advertising in photography (photography degree, year 1, essay 3)

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Year 1, Essay 3 Question 15 Advertising images function in particular ways to make us desire the product. Compare and contrast two advertisements that use photography, highlighting the ways they are intended to communicate with their intended audience. Dan Foy BA Hons Photography Module No: PHOT100058 Seminar tutor: Malcolm Brice Word count: 3054

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First year, third term essay on Advertising in Photography for BA Photography (Hons) at Nottingham Trent University (NTU). This one got an A :-)Original title:Question 15: Advertising images function in particular ways to make us desire the product. Compare and contrast two advertisements that use photography, highlighting the ways they are intended to communicate with their intended audience.


Year 1, Essay 3Question 15Advertising images function in particular ways to make us desire the product. Compare and contrast two advertisements that use photography, highlighting the ways they are intended to communicate with their intended audience.

Dan Foy

BA Hons Photography

Module No: Seminar tutor: Word count:

PHOT100058 Malcolm Brice 3054

Advertising images function in particular ways to make us desire the product. Compare and contrast two advertisements that use photography, highlighting the ways they are intended to communicate with their intended audience.

Advertisements are an inescapable element of modern life.

They are

everywhere: obvious posters and leaflets on the sides of shops and at points of sale, billboards on busy roads, in between programmes on commercial television stations and content on websites, hidden in viral videos on YouTube, masquerading as articles in newspapers and magazines. They take the form of photographs in magazines and newspapers and on billboards, moving images on television and the Internet, audio clips on radio stations and during podcasts, and as text, logos, and other branding adorning virtually every consumable in every market. In newer arenas, such as the Internet, advertisements are even disguised as interactive games or system warnings, albeit with variable success. There are numerous motives a company may have for creating

advertisements, such as to promote a particular product line, the brand as a whole, or a certain mindset beneficial to a companys goals. The range of genres within photography that a advertising agency are able to choose from in order to communicate their clients message to their target audience is as varied as the different motivations for creating these images. In product photography alone, for instance, there is the clean studio style, in which a product is isolated from a contextual background and is instead lit evenly with studio lighting and set against a seamless light or coloured background, or else lit selectively with grids and snoots and set against a darker background for a moodier, more dramatic feel. Alternatively, some products may be set against contextual backgrounds and photographed on-set or on-site, as is often the case with restaurant menus and furniture catalogues. Product

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photos may also be a combination of the two, with meticulously studio-lit products placed within a separately photographed or rendered location in post production, or against (or within) abstract backdrops, as with the iconic iPod advertisements. Different styles of photograph offer different aesthetics that can be used by photographers and advertising agencies to more effectively communicate with the intended audience for the advert. For the purpose of illustration, I have selected two photograph-based advertisements from separate multinationals. Both images, although described here in isolation, belong to larger sets of materials for their respective advertising campaigns. The first is from a campaign by The CocaCola Company advertising their flagship product in 2009-10; the second is part of the online marketing for the 2007 version of Apples iMac desktop computer. I have purposely chosen two images that are similar in their formal presentation, in order to show how photographs shot using similar methods can communicate very different messages to their audiences. The Coca-Cola advertisement (Appendix A) consists of bottle of Coke with the text Aaahhh formed above it in what appears to be Coca-Cola that has burst out of the bottle. The image is of the product-on-white style described above, with a faded reflection underneath the bottle the only indicator that the bottle may be in a physical space. The bottle is of the uncommon glass variety, is perspiring and is adorned with small clumps of ice. Coca-Cola branding is visible in three places: the logo in the top left, the logo on the bottle bottom centre, and also through the iconic Coca-Cola font that is used for the Aaahhh text. into liquid. mouth. The Apple advert (Appendix B) follows a similar format a product shot on a clean white background, save for subtle shadows underneath the products. Unlike the Coca-Cola advert, however, Apples image does not contain fantastical elements. It features two subjects: the then current model of iMac, Dan Foy Year 1, Essay 3 3 The Aaahhh text is defying gravity, yet is peppered with explosive splashes of the type that are created when small items are dropped An extended serif from the A in Aaahhh underlines the proceeding letters, and at its terminus morphs into an impression of an open

and a Dell XPS 410 tower and monitor set. Each subject is equipped with a selection of peripherals and is shot in what could be considered the profile for each product, perpendicular to the front of the monitor. The image features just two tones, a light grey and a near black, with the same shade of grey used for a thin line that separates the products, and also for small text labels underneath the units which state their respective brands and product names. The iMac is connected via aesthetically wrapped white cables to a keyboard and mouse; the XPS is connected via an unruly mess of black cable to a mouse, keyboard, monitor (including a separate cable to the basemounted speakers), webcam, and wireless transmitter. Despite the formal similarities between the two images, the context in which they would originally have been viewed is significantly different, which is an important consideration whilst viewing these images out of context. The Coca-Cola image was intended to be used in print, both in reading material and on small billboards such as those on the sides of bus stops, and was a small element in a much larger campaign, which also featured video adverts on television and before movies at the cinema. It is an invasive type of advertisement that is forced upon a viewer during a separate activity i.e. reading, watching a movie, or waiting for a bus. This contrasts the Apple image, which appeared on Apples website in the guise of an informational image, and required several mouse clicks to purposefully access, and is not something that a viewer would have been likely to stumble upon in its original context if he or she was not already researching into the product. These differences mean that the images have to function in different ways: the CocaCola advert is viewed incidentally, and must draw the attention of the viewer through novel imagery a new type of image for the prospective viewer to consume. Conversely, the Apple image is something that a potential viewer must purposefully seek out (despite its potential as a viral image by brandloyal Apple consumers reproduced on forums, blogs, and other Internet-based social channels), and therefore can afford to concentrate less on branding and brand recognition and more on the benefits of its product.

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Despite their apparent formal similarities, each image is specifically suited to its individual purpose. The Coca-Cola advert is presented in the portrait orientation, which makes it ideally suited to fill a single page of an A4 magazine or an entire bus stop billboard, without sharing page real-estate with other distracting advertisements, guiding the viewer to concentrate solely on the images message. Online images work differently, and Apples image is presented in landscape, as this is the orientation of most computer monitors. Taking into account the monitor shape, and also the fact that most web browsers have at best navigation buttons across the top or, at worst, numerous height-stealing toolbars, Apples image is ideally shaped to fit inside a single browser window without the need for a viewer to scroll. Although in its original context the Apple image masquerades as an informational reference, it clearly exists with promotional intent. By directly comparing its product to that of a competitor, Apple proposes that the viewer has a free choice in product, which at a basic level is a functional tool, whilst at the same time clearly positioning its product as the obvious choice based on its materialistic qualities. This is an effective strategy as, according to two authors on the subject, Sturken and Cartwright (2009, p.266), the concept of consumer choice is central to capitalistic consumer cultures. The choice of competitor is also significant Dell was formed as a small, independently owned and run business that sold lower-than-retail-cost machines running Microsoft Windows, tailored with components of the customers choice, directly to the customer. This contrasts Apples premium product model of manufacturing both hardware and software for its products, and optimising its products to work with a very limited selection of components. Whilst Dells model was initially very successful, by 2006 the company was beginning to collapse under its own weight, and between 2006 and 2008 the company had a series of issues with poor customer service and faulty components. Through this association, Dell becomes the lumbering and ineffective commercial monster, whilst Apple rises as the nimble and innovative alternative. This is clearly referenced in Apples image through Apples innovative design and considered cable placement, versus their presentation of the Dell product as cumbersome and unwieldy, mirroring Apple in design

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materials and colour palette but ultimately failing to break from the conventional. Apple achieves this practically through product photography alone, without the lengthy marketing copy and the endorsement of perfect, happy Arian faces and direct commands to buy found in the adverts of the 30s and 40s, which respects the contemporary independent and advertising-savvy consumer of 2007. The idea that businesses have a personality is an important element in the marketing of many products, and is something explored in the documentary The Corporation (2003). People tend to anthropomorphise companies and products with human traits and personalities IBM is seen as being corporate and businessman-like, Nike is seen as being young and sporty, and so on. Through considered advertising, it is possible for a company to change its personality to break into new markets. For instance, Coca-Colas flagship product started life marketed as a health tonic sold to cure headaches (see appendix C), but was reinvented as an informal beverage. Both Coca-Cola and Apple avoid alienating demographic brackets of consumers by not including images of people in their product images, with the exception of the lips in the Coca-Cola advert. Because the lips are formed by the product, they could feasibly represent any race; however, their fullness and soft curves suggest that they belong to a female, whilst the explosive splashes present on the text give the impression of excitement and youthful energy. The unstained and perfectly aligned teeth, along with the fullness of the lips, present a subtle sexuality that implies that Coca-Cola is the drink of attractive, sexual people and that, by extension, in consuming it you too will become attractive. The mouth device is beautifully balanced in that it is prominent enough to attract males wishing to be kissed by the product, and significantly sexualising of females to infer a sense of empowerment, whilst being subtle enough to avoid overly objectifying the female. It can be useful to describe meaningful visual elements in a photograph in the language of semiotics defined by Ferdinand de Saussure. Although Saussure was a linguist, his ideas translate well to the realm of photography. Saussures theories, translated for photography, suggest that a sign (or

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suggestion) within a photograph is given meaning by consisting of two parts: a signifier, the element of the photograph itself; and a signified, which is the idea that the element represents. In the Coca-Cola advertisement, the lips of the mouth are parted a little as if it has just received a drink, and roughly forms a smile, linking the signifiers of the Aaahhh and open happiness texts into the signified idea drinking Coca-Cola will quench your thirst and make you smile. In addition, the direct link between the product created by the line open happiness reveals one of the major driving forces behind capitalism: the idea of commodity fetishism, and that products are sold as experiences rather than functional consumables. Drinkable fluids are plentiful commodities that at a rudimentary level exist as consumables to allow us to live, but in the context of a contemporary consumerist society also provide social status. This is described in Practices of Looking An Introduction to Visual Culture: It is commonly understood that commodities fulfil emotional needs. The paradox is that those needs are never truly fulfilled, as the forces of the market lure us into wanting different and more commodities the newest, the latest, and the best. This is a fundamental aspect of contemporary consumer culture that it gives us pleasure and reassurance while tapping into our anxieties and insecurities and that it promises what it can never fulfil. Sturken and Cartwright (2009, p. 274) Coca-Cola is effectively marketing itself as bottled happiness, an experience rather than a product; however, by its definition as a consumable, this emotional connection is short lived and the product will need to be repurchased again to maintain this level of psychological comfort. Even the text, shown as an explosion from the bottle suspended in mid air, has a fleeting feel to it a momentary experience that ends when the explosion of feeling comes crashing down. The advert creates a superficial feeling of lack in the customer, which the customer is then inclined to purchase Coca-Colas product to fulfil this created need not only a physical lack of the thirst quenching and refreshing drink, but also a psychological lack.

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It is a premium product, magnitudes more expensive in monetary value than tap or rainwater, yet holds added value in cultural capital it is the original, it advertises that you as an individual are young and sexy, and that in drinking it you are making a conscious image decision. The product is standardised and despite being a basic commodity and a consumable, through open-ended adverts that require interpretation by the viewer, it has broad appeal beyond its physical makeup. This phenomenon of cultural capital as a driver of commodity fetishism is described by Andy Warhol, who explored Coca-Cola and other consumables during his career as an artist: Whats great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too Warhol (1975, p .100) Coca-Colas image contains exclusively shades of its iconic red branding, in contrast to the equally iconic blue of its major competitor, Pepsi bright, bold branding in primary colours that is instantly recognisable, like the uniform of your favourite sports team, and echoed in society and commerce: Roses versus Quality Street, Visa versus MasterCard, Labour versus Conservative. The brand war phenomenon is an aspect of consumer culture that Apple has historically used very effectively. Whilst the inclusion of Dells logo in Apples advertising image has already been discussed in relation to how it arouses negativity to the competition through Apples suggestion of alternative consumer choice, the conspicuous absence of Apples own logo is a statement of Apples confidence in the recognition and reputation of its own products. Other companies in the technology sector, such as Microsoft, Intel, and nVidia and also in other markets, such as with Coca-Cola - will often plaster their comparative advertisements with branding that weight the advertisements in their own favour. In contrast, in terms of the lack of branding in the Apple image in

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question, the image could almost have been created by a third party if it were taken out of the context in which it originally appeared. Apples confidence in its own brand is reasonably justified at the time of the photographs publication, Apple was considered one of the brands that customers felt the most loyalty to (MacNN, 2006), and more recently one of its commodity products was voted a more important invention than the flushing toilet or space flight (Telegraph, 2010). Apple presents two products, both with the same colour palette: one machine barely 3 inches thick with just two small and immaculately coiled cables protruding from it, which are white and fade into the background; the other, magnitudes larger and consisting of more twice as many components connected messily via a tangle of unruly black cables. The photographer for the Apple image has purposefully chosen a competitors product whose design appears to echo the iMac in choice of finish, but which is presented in a way that is clearly inferior in terms of elegance and practicality. The Dell XPS is packaged with a wired mouse and keyboard, same as the iMac, but is also shown with modular, optional elements to provide functionality equal to that which the iMac has built into its main chassis; namely: a display, speakers (mounted under the monitor in the XPS image), a webcam, and an external WiFi adapter. The aluminium exteriors of these machines suggests sterility and fine precision engineering something that is clearly undermined by the mess behind the Dell, suggesting that the back-end and under the hood have been neglected, placing the iMac as the more considered product. The message that Apple wishes to convey is that personal computing doesnt have to be about complicated setups, bulky hardware, and additional optional components to provide missing functionality Apples alternative solution offers everything the user needs as standard, in a standalone package, as part of the premium products it provides. This is epitomised by the companys old slogan, retired by 2007 yet still strongly associated with the company ethos: Think Different. The choice of showing the products in profile is also an unusual decision (although the product was shown front-on in other images in the series), but showcases the iMacs sleek aesthetic curves and

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perfect balance on its stand elevating the product from the realm of the office drone or the boys toy to something accessible to both male and female, the design conscious, and the technophobe. The image encourages the viewer to be dissatisfied with the competition (and, by extension, the computers that the viewers themselves probably own), and to lust for the iMac in this case not for any specific functionality, but for its elegance, aesthetic qualities, and the psychological benefits of considering oneself a cultured, premium customer who appreciates such refined matters as design. This final point highlights a significant difference between Apple and CocaCola. Coca-Cola is the market leader, ubiquitous to the point of owning the generic product name Coke, whose primary focus is retaining customers and reminding them that consumption of their product is directly linked to their happiness; whereas Apple, despite inventing the personal computer with their Lisa and early Macintosh products, command a tiny percentage of the overall personal computing market, and seek to differentiate themselves through innovation and the creation of aesthetically pleasing, user friendly products. Despite the formal similarities between these two advertising images both product shots, featuring isolated products taken out of context and shot against a seamless background - these opposing aims are clearly evident in the marketing campaigns of both brands.

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The Corporation, 2003 [documentary]. Canada: ACHBAR, Mark, and SIMPSON, Bart. [Distributed by Zeitgeist Films, free to watch on YouTube or download via Torrent]. MACNN, 2006. Apple, Google tops in loyalty survey [online]. MacNN. Available at: [accessed on 26 May 2010]. STURKEN, Marita, and CARTWRIGHT, Lisa, 2009. Practices of Looking - An Introduction to Visual Culture. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. TELEGRAPH, 2010. Britons vote for the iPhone as most important invention ahead of flushing loo and space travel [online]. Telegraph. Available at: /Britons-vote-for-the-iPhone-as-most-important-invention-ahead-of-flushingloo-and-space-travel.html [accessed 26 May 2010]. WARHOL, Andy, 1975. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (from A to B and Back Again). New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

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BARRETT, Terry, 2006. Criticizing Photographs An Introduction to Understanding Images, 4th ed. New York: McGraw Hill. THE COCA-COLA COMPANY, 2009. Open Happiness Press Kit [online]. The Coca-Cola Company. Available at: [Accessed 25 May 2010]. DUDROW, Andrea, 2000. Notes from the Epicenter: Exploring the Reality Distortion Field [online]. Creative Pro. Available at: [Accessed 25 May 2010]. EKMAN, Paul, 2003. Emotions Revealed. London: Weidenfield and Nicolson. STURKEN, Marita, and CARTWRIGHT, Lisa, 2009. Practices of Looking - An Introduction to Visual Culture. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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A: Advert from Coca-Colas Open Happiness campaign (Aaahhh) THE COCA-COLA COMPANY, 2009. Open Happiness Press Kit [online]. The Coca-Cola Company. Available at: [Accessed 25 May 2010].

B: Image comparing Apples 2007 iMac to the Dell XPS 410 APPLE INC, 2007. iMac Design [online image, cached]. Apple Inc. Cached image available at: [accessed 25 May 2010]

C: Advert promoting Coca-Cola as a health tonic, circa early 1900s THE COCA-COLA COMPANY, Date unknown (posted 14 September 2009), Coca-Cola - The Ideal Brain Tonic [online image]. The Coca-Cola Company, via The Retroist Blog. Available at: [accessed 26 May 2010].

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Appendix A

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Appendix B

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Appendix C

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