Ad Hoc

Welcome to Ad Hoc, our newest feature on the art of advertising. We are proud to welcome Dr. Richard Zakia as the author of this page each month. As Dr. Zakia explains: "My interest in advertisements started while I was doing graduate work in visual perception at the University of Rochester. I began to see applications to what I was learning, in the sophistication of ads and began to collect them. The more I collected the more interested I became and the more I realized how manipulative they are. Many ads use decoys and their real message is in the sub-text, which is often not attended to as Marshall McLuhan so well stated …'the unconscious depth message of ads are never attacked by the literate because of their incapacity to notice or discuss nonverbal forms of arrangement and meaning.' They have not the art to argue with pictures. My intent here is to call attention to the sub-text of some ads to show their manipulative nature."

Ads are very expensive to create and to publish. When looking at an ad, realize that everything is meticulously planned, rehearsed and directed. Nothing is intentionally left to chance. The purpose of an ad is to seduce you, in every way possible, consciously and unconsciously to buy the product and to feel good about it. In this ad, ask yourself what Dior is selling--its sophisticated name, the outfit the model wears, the zebra-like purse?  All of the above and more. Take another look at the purse and how the model is grasping it.  Is that the way you would expect a woman to hold a purse?  Does the way she grips the handle suggest something else? (Take a second look, this time relaxing your inner censor.)What kind of man is this model supposed to attract? What kind of woman?

Richard D. Zakia is Professor Emeritus, Rochester Institute of Technology and author/coauthor of several books on photography, perception, semiotics and advertising.

c. Corinne Whitaker 2009

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