Choose a day that you can spend out and about looking with no particular agenda. Be conscious of how images and texts are presented to you in the real world – on billboards, in magazines and newspapers, and online, for example. Make notes in your learning log on some specific examples and reflect upon what impact the text has on how you read the overall message.
• Does the text close the image down (i.e. inform or direct your reading) or open it up (i.e.
allow for your personal interpretation to play a part in creating the final meaning)?
• What do you think was the intention of the creator in each instance?
Example 1 -Skoda
This is an advertisement for a car from a June 2017 edition of The Guardian weekend magazine. The text reads ‘Be Yourselves The new Skoda Octavia, Driven by Something Different’.the car appears to be placed in a large garage. The walls are covered with personal effects such as clothes, tools and other items. They are laid out neatly like a gallery wall or specimens in a museum.
Rather than employ the directional text more often seen in car advertisements (this is faster, more economical, prestigious or desirable) Skoda take a different approach and use more orientational language.
The text opens with the phrase ‘Be Yourselves’. By using the plural of ‘yourself’ it hints at two different meanings. Firstly, we immediately consider the others that might make use of the car. W are being guided to consider the wider interests of the family not just the principal decision maker for a new car – typically the husband! We might already be thinking that the sleek sports car we always wanted might not be so sensible after all.
Secondly, this orientational text invites us to reflect on the fact that there is more than one side to us. We are, in effect, plural and have many facets. Now we have been reminded of all our other hobbies and interests (pinned to the wall behind) how would we get our bike or golf clubs in that racy convertible with a tiny boot?
After planting this seed, that we have lots of very different requirements in a new car, the advertisement simply announces the name of it before suggesting that this car is ‘Driven by something different’. Perfect match then!
Example 2 – Beauty and cosmetics
Here I selected two different advertisements for ladies cosmetics and beauty products from a magazine. I wanted to expore why they might have taken such visually different approaches to the use of image and text for what are essentially very similar products.
The first advertisement is quite astonishing in that it is offering a “£30 facelift that DOES work” yet has only a single very small image of the alleged product results. Only approximately 10% of the advertisemet carries any image, with 90% given over to text against a white background. The text is very directional, unequivocally informing the reader that the produce actually works, has many satisfied customers and is low in price. The text has an aesthetic mimiking a newspaper, presumably an attempt to trick the casual observer into believing it is more trustworthy magazine content rather than an advert at all, or at least using semiotic codes to suggest editorial rather than advertising.
On closer inspection of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ images both are too small to assess how well the product apparently works with any certainty. The forehead hair makes it obvious that the ‘after’ image has been softened in photoshop or similar. Interestingly the ‘after’ image seems to be framed higher up yet the mouth, nose and eyes are level in the frame to the ‘before’ shot, leading to the conconclusion that the camera position may be slightly higher on the second shot and lower on the first. The apparently smaller neck supports this.
Overall, this advertisement relies on directive text rather than letting the product photo ‘do the talking’ – despite the assertion that a persuasive before and after comparision is volunteered.
The second advert takes the opposite approach with a close up portrait occupying all of the space with far less text overlaid onto it. Lighting is soft with no shadow on the face but rapid light falloff to the sides. I expect this is lit with a softbox above the model and reflector, or fill light, below to fill shadows. There is a trace of a shadow below the nose but falling short of traditional ‘butterfly lighting’. This view is supported by the single square catchlight in the upper part of the pupil. The emphasis is on the face itself: presented as flawness and available for critical inspection.
The eyes take a very prominent role in the image. Taken slightly from above, the gaze is up with a small amount of white visible between the pupil and lower eyelid. The chin is down. The look is therefore seductive, beautiful, confident and alluring. Without saying it, surely a look that any potential purchaser of the product would aspire to?
The text is a thin sans serif font, ensuring that as much of the image as possible remains visible with an aesthetic hint of the Art Deco era of glamour and haute couture. It supports the image by focussing on the eyes and suggesting that they ought to be used to convey emotion rather than age. We have already discussed the very clear female allure being suggested in the gaze. The orientational text suggests how we might achieve this. It does not say ‘use this product to make your eyes look less old’. But that is what it is gently leading us to believe, placing the product and company name neatly in the right corners of the image.
Two very different approaches to combining words and text to sell beauty cream. The first relies on directional text and supporting images. The second puts an arguably perfect look centre stage, charged with seductiveness, then loosely associates the product with removal of the barriers to achieving that look.