Monday, April 28, 2008

Anchor and relay

Anchorage is text (such as a caption) that provides the link between the image and its context; the text that provides relevance to the reader. The term was introduced by Barthes (1977). Daniel Chandler's website "Semiotics for Beginners" provides a full overview of Barthes' motivations and reasoning (go to, if you would like to find out more. Chandler quotes Hall (1981) to the effect that "It is a very common practice for the captions to news photographs to tell us, in words, exactly how the subject's expression ought to be read". This is a key aspect of the construction of an advertisement that we will investigate.

Barthes introduced the idea of anchorage along with another, the idea of Relay, which is a reciprocal relation between text and picture, in that each contributes its own part of the overall message. It also relates a sequence of pictures to each other. This technique is typically how comic-strip panes transition from one to the next, but is quite rarely used in advertising. If you do find any advertisements that have several panes or frames with some obvious transitioning from one to the next, you have found a good example of relay.

When you see a complete advertisement, you get a certain kind of meaning for the image, within the overall context that the advertisement provides. It may seem as though the image was "made for" that particular advertisement. However, a moment's thought will let you realize that, to a certain extent, any image can have any meaning (see Unit 2, the arbitrariness of the sign). The text of an advertisement is primarily the extra information that guides the reader to a particular interpretation of the whole, and thereby a particular interpretation of the image.

Look at advertisement 32 State Farm, for example (below). What meaning does the underlying image have? Could you imagine it being used for some other advertisement?

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