Week 4: So Where is the Author now?

This week we looked at advertising, where this has been successful (Dominant), where there have been unintended interpretations of messages carried in the images and by text (Oppositional) and where the advert has both meanings/interpretations possible but has till met with some success (Negotiated). In doing this we were signposted to Katherine Frith and Hong Chen’s (2006, pp191-200) stages for reading adverts (surface, intended and cultural meanings).

Vorsprung Durch Technic translates as Progress Through Technology. Little did Sir John Hegarty know that in adopting his found by accident catch phrase he would not only have found a marketing slogan that has become a trademark for Audi but also one that would “transform the image of the entire country” (Rice-Oxley, 2012, 18 September).
For me this catch phrase accompanied by images of the Audi vehicles in still and video fomats says what it is and does on the tin. The surface meaning is clear. Attention to technological development produces great cars. This is clearly the pitch Audi chose to market with and the risk paid off. Having experienced driving an Audi I am impressed with the engineering and if money permitted would gladly chose one again. In terms of cultural impact there is now a well known stereotypical understanding of Germany and Germans as synonymous with and at the forefront of technological development and able to make well engineered, efficient, reliable products for both domestic and commercial use. The timing of this slogan came at a time post second world war when Germany needed to find a way of improving international relations. This innovative addition to Audi’s advertising has made a significant contribution in that direction.

In contrast Bloomingdales made a huge error in releasing an advert in a holiday catalogue, seemingly before market testing (or not tested with a representative sample of the population). Two models wearing clothes suggestive of smart young professionals were posed such that she looked out of the image away from him and was laughing and he looked with a serious, potentially intentional expression at her with the strap line ‘Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking’. The advert was immediately read as encouraging of date rape. Blomingdales could only issue an apology as there was not way to retract the advert from an already published and distributed catalogue. In this case the advertiser buried the intended meaning with an unintended encouragement message to men to use drugs in order to rape women. The advert is culture bound in so far as both models were caucasian and is targeted marketing by virtue of using young models dressed in expensive looking ‘western style’ clothes they might aspire to. Someone with very poor judgment, out of touch with the reality of current societal concerns, must have approved this advert. As a final point, not having seen the catalogue, I am left not knowing whether the advert was for holidays, clothes or eggnog.

Originally the Andrex toilet paper advert was due to be presented with a little girl running through her home trailing a roll behind her. The puppy was introduced instead as this was thought to be less encouraging of poor and wasteful behaviour. Having endured since 1972 the advert continues to feature Labrador puppies as a brand logo. I placed this advert as negotiated because I remember when it first came out there was some reaction to wastefulness and the encouragement to engage in such behaviours as children liked the puppy and emulated what it did. Since then the puppy and Andrex have become synonymous and accepted as advertising toilet roll just as the Dulux dog became associated with paints. Interestingly both animals are light coloured and typical pets in western societies. This suggests the products were aimed at people in advantaged societies who could afford toilet rolls and to decorate their homes. In both these cases there were intended meanings, to market toilet rolls and paint, unintended meanings to use playful techniques involving trained animals (to which there could be objections from animal cruelty organisations) in ways that could be picked up and repeated by children, and then ultimately a consolidated association of product and animal such that they are synonymous in people’s minds. The revival of the Dulux dog in 2011 had the unintended effect of also reviving interest in and breeding of the old English sheepdog which was becoming endangered as a species in part attributed to the rise in popularity of handbag size dogs (Alleyne, 2013).

What have I learned from this exercise? With some familiarity with advertising (e.g. Cigarini, 2014), I have been aware of these possibilities. However I have not often thought about them in relation to my photography. I am aware that some of my images are more likeable and are received with the responses I anticipated when sharing them where as others are not as well liked as evidenced on social media. I am also aware that I filter out images that might have unintended consequences. For example, when photographing an event or street scene and finding images of children in them when I had not permission to include them or when the image might suggest something is acceptable when it is not (e.g. creative presentation of distasteful debris on beaches). However feedback from peers, tutors and others around me shows that I am not always correct in my anticipatory deselection of such ‘beautiful and intruiging’ debris images, and that my messages may still be effective through unexpected routes of presentation (Barker,2017).

Andrex. Available at: https://www.andrex.co.uk/75th-anniversary/. [accessed 02-03-2018].

Alleyne, Richard.18 Feb 2013. Power of TV – Revival of Dulux Dog adverts inspire revival in breed. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9877002/Power-of-TV-Revival-of-Dulux-Dog-adverts-inspire-revival-in-breed.html. [accessed 04-03-2018].

Barker, Mandy. 2017. Beyond Drifting. Imperfectly Known Animals. Recent and Unique Species Discovered in the Cove of Cork. United Kingdom: Overlapse.

Cigarini, Johnny. 2014. Confessions of a Kings Road Cowboy: Memoirs of a terrible name-dropper. Leicestershire: Matador.

Frith, Katherine T. & Cheng, Hong. 2006. Symbolic Meanings of Advertisements in China. In Hong Chen and Kara Chan (Eds.), Advertising and Chinese Society: Impacts and Issues. Copenhagen Business School Press: Copenhagen.

Gajanan, Mahita. 11 Nov 2015. Bloomingdale’s apologizes for apparent date rape joke in holiday catalog ad. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/nov/11/bloomingdales-apologizes-holiday-ad-date-rape-joke. [accessed 28-02-2018].

Rice-Oxley, Mark. 2012. Vorsprung durch Technik – ad slogan that changed how we saw Germany. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/sep/18/vorsprung-durch-technik-advertising-germany. [accessed 28-02-2018].

Sweney, Mark. 2010. Audi wins seven-year battle over ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ trademark. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2010/jan/22/audi-vorsprung-durch-technik-trademark. [accessed 28-02-2018].

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