Definitive Blog Post.

Final Presentation Script.

Notions of Truth in the Construction of Advertisements – Victoria Simkiss

Jeff Weiss, creative director at US advertising firm Opperman Weiss, believes “ads should slap you in the face, then kiss you.” (Weiss 1994 cited in Saunders 1994: 15). Advertisements need to be unique and distinctive enough to immediately grab the consumer’s attention, but that is not enough in such a competitive market. It needs to “kiss you”; appeal on a deeper level so that the image remains in the consumers thoughts longer than the thousands of other images that are seen every day. There is clever construction as to how advertisements capture the eye and mind through the use of photographs. “Over the course of the 20th century, advertising photography shifted from hand drawn artwork to photography which proved much more suitable for advertising’s mission.” (Fowles, 1996: 86). A photograph captures a moment of reality, therefore within advertisements serves as evidence for the product being sold. “They are powerful tools which can both attract attention and give information. They can stop you, and talk to you. Photographs give a tone, a feeling, an attitude.” (Saunders, 1994: 16). The consumer can absorb the information in the photograph by observing, listening and appreciating the essence it has captured and understand the message being communicated. However as photography has become more dominant in advertising it has lead to the questioning of truth. Photographs in advertisements can be manipulated in various ways such as creating a narrative and appealing to the consumer emotionally to make something more desirable.

Images within advertisements can be broken down into two elements, the signifier and signified. The signifier is the subject within the photograph whilst the signified is the meaning implied through those aspects. In Image Music Text Roland Barthes, theorist of semiotics, stated “the image is penetrated through and through by the system of meaning, in exactly the same way as man is articulated to the very depths of his being in distinct languages.” (Barthes, 1997: 47). A photograph is not just a shot of a moment – a photograph is a unity of components, each rich with connotation. The volume of meaning determined through the signifier and signified within the image is what makes photography so powerful within advertising.

The key to any advertisement is the visual imagery, which is full of symbolic properties that the advertiser intentionally includes in a hope that the consumer will find it significant and become enticed. (Fowles, 1996: 84). It is within the role of the photographer to represent these symbolic properties aesthetically to engage the consumer and sell the product. Paul Messaris, professor at the Annenberg School for Communication, explains “by publicly linking a product with a certain image, the ad makes it possible for users of the product to draw on that link as a means of making a public statement about how they themselves wish to be viewed.” (Messaris, 1997: XX). By using photography, it allows a product to create a persona that appeals to the consumer and encourages them to purchase it, associating themselves with this fabricated identity.

This can be seen through the Lynx Excite Deodorant advert, created by advertising agency BBH (Adeevee 2015) and photographed by Cody Burridge. (Cody Burridge). In the photograph there is a beautiful young woman with wings and a halo in her lap, signifying the stereotypical image of an angel. The composition of soft, heavenly light shining down on her contributes to the innocent, angelic representation. The shot composed inside a dark bedroom combined with the caption ‘Even Angels Will Fall’ insinuates by wearing this Lynx deodorant the consumer will be able to sexually attract such a female. As she holds the halo in her lap, it implies a ‘fallen angel’, a good girl gone bad; an angel willing to lose her prominence for a male wearing this deodorant. It also suggests the consumer would adopt a God-like image. These symbolic properties connect the product with an image, allowing the consumer to see what they want and how they can get it, ultimately resulting in the selling of the brand.

David Ogilvy, an advertising executive known as the ‘father of advertising’, shared that “research has shown that photographs with an element of story appeal are far above average in attracting attention.” (Ogilvy 1988 cited in Saunders, 1988: 25). Signifiers and the signified are used to create a narrative through the photograph in an advertisement, capturing the consumer and telling an inviting story making them desire their product or service. Writer and professor Judith Williamson, explains narrative as “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). The new “world of advertisement” is a myth. However despite it being an untrue story, it serves the purpose of suggesting reality for the consumer to recognise and relate to, whilst “creating an elaborate yet intimate image that invites the viewer to almost imagine a story rather than just see the objects in the shot.” (Ward, 1990: 6). If the consumer were to see just the object in the photograph, it would become another brand of something they have seen before. However, by connecting it to a story, it makes it more exciting, attractive, and also adapts the product to real life. The photograph allows the consumer to see it in an authentic situation, enabling the viewer to immerse themselves into that reality and imagine themselves using the product, making them more likely to purchase it.

An example of use of narrative in a photographic advertisement is the 2014 Silvikrin Hairspray advert. (Source 2014: 8). Celebrating it’s 90th anniversary, Williamson commented that the “ad is clearly designed to cash in on the multiple war commemorations and celebrations of 2014.” The advertiser has used “the centenary of WW1’s start and the 70th anniversary of D-Day WW2” (Williamson 2014 cited in Source 2014: 9) to ‘set the scene’ for the photograph in the hairspray advertisement by attaching the narrative of a street party celebrating the end of the war parallel to the ‘celebrating 90 years of styling the nation’. There are various signifiers throughout the photograph that contribute to the connotation of celebration, created through the composition of the shot including the flypast, flags, and smiling neighbours. By connecting it to war, this constructs a ground for the consumer to understand and relate to an event they know. This ground acts as a level for the consumer because if they can comprehend the logic in the advertisement, then they will feel the product is suited to them, hence purchasing the item.

William Reedy, senior editor of Eastman Kodak Company, clarifies “to set a mood, an illustration must have a certain degree of logic. It should be simple enough to be understandable. And, above all, it should be visually pleasing to encourage the eye to linger. One cannot tell his story if the guest refuses to stay around long enough to listen.” (Reedy, 1973: 18). The photograph makes the narrative associated with the product seem real. Although some of the story in the photograph of the Silvikrin advert is factual, there were celebrations when the war ended, it has no significance to the use of the hairspray therefore the advertisement does not represent the truth. As Williamson says, “this jumble of people and symbols has been constructed not to give any sense of a plausible photograph but merely to assemble the elements required for the meaning of the ad.” (Williamson 2014 cited in Source 2014: 9). They have been put together to create a narrative for the advertisement that will appeal to the consumer and make them buy the product.

As previously mentioned by Williamson, various aspects of the real world are reorganised to create the advertising world. Messaris builds on this by arguing, “the fact that images can reproduce the appearance of reality…also means that they can call forth a variety of preprogramed emotional responses.” (Messaris, 1997: XIII). With a real world comes real emotions, and as the consumer can understand the logic of the narrative created in an advertisement, it also means they will connect with the emotions the advertiser wants them to feel. By involving emotions, it also adds to the relationship between the consumer and the product.

Williamson considers how advertisements initiate the “promise of evoking pleasure.” (Williamson, 1978: 30). The consumer buys into the idea of pleasure and the advertisement is the tool that persuades and suggests that, making them buy the product and result in profit for the company. This promise of evoking pleasure can be seen in the Diet Coke advert created by BETC London and photographed by Jonathan Knowles (Jonathan Knowles). In the photograph, there is the torso of a male holding a pack of Diet Coke cans. The composition of the image frames just the model’s body rather than the face, so the consumer connects with the desirable body rather than a personality. By capturing his six-pack, it acts as the signifier for pleasure – the consumer will find this attractive, as the male body looks sexy. The bright light used to illuminate the image implies a hot summer’s day, as condensation trickles down the cans and sweat glistens on the torso, it suggests both the drink and body are refreshing, again evoking pleasure. The consumer could also find it appealing as a hinted connotation suggests they can drink Diet Coke and have a body that looks like the one depicted. This works successfully as it connects the consumer by initiating a pleasurable emotion of desire.

Whilst advertisements are created for a mass market and seen everywhere, every day, another technique used by adverts is making consumers feel targeted as individuals. Dean Saunders, freelance journalist and photographer, believes “a good ad leaves you wondering how the advertiser knew so much about you.” (Saunders, 1994: 16). If the consumer feels as if the advert is specifically tailored to them and their needs, they will feel more inclined to purchase the product. Margit Rowell, art historian and independent curator, states “the potential customer or consumer must identify this imagery instantly as an object of urgent desire and pleasure, to be possessed.” (Rowell, 1997: 167). To become possessed, the consumer must feel involved and for this to happen, they must feel special and individual. The photograph used in the Diet Coke advert plays on every consumer’s desire for a healthy image, along with the combination of the caption ‘there’s nothing like a six pack to put a smile on your face’, the advertisement successfully targets the needs of the consumer.

Ultimately, the purpose of an advertisement is to sell a product for a company. However, there is more to attracting the attention of the consumer than simply seeing an advertisement as a photograph and some text. The work of the signifiers and the signified, creating a narrative, provoking emotion through story and on a personal level, are all crucial contributions to engage the consumer and persuade them to buy the product. Williamson believes “we differentiate ourselves from other people by what we buy” (Williamson, 1978: 46) therefore the image associated with a product is so important and must be crafted sensitively but skilfully. This is how untrue representations are created in advertisements yet they work in terms of pleasing the potential consumer. The signifiers within the image can be combined and compliment each other effectively to produce a particular meaning which the consumer can attach to and long for. By creating a narrative through a photograph in an advertisement, the consumer attaches the product with reality and it immediately becomes more appealing as it becomes believable.

An emotional connection with a photograph creates a stronger relationship between the product and the consumer as it allows them to experience it on a personal level and feel as though they fully understand it, as though the product is perfect for them. Allyn Salomon considers “one might go as far as to assume that the buyer’s interest is less in response to the product than to the visual experience.” (Salomon, 1982: 13). With all these different aspects permeating photographs within advertisements, the consumer may become more interested in the story than the actual product. It’s making the consumer fall for the message the advertiser purposely creates to make them want the product. Although these techniques work, they are not a true representation. It makes the consumer believe the signified connotations, associate the advertising world with the real world and whilst made to feel targeted individually, in reality the advertisement is aimed at everyone. The consumer is defining themselves through these purposely-manipulated photographs within advertisements when in reality their purpose is to just sell a product and create a profit.


Adeevee (2015) Lynx Excite Deodorant: Faye [online] Available from <; [28th January 2015]

Barthes, R. (1997) Image Music Text. London: Fontana Press.

Cody Burridge (n.d.) Advertising/Lynx Axe [online] Available from <; [28th January 2015]

Fowles, J. (1996) Advertising and Popular Culture. California: Sage Publications, Inc.

Messaris, P. (1997). Visual Persuasion. 1st edn. London: Sage Publications.

Reedy, W. (1973). Impact – Photography for Advertising. 1st edn. Rochester, New York: Eastman Kodak Company.

Rowell, M. (1997) Objects of Desire The Modern Still Life. New York: The Museum of Modern Art.

Salomon, A. (1982) Advertising Photography. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Saunders, D. (1988). Professional Advertising Photography. 1st edn. London: Merehurst Press.

Saunders, D. (1994) The World’s Best Advertising Photography. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd.

Source (2014) ‘Advertising’. Source The Photographic Review (79).

Ward, D. (1990). Photography for Advertising. 1st edn. London: Macdonald.

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


Overall, I feel that the presentation of my paper went well, “demonstrating my professional level of practical and intellectual capability.” I have always been someone who has suffered greatly with nerves when it comes to presenting however when I stood up on the day, I knew how much my confidence has grown over the last 3 years of university to allow me to do something like this. Admittedly, I was still a little nervous and despite having practiced beforehand, I still spoke a little fast and stuttered occasionally but all in all I felt it went well. It made me appreciate how much the dress rehearsals we conducted as a class beforehand had helped. It was particularly nerve wracking that I had to speak first – going first meant I didn’t have much time to work myself up before presenting and once mine was over, I was able to fully engage with the other presentations for the rest of the 2 days. However, I felt going first there was a lot of pressure to get it right and do it well – first impressions of the event and all!

I was glad we were able to have our scripts in front of us when presenting and didn’t have to recite it from memory, as I trying to do this mixed with nerves would have not worked out so well. Having rehearsed my script a fair few times, it meant I was able to look up and engage with the audience on frequent occasions which I feel is really important. I was very apprehensive about the questions I was going to be asked. I was really pleased when Becky Woodall asked whether I felt digital manipulation added to these untrue representations within advertisements, which obviously I had previously explored myself as a potential paper topic therefore I was able to instantly give my answer, despite getting my words a bit mixed up due to nerves but hopefully managing to create a plausible answer. Secondly, Emma Shea asked why I decided to use the Banksy image in my presentation, again another question I felt I could answer straight away as when I discovered the image it brilliantly summarised the points I was trying to get across of how the advertisers are basically making a mockery of us. Finally, Jenny Stonely asked if I were to create an advertisement myself, would I still use these manipulations/techniques? I was a little unsure about my answer to this but luckily I had thought along the lines of the difference between advertising and promoting beforehand. Although these techniques do create a untrue representation I would still use them, as if you were promoting a product you would be more likely to represent it truthfully however when advertising the product, you are portraying it in the best possible light therefore these manipulations enhance that to result in selling of the brand.

This module has definitely been the hardest university module so far but with this, it has also been the most rewarding. I found myself really struggling with creating my paper, particularly with not being able to get my head around my topic in the early days meaning I really fell behind and set my anxieties sky high. However, I am extremely grateful for the help I received from tutors to get myself back on track and am proud of myself for how far I have come. I would never have imagined that I would have ever been able to stand up and give a 10 minute presentation but I proved to myself that I could. Once I was confident about my topic, I really enjoyed collating my research “using the appropriate skills” to create my paper as I sourced many interesting books and web pages that I intend to revisit in the future. I was able to “analyse and reflect critically” on the key points I found to enhance my debate. I also liked being able to demonstrate my visual analysis and understanding of the importance of photography in advertising, “how key photographic forms are used effectively professional practice.”

With an interest of a potential career in commercial photography, I feel that creating this paper has really enhanced my own understanding and sparked an interest in considering a career within advertising photography as the set ups look so creative and stimulating. If I were to change anything about this whole experience it would be to seek help sooner – there is no shame in admitting you are struggling. Not only this, but to make sure all my files are fully backed up as the weekend before the deadline my macbook failed resulting in a mad rush to retrieve the files and add the finishing touches to my submission! Overall, the module has been great, the whole class worked so hard to produce their papers and run the Collective Vision Symposium brilliantly.

The sentences in quotations are references to the learning outcomes of 350MC Working with Photography in Context.


~ by victoriasimkissphotography on March 2, 2015.

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