Project Rhetoric of the image

This project involves reading Roland Barthes essay Rhetoric of the image and make notes. The second part of the project is to make notes on some contemporary advertisments in the light of Barthes views.

Barthes work focuses on the multiple meanings which can be attributed to the visual elements within advertisements. He demonstrates that literal (denotive) and implied (connotive) interpretations are always present. With regards to the linguistic component he argues that the most common role is for the text to provide the context in which the authors wish the denotive elements in the advertisement to be interpreted (he refers to this as anchorage).

In the case of literal messages the relationships between signifiers and signifieds is simply one of recording, e.g. this photograph of an apple simply depicts an apple. In this regard the myth of photographic ‘naturalness’ adds a sense of objectivity derived from the general understanding that for a photograph to be made mechanically it is a given that the thing must have-been-there. 

Connotive interpretations of visual images require an understanding of relevant cultural codes. The photographer’s intervention when producing a mechanical image, i.e. choice of framing, viewpoint, lens etc, also falls into the realm of the connotive. An apple can given alternative meanings depending on how it is photographed.

I have chosen to review some recent advertisments for sports equipment as it is an area of personal interest and is very topical given the upcoming London Olympics.

The first advertisement is this one for Nike.

Nike advertisment featuring runner Mo Farah

The construction of this ad is very simple. It is a photograph of the runner Mo Farah in action overlaid with a significant amount of  text. Looking first at the text. There is an apparent hand written note from Farah stating DON’T DREAM OF WINNING. TRAIN FOR IT. Mo, then a web reference, including the statement MAKE IT COUNT in red and finally the Nike logo. The literal interpretation of this is get out there an train, its the way to win. Dreaming alone simply does not get the job done. Mo’s signature, the web reference and the logo add credibility and legitimise the statement and the use of Mo’s photograph. The photograph shows Mo hard at work. His eyes stare straight ahead. He is not sweating, nor does he appear to be distressed. His body and arms show that he is running. As does the movement of the chain around his neck. He looks very lean, very focused and very fit. On a connotive level the image is saying ‘this is how you will look if you train a lot (using Nike products)’. Mo is associated with speed and success. His endorsement of Nike products transfers the association of success to the use of Nike products. So the implied (connotive) message is ‘use Nike products if you want to be a successful athlete’.

My second advertisment is for Reebok Easytone shoes.

Reebok Easytone shoe advertisment

On a denotive level this ad shows a woman with an enviable figure from the waist down set in a room with a wooden floor. She is dressed in her Reebok shoes and panties. There is a old red telephone on the floor and the telephone wire is wrapped around her legs. On the floor surrounding her are various items spread around untidily – shoes, a clock, a pile of magazines, a pot plant, some dice and some roller skates. The wall she is facing is white and there is a door at the centre of the image. To the left of the door there are various items of clothing hanging, presumably from hooks. On the wall behind there are various photographs pinned up.  Easytone help you tone your butt and legs with every step, Available soon Runtone for running and Traintone for working out. EASYTONE RUNTONE TRAINTONE  is the main subtext on the advertisment. In larger letters to the left centre is Reetone  and to the bottom right Reebok your move. The scene is apparently intended to denote a typical domestic scene of a woman at home. On an implied level the scene suggests a woman with lots going on and little time to keep fit. The fact that she has a perfect body stands in contradiction to this situation as one would think that she might have little time to train. The shoes she is wearing are suggested as the reason for her perfect butt and legs. The message is ‘buy our shoes and you will look like this’.  There is little sign of family life in the stuff spread around the room, so this woman is presented as a single girl with a busy work and social life, suggesting that this is the target market for the product. The text anchors the scene causing the viewer to focus on the shoes. The male audience would no doubt focus on the girl’s figure and men might be seen as a second audience for the ad, with boyfriends and husbands being encouraged to purchase the product so that their girlfriend/wife’s figures might be transformed into the perfect form presented on the ad.

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