Decoding Advertisements – Judith Williamson.

The way I felt worked best for me and to also get the most I could out of this book for my paper and my understanding was to just start reading and pick out quotes which I found interesting or appropriate. I often found myself having to stop and find definitions for certain terms within the book, but this all helped give me a better understanding.

“Advertisements are selling us something besides consumer goods in providing us with a structure in which we, and those goods, are interchangeable, they are selling us ourselves.” (Williamson, 1978: 3).

“Advertising seems to have a life of it’s own, it exists in and out of other media, and speaks to us in a language we can recognise but a voice we can never identify.” (Williamson, 1978: 14).

“The need for relationship and human meaning appropriated by advertising is one that, if only it were not diverted, could radically change the society we live in.” (Williamson, 1978: 14).

“…this process of meaning, the work of the signifiers, is as much a part of ideology and social convention as the more obvious ‘signifieds’. (Williamson, 1978: 19).

“This shows very clearly what has been seen in all these ads: a selecting of certain elements, things or people from the ordinary world, and then rearranging and altering them in terms of a products myth to create a new world, the world of advertisement.” (Williamson, 1978: 23).

“Use of colour is simply a technique, used primarily in pictorial advertising, to make correlations between a product and other things.” (Williamson, 1978: 24).

“Advertising is too based on evoking emotions, but not directly, only through a promise of evoking pleasure.” (Williamson, 1978: 30).

“The technique of advertising is to correlate feelings, moods or attributes to tangible objects, linking possible unattainable things with those that are attainable, and thus reassuring us that the former are within reach.” (Williamson, 1978: 31).

“We differentiate ourselves from other people by what we buy.” (Williamson, 1978: 46).

“Real objects are lifted out of our physical reality and absorbed into a closed system of symbols, a substitute for reality and real emotions. Feelings become bound up with products…” (Williamson, 1978: 47).

“…it is so crucial for the ad to enter you, and exist inside rather than outside your self-image: in fact, to create it” (Williamson, 1978: 48).

“the advertisement must remind you that you are special, and above all, must speak to you through you as a uniquely individual subject.” (Williamson, 1978: 48).

“although the aim is to connect a mass of people with a product, to identify them with it as a group, this can only be achieved by connecting them with the product as inviduals, one by one.” (Williamson, 1978: 51).

“In an advertisement, we are told that we do choose, we are free individuals, we have taste, style, uniqueness, and we will act accordingly. In other words, having been attributed with the qualities connected with a product, we are projected as buyers of it, precisely because ‘given’ that we ‘have’ the beliefs implied in the ad, we will act in accordance with them and buy the product that embodies these beliefs.” (Williamson, 1978: 55).

“What the advertisement clearly does is thus to signify, to represent to us, the object of desire… the advertisement is actually feeding off that subject’s own desire for coherence and meaning in him or her self.” (Williamson, 1978: 60).

‘The Mirror Phase’ >

“For Lacan says that the ego is constituted, in its forms and energy, when the subject ‘fastens himself to an image which alienates him from himself’ so that the ego is ‘forever irreducible’ to his lived identity’. (The Mirror Phase, New Left Review No. 51) Clearly this is very similar to the process of advertising, which offers us an image of ourselves that we may aspire to but never achieve.” (Williamson, 1978: 63).

“Ad’s set up, in your active impossibly unified self: an ‘Ego-Ideal’. They show you a symbol of yourself aimed to attract your desire; they suggest you can become the person in the picture before you.” (Williamson, 1978: 65).

“An advertisement dangles before us an image of an Other, but invites us to become the Same.” (Williamson, 1978: 65).

‘The Created Self’ >

“The ‘mirror’ image separates you while representing the same thing.” (Williamson, 1978: 67).

“In buying products with certain ‘images’ we create ourselves, our personality, our qualities, even our past and future.” (Williamson, 1978: 70).

“We are both product and consumer; we consume, buy the product, yet we are the product. Thus our lives become our own creations, through buying; an identikit of different images of ourselves, created by different products. We become the artist who creates the face, the eyes, the life-style.” (Williamson, 1978: 70).

This book has been so crucial in both the beginning stages and throughout writing my paper as it successfully provided my with a base knowledge and understanding of how advertisements work. Considering I knew nothing beforehand, this book really helped. The first thing which stood out to me was the how the advertisement is selling us ‘the ideal image’. It’s selling us exactly what we want, what we think we want even if we don’t necessarily need it, “selling us ourselves”. (Williamson, 1978: 3). However I also found it interesting to consider how advertisements “speaks to us in a language we can recognise but a voice we can never identify.” (Williamson, 1978: 14). This suggests possibly that the advertisement will always be ‘above us’ in meaning – we will never be able to distinguish what it is about the advert that makes us want something but we will be able to recognise understand the level it is talking to us on. I think this actually highlights why it is so important to explore this through my paper as these they form ‘untrue representations’ that should be comprehended by the consumers.

With relevant examples, I was able to understand the purpose of the signifier and signified which once you understand seems so obvious! But not when you can’t get your head around it. The way the signifiers are composed are so important in determining the meaning of the signified, and the signified message is what sells product within the advertisement. The examples were so helpful in the book by being able to identify how the signifier and signified work within advertisements and I will be able to potentially discuss this in my paper. Something which also took my interest was the use of colour in advertisements and although this may not be relevant to my paper, it ties in with the signifier and signified as particular colours can provoke certain emotions therefore the signified of the colour red could be love or anger, dependant on the other signifier’s within the advert.

One point which really stood out to me was “…a selecting of certain elements, things or people from the ordinary world, and then rearranging and altering them in terms of a products myth to create a new world, the world of advertisement.” (Williamson, 1978: 23). We become attracted and absorbed into this new world. By taking elements of the real world and reorganising them, it means that this world of advertisement appeals real despite being created for the purpose of a ‘products myth’. I think this is a crucial point to link into my paper at some point because whilst on the surface it appears real, by de-constructing the advert the consumer is able to realise it is untrue.

Williamson draws upon how adverts play on emotion and promise the idea of pleasure through purchasing the item being advertised. Emotion plays a huge part within adverts because it allows the consumer to feel connected to them and if the consumer can connect to the product emotionally and be attracted to that sense of pleasure they will be more likely to buy the item. This is an important point I feel I can expand further upon in my paper with visual examples. Another crucial point highlighted by Williamson is how “we differentiate ourselves from other people by what we buy” (Williamson, 1978: 46) and I think this is a main point to be included in my essay. The more well known the brand, the more people are going to purchase it. The better the brand, the more expensive it is and that sense of luxury that comes along with it is what makes us feel different from others. We can even define our own personalities through what we buy. This is why the construction of the advertisement is so important because it has to attract those consumers and portray the item in the best way possible. By making it stand out from every other brand, it adds to that element of luxuriousness, a reason why somebody would want to buy it over something else to essentially define themselves as ‘luxurious’.

Again drawing on the idea of emotion, Williamson comments “the advertisement must remind you that you are special, and above all, must speak to you through you as a uniquely individual subject.” (Williamson, 1978: 48). All day everyday we find ourselves consumed by advertisements even if we do not notice it – in magazines, papers, television advertisements, on buses, posters, billboards – the list is huge. By being seen almost everywhere, everyday it means they are seen by many many people therefore essentially the advertisement is targeting all those people but enticing them individually to buy the company’s product. I think this is an interesting point I can draw upon in my paper along with a visual example to support, as consumers we can begin to believe that a product is perfect for us and that is partly associated with how it targets us individually.

There were so many interesting points and quotes which I was able to draw out from this book and could potentially break down analyse, enough to write an entire paper! I found this book so incredibly useful and was so crucial as a starting point. I can now move on from here and read other books to do with advertising and actually be able to comprehend what is being discussed, allowing me to pick out key points to use in my paper.

Williamson, J. (1978). Decoding Advertisements. 1st edn. London: Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd.


~ by victoriasimkissphotography on January 12, 2015.

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