highly developed scientific technology”. Simply put, the associations we make with the products and/or services advertised makes us believe that we will not only have that thing, but all the things unseen with it. Example: By having this car, you will also have the girls, power, and success. This car can “magically” bring you all these elements along with it, the unforeseen but socially accepted and luxurious characteristics that you desire.  Just like in the fairytales, Cinderella went from being a poor maid to a princess, but along with that a beautiful dress, handsome prince, and “happily ever after”.

The world of magic bestows upon us today. It’s all around us and will continue to evolve with each passing day. Creative new ways will be developed to make us believe, and we WILL believe.

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Name Change

February 25, 2010

The blog has officially changed it’s name from “Wonders of the Web” to “Insight into Advertising”. The reason being – a class change. The fall semester has ended, thus my Media Writing class has come to an end. A look into my last semester here at USP, I am know taking “Special Topics of Rhetoric”. Here I learn about Sassure and his theory behind the principles of images, advertisements, and symbols.