Monday, April 12, 2010

What Images Are Used in the Advertisements for New Buildings and Condos and Why?

The billboards in Edmonton that advertise condos are not simply selling four walls and a ceiling, they are selling a lifestyle. These billboard advertisements use the concept of the gaze extremely effectively because the billboards want the consumer to be able to envision themselves living the lifestyle that is being advertised. The billboards are somewhat of a mirror into the future representing what your life could be like if you were to purchase the condo that is advertised. Downtown condo advertisements are directed towards a specific group in society. These advertisements seem to focus on the young and modern person or couple. The purpose of the billboards is to convince the consumer that their life is lacking what is being advertised. The subconscious and implicit promises that are made to the consumer are that their lives will be happier and more fulfilled if they are to invest in that specific condo development. These billboard advertisements are all from the perspective of the consumer being on the outside looking in. Our consumer culture dictates that in order to be part of the inside group, we need to consume commodities which is a condo in this case.

As the consumer digests what is on the billboard and begins to scrutinize what we see, the scrutiny becomes turned around and we go from a passive to an active observer. One goes from “I look” to “I am looked at” in terms of looking and judging the billboards, to looking internally at oneself and criticizing aspects of their own life (Kipps 2010). We initially scrutinize the subject of our gaze but soon move inward to oneself and compare our lifestyle against the one that is being advertised. The billboard advertisement is supposed to draw ones attention to what the consumer is lacking in their daily lives. In the billboards presented here, they are displaying a very clean and happy lifestyle in downtown Edmonton. Jacques Lacan formulated that the gaze must be an object that produces not only anxiety, but also pleasure (Lacan 1981). The pleasure derived from the advertisements presented here is that they illicit a feeling of wonder and curiosity about what life could possibly be like. This is to say that if the billboards do not produce some aspect of pleasure for the viewer, then the gaze will not be affective for the advertisers.

The experience of urban life and modernity of the twentieth century has been related to the feeling of standing in a crowd, surrounded by people you will never know (Catwright and Sturken 2009). This overwhelming feeling can be described as a sort of rush for the subject. These condo advertisements use the human feeling of desire in order to effectively market their condos. The aim of the advertisements is to want you to feel the desire to purchase that lifestyle being portrayed on the billboards. The effectiveness of the condo advertisements can be judged on how easily the consumer can envision themselves on the billboard. These downtown billboards are a great example of how different cohorts of people are targeted by billboard advertisers in different parts of the city. Although many of the tactics used are very similar, the lifestyles being advertised are vastly different.

This billboard is different than many condo advertisements in that it does not actually show us a picture of the condo buildings. In a sense, it relies more heavily on text to do the advertising, yet it still incorporates an image. The billboard displays a seemingly incongruous photograph of a woman on her cell phone; however, for some reason, the image does not appear ill fitting. This is likely because it elicits a sort of attitude, which “becomes a sign only for a certain society, only given certain values” (Heath 1977, 21). The photograph’s meaning is not natural or frank, but is imbued with historical and cultural connotations (Heath 1977). When the viewer first perceives the billboard, he/she may be unaware of the exact connotative intentions this photo bears, but what is important is his/her acceptance of the picture’s relation to the promotional content. If we explore this picture in depth, we can uncover several probable explanations as to how the image “fits” with the message.

First of all, the image is literally coordinated as the woman is dressed in a purple sweater that matches the rest of the billboard. She is wearing a turtleneck, which is generally seen as a classic fashion choice that conveys intelligence and poise. The color of her clothing and the billboard is particularly striking, as purple has long been associated with royalty and nobility, qualities most likely admired by people who seek “refined urban living.” Even the woman’s hair is pulled up, which offers a sense of elegance that corresponds with her genuine yet subdued smile. Beyond her physical appearance, she is using (or more honestly, posing with) a cell phone – the modern day device that no contemporary person could live without. This “posing of objects” was arranged with purpose, for “objects are accepted inducers of associations of ideas” (Heath 1977, 22).

By explicitly discussing several feasible meanings of this image, it becomes easier to see why it works in the advertisement. But one must also realize that when exploring connotation “the reading of the photograph is …. always historical; it depends on the reader’s ‘knowledge’ just as though it were a matter of a real language [langue], intelligible only if one has learned the signs” (Heath 1977, 28). Someone from outside of our culture who may have never even seen a cell phone would surely not make the same connections and this particular image would be rendered an ineffectual add-on to the billboard.

Given the cultural practices and values in our current society, this picture works well to sell its viewer on a polished, urban lifestyle. The text helps to explain and anchor the advertisement’s message, but the photograph serves a true function as well. The image is entrusted with giving a symbolic, affective description, which we can perceive and digest more quickly than a lengthy verbal description (Heath 1977). The advertisement is successful in that we can immediately grasp its message in more ways than one.

"As the population of the United States and Canada continues to mature, marketers in these countries are directing increased attention to older consumers" (Lumpkin et al., 1985). This is appropriate, as individuals in advanced years are becoming increasingly attractive targets based upon their numbers, income, and purchasing patterns (Keane, 1985). When seniors retire, they have the option of deciding where they would like to live. Many sell their homes in favor of moving to a smaller development. Sometimes seniors like to be around other people their own age and live in a building that caters specifically to their needs. They can choose a retirement home designed for old folks or maybe opt for something that will give them the optimum living environment.

This section will focus on illustrating several billboards of senior advertisements and contrasting them and their true meanings. These billboard advertisements are the perfect option for marketers to target the certain classes they are looking for.

These billboard advertisements are the perfect option for marketers to target the certain classes they are looking for."Most advertising is always constructing consumers as dissatisfied. "Most advertising is always constructing consumers as dissatisfied in some way with their lifestyles, appearance, jobs, relationships and so forth. Many ads imply that their product can alleviate this state of dissatisfaction. They often do this by presenting figures of glamour that consumers can envy and wish to emulate, people who are presented as already transformed, and bodies that appear perfect and yet somehow attainable" (Sturken and Cartwright 2009, 275). In this advertisement above, you see a happy, senior couple wearing expensive clothing and drinking wine while smiling and apparently enjoying each other's company. This billboard screams prestige and high class. And it is no wonder; this billboard is advertising a senior's home that is aimed for the wealthy. WIth a built in nurse and cook, a huge recreational facility that provides entertainment, a pool, a gym and so much more, these seniors are living the life of luxury. With rent that is a minimum of roughly $200 a month, this senior home is exclusively for the rich and the billboard clearly supports that statement.

This billboard is located in the west side of the city with a suburb house environment located nearby. The houses that are located near this location are all pricey and belong to those who are upper middle to upper class people, Therefore, all these people living in this are would see the billboard for this new wealthy senior development and begin saving for when they themselves retire to live in it or perhaps for their parents if they can afford it. Therefore, this billboard is set in the perfect location targeting just the right type of people who choose to live in that sort of development.

“Representation is the use of language and images to create meaning about the world around us” (Notes). As we can see, what is represented in this photo is a wealthy senior couple enjoying their life because they get to live it high class. It represents the notion that living wealthier means good times as is represented by the smiles in the advertisement. Of course, this whole advertisement plays into the idea of the myth of photographic truth. “We perceive photographs to be an unmediated copy of the real world” (Notes). What may in fact be a happy couple in this advertisement may just as well be a total set up. This brings us into the denotative and connotative interpretations behind this billboard. Barthes identified that an image has a literal, denotative meaning as well as a connotative meaning which employs a cultural and historical context. What is denoted in this photograph is a happy old couple enjoying life and their environment. This of course, could also be interpreted another way. It is interesting that this couple happens to be white and wearing clothes that would identify as being of an upper class. These characteristics in themselves show a broader meaning behind this happy couple. It shows the ways in which this marketing company is targeting to a certain ‘type’ of people and represents it by using white upper class couples.

Therefore, this demonstrates how what seems to be a standard advertisement, is in fact stereotyping a certain message to the buyers. That this certain living development is for those of the higher class and represents that through a white, wealthy senior couple.

These next two billboard advertisements as seen above show quite a large contrast with the previous
billboard. They represent every person’s fear of getting older: being put into a horrible nursing home environment. There is not much seniors can do when they are stuck in a place that takes little care of them or treats them with no respect. These billboards were both found on the internet and they represent the horrible outcomes to old people when they are put in a low care shelter.

Although the locations of these billboards are not identified, it is not surprising to see these sorts of advertisements in every city. Such billboards are universal as every location in North America has a senior home and when someone has little money, he/she is left to settle for what he/she can afford, which in some unfortunate circumstances is very little. There is always and have always been problems with certain senior homes and these billboard advertisements represent that. In contrast with the first advertisement, none of these seniors are smiling. None of them have fancy clothes and they all appear to be suffering.

With respect to these images’ denotative meaning, it is quite obvious that these seniors are depressed but if one delves further into the meaning of these advertisements, one can see the way marketers target those of all classes to show that these unfortunate problems of senior shelters can be represented towards every class and every type of person. This senior could be anyone's grandma or grandpa and it makes people want to invest into something better for their elderly family member so as not to have them suffer as seen in these billboards. The universality of these billboards creates a notion that these seniors are typical, everyday people and these billboards are easy to relate to as no one is represented as better off than anyone else. It also shows different races to connect to a more diverse group of people and create a sense of everyone coming together to help the seniors around us as a whole. This is how representation comes into play. It represents what seniors mean to the community and how they are showcased by these billboards as genuine people who do not deserve to be treated in such a way that degrades or abuses them. "Barthes coined the use of the term punctum to characterize the affective element of those certain photographs that pierce one's heart with feeling" (Sturken and Cartwright 2009, 18). These billboards serve as a way for marketers to target people's emotional feelings and grab their attention through this punctum. People are more attentive to the advertisement when they can feel themselves relating or empathising with these billboards; thus, this serves as a good tactic for marketers to capture interest about the tragedies of seniors and to take effort into improving their living conditions.

Obviously, the main intention is to entice the viewer into purchasing one of these houses. But in order to create this desire, the advertiser consciously presents us with representations of a healthy and relaxed existence. The man running alongside his “best friend” and the woman riding her bike all embody a feeling of vigor, strength and happiness. They are disciplined people who are afforded leisure time in which they enrich and strengthen their bodies; they live their lives in a way that so many of us plan but never actually do. And when they are finished exercising, there’s a conveniently placed bench set in a picturesque atmosphere, which is awaiting their arrival.

When perceived together, the pictures portray a desirable communal life. They represent the conventional, nuclear family that our culture has long idolized, and which may be particularly a focus for this neighborhood, which maintains a military legacy. There are several explanations for the advertisement, as “the connoted image is reduced to a phenomenon of language, and it exhibits all the characteristics of a text: it possesses a “discourse” which can be “read” and interpreted in a cultural or ideological context” (Halley 1982, 70). The images are presented as more than just visual distractions; they are stories and metaphors, which are meant to entice wonder, contemplation and understanding.

This billboard is located on 127th street and 151st avenue in northwest Edmonton. At first glance, it is a regular condo advertisement that contains typical informative elements: title, price, directions, and of course, a website. As busy people drive past the billboard, or gaze at it while at a stoplight, these contents likely don’t appear as layered or strategically devised; instead, they seem straightforward and instructive. Such a first impression is reasonable and somewhat true; however, there is also a complexity to its design, which is in part what constitutes one’s assumption of its simplicity. We must not be fooled by its basic fa├žade, because after all, it is an advertisement, and “in advertising the signification of the image is undoubtedly intentional” (Heath 1977, 33)

This blend of picture and text was carefully chosen and produced for us to view in a certain way. The reason this tactic works so well is that we are unaware that our opinions on the subject are influenced. A photograph of the condo development is used because we immediately associate photos with reality. The irony of this is that our understanding of photographic advertisements as a form of mimesis is essentially a delusion. In actuality, this billboard is a representation, which helps to construct reality rather than to mirror it.

The misconception that a photograph is a direct reflection of the real world is a notion Roland Barthes refers to as the myth of photographic truth. When under this impression, the billboard is merely an unmediated announcement of a new condo development. But when we explore the myth, the billboard comes to have a new existence, a life that is born from history and culture and understanding.

Initially, the image is merely that of pleasant looking homes, but when we read the description on the right, “Tuscan Village, Start Living from $179,000,” we are instantly transported to an Italian villa, and we see the condominiums in a new light. Their stucco walls, ornate verandas, and terra cotta roofs suddenly stand out as prime features of an Italian lifestyle and may even seem to offer us a “quaint village atmosphere” as is stated on the Tuscan Village web site. The phrase “start living” posits that our current lives are inauthentic, and that this new community can offer us a more genuine, pleasurable lifestyle.

Part of what has made this advertisement successful is the communication between the photograph and the surrounding text (Heath 1977). The image is given instant additional meaning by association with the words beside it. Therefore, “in the relationship that now holds, it is not the image which comes to elucidate or ‘realize’ the text, but the latter which comes to sublimate, patheticize or rationalize the image” (Heath 1977, 25). In other words, “the text loads the image, burdening it with a culture, a moral, an imagination” (Heath 1977, 26). The picture’s hidden connotations are illuminated, and suddenly this thought “denotation of reality” somehow makes us crave a life that offers romantically lit streets lined with archways and green space, a place where we can roam serenely as if in a dream, a place where we can “start living.”


Barthes, Roland. “The Photographic Message.” In Image Music Text. Edited and translated by Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977, 15-31.

Barthes, Roland. “Rhetoric of the Image.” In Image Music Text. Edited and translated by Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977, 32-51.

Cartwright, Lisa. Sturken, Marita. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture.New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Halley, Michael. 1982. Argo Sum Diacritics 12 (4): 69-79.

Kips, Henry. Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research; 2010, Vol. 2, P 91- 102

Lacan, Jacques (1981): The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Jacques- Alain Miller (ed), Alan Sheridan (trans) New York: Norton

Peterson, Robin T. “The Depiction of Senior Citizens in Magazine Advertisements: A Content Analysis.” Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 11, No.9 (Sept. 1992) P 701-706

By: Stephanie Crawford, Andrew Nelson, and Yana Rogatko

1 comment:

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