Monday, April 28, 2008

Analyze an advertisement

In our opinion, there are drawbacks to thinking too hard about the interpretation of an advertisement, or too hard about what kind of sense the advertisement makes. We refer to them as drawbacks, for they may obscure the most simple features of the advertisement, the very features that we are trying to uncover here: simply, how is the advertisement put together? And why is each element the way it is?

Not all advertisements make perfect sense. Not all of them promote or imply acceptance of social values that everyone would agree are what we should hope for, in an enlightened and civilized society. Some advertisements appear to degrade our images of ourselves, our language, and appear to move the emphasis of interaction in our society to (even more) consumerism. There may even be a dark, seamy, or seedy side to advertising. This is hardly surprising, as our society is indeed a consumer society, and it is highly capitalistic in the simplest sense ("If someone will buy it, someone will produce it."). There is no doubt that advertising promotes a consumer culture, and helps create and perpetuate the ideology that creates the apparent need for the products it markets.

For our purposes here, none of this matters. Our task is to analyze advertisements, and to see if we can understand how they do what they do. We will leave the task of how we interpret our findings in the larger social, moral and cultural contexts for another occasion.

It is often said that advertising is irrational, and, again, that may well be true. But this is where the crossover between information and persuasion becomes important; an advertisement does not have to be factually informative (but it cannot be factually misleading). For example, what is the factual information presented in 15dunhill (on the right)? There appears to be very little information present, but it is nevertheless possible that the advertisement is quite effective in promoting the fragrance.

In a discussion of what kind of benefit an advertisement might offer to a consumer, Jim Aitchison (1999) provides the following quote from Gary Goldsmith of Lowe & Partners, New York. It sums up perfectly what it is that one should look for in an advertisement. The question posed is "Is advertising more powerful if it offers a rational benefit?" Here is Goldsmith's answer:

"I don't think you need to offer a rational benefit. I think you need to offer a benefit that a rational person can understand." Aitchison (1999, 49)

The section on the practice of BBDO in Unit 14 suggests a similar strategy.

Our approach to advertising is that it is presented as rational communcation, even if not all aspects of it seem rational (see the next section, on processing). Our emphasis will not be so much "Does this advertisement make sense?", but "If you are presented with this advertisement, what sense of it do you make?".

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