Williamson, "Decoding Advertisements"

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Please post discussion questions on Judith WIlliamson's "Decoding Advertisements," below. As you read, think through the following questions:

1. Williamson explains that the sign is made up of a signifier and a signified and operates with respect to a referent system. How does she define the sign? The signifier? The signified? The referent system?
2. How does Williamson define ideology? Why does this matter when decoding advertisements?
3. Why does Williamson find these concepts useful when decoding advertisements? How can they be useful to us?
4. What are some examples of advertisements that could be productively analyzed in this way?

10 Comments

While reading this piece, I understood the concept of sign, signifier, and signified. One major thing I wondered after I read the whole article was how advertisers decide which emotion to evoke during the duration of a commercial or during the print ad.

I also thought of ads in a sense that in many types of ads, there are a general feelings that associate themselves with a specific emotion. What are the types of emotions advertisements use for the different types of ads? For example, perfume ads generally go down the sensual path with the actresses or models used in the ad.

After the Williamson reading I realized just how much more there was to advertising than I really ever thought there was before, at least through the eyes of Williamson. These concepts talked about throughout the reading like signs, signifiers and the signified are potentially useful tools in decoding or breaking down an advertisement as a viewer. There is just so much thinking that can go into an advertisement, but the more you know about them, the better we can understand them. I wonder if any other scholars or experts in advertising have made these terms talked about in the reading undetectable to the viewer completely? In other words an advertisement extremely well disguised.

I have some experience with the concepts of sign, signifier, and signified, but I found this article very interesting. I have always been interested in advertising and the tactics they use. One of my favorites is the emotional appeal. However, it seems to me that these days people are much less focused during commercials so it is rare that someone is emotionally affected by a commercial. My question is how can advertisers create a strong enough emotional connection that audiences will pay attention and be motivated by the ad?

I liked reading this article and learning about the different techniques advertisers use when creating advertisements. I found the parts on ideology to be very interesting. An effective advertisement does not just try to sell certain material goods, but the connections we have with the specific product and our lifestyle. An advertisement must mean something to us, or else we will find no connection to the product at all. We all have the need to find our place in society, and advertising key in to make people feel their sense of belonging with the product shown.

Happy Super Bowl Everyone! So, I found some aspects of this article quite interesting... One thing that kind of resonated with me was the fact that the date on this article was 1978. This being said, It was interesting that the points she made, are valued points that we still currently question today. For example, she mentions that the Chanel #5 perfume ad was peculiar because there wasn't really a solid selling point on the ad, but mainly a beautiful woman's face representing the perfume. Williamson states that there isn't really any relation to the product, however, Catherine Denveuve's "most precise characteristic is that [she is] what the others are not." Today, we use major celebrities to represent this Chanel #5 ad such a Natalie Portman, or Keira Knightley. Also today, the ads have maintained the simplicity of having 1 woman as the face of this brand. I don't need to question whether or not as consumers, we draw the same assumptions from advertisements such as these. I know for a fact that none of us are immune to the beauty of an attractive person. I look at this ad, or any of the current Chanel #5 ads, and subconsciously I DO think about how I am NOT like the beautiful woman faced on this ad. Actually, these ads only perpetuate my negative ideas about how I will never be able to look like 100% of the women they use in advertisements. Williamson mentions this idea that these types of advertisements force us to look at women not as women, but as signs. I feel that this happens so frequently today, and now we have no choice but to objectify the people we see in advertisements. I feel as the course progresses, we will learn more on this topic,and find organic ways to combat ideas such as these.

A point that really interested me in this article was how we associate different products with different feelings. Like the example of diamonds and "eternal love". How are these connections intialy made and how do advertisers decide the rules/ codes for the feelings that get associated with their product?

Williamson states that "A product corresponds to somebody's life-style" particularly someone famous as the signifier. One thing I wonder about is if these famous people actually use the product themselves. Is the product being advertised or the person/object (the sign). Why do we tend to buy products we have no use for but buy them because we want to live a certain lifestyle as someone else?

One thing that the Williamson reading illustrates well is that advertisements are constructed to be an extremely refined means of communication. The producers trim away the less useful characteristics of any given context or situation to transmit an extremely calculated message. Ultimately, the referent system active in any advertisement is made successful by the careful selection and arrangement of the signs used to construct it. There is so much within the context of any market or advertisement that the producers of choose not to show us. What does what we do see say about what we don't in regard to race, class, gender, and sexuality?

I was curious if this example would relate to how subtle media effects are in regards to product placement. In the tv show Weeds, Nancy Botwin is rarely seen without a Diet Coke or an Iced Coffee in her hand. I noticed that while I watched this show I found myself craving Diet Coke and Iced Coffee, to assimilate myself to Nancy, despite her criminal behavior. Would this prove on of the media literacy concepts correct as it relates to how subtle, yet significant these media effects are?

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This page contains a single entry by zimme313 published on January 30, 2013 9:47 AM.

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