Pick apart 2/3 contemporary adverts

‘Rhetoric’ definition – the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques. (Google)

‘Image’ definition – 1. A representation of the external form of a person or thing in art. 2. The general impression that a person, organization, or product presents to the public. (Google)

  1. Coca Cola Life

The first advert I’ve chosen is for Coca-cola Life.  I chose this because I was fascinated by it as I sat in a traffic jam and took the above picture, hoping that a real women would walk by and then someone pushing a pram did which might seem fortuitous.  The image on the link below doesn’t have any wording other than the usual Coke strap lines.  However, the photo I took had type on it stating the facts about the drink being less sugary and calorific due to a plant extract, which is sadly cropped out due to the position of my car.  The photo is also cropped on the billboard so the woman’s facial expression becomes even more prominent. The advert is no longer in the same place so we have to rely on the link here: http://www.coca-cola.co.uk/stories/health/choice-and-information/introducing-coca-cola-life

Here is an image (a picture that represents a company) + (the impression that the organisation presents to the public) advertising a new version of Coca Cola called Life. It was launched in 2014. According to Coca-Cola’s site it has 45% lower sugar content than regular Coke and is made with a plant extract called Stevia. (Coca-cola.co.uk, 2014)

Linguistic

Sign:

  • The Coca Cola logo is placed in the top left hand corner in white cursive letters. The logo is set within a red circle.
  • The red circle hovers – in the shape of a sun or planet – embedded in the image at the top rather than the bottom
  • Beneath that in red capitals “Taste the Feeling” – this is a new slogan to be used across the entire Coke brand (C.Isadore, 2016)
  • The bottle of Coke is held so the wording on the label is clearly seen. The lettering is white, as it is on the logo – matches. The label on the bottle is green, which is different to the well-established red logo, a more familiar site and symbol.
  • Underneath the words Coca-Cola is the single word Life. This is in another font. It is a curly font, and gives an impression it could have been written by hand rather than typed, although we know it was printed. (authentic, organic, wholesome, real, a person as opposed to a machine)
  • In the photograph I took on my phone the words “less sugar and calories” as well as with Strevia plant extract are also included on the left hand side of the billboard

Signified:

  • Powerful famous logo, No 15 within list of 50 most influential brands in the world (Fortune, 2015). Coke is known all over the world and crosses socio-economic boundaries. Everyone knows Coke.[*]
  • The Coke brand continues to be powerful and remains a constant in the viewers’ life
  • You can rely on Coca-Cola because it is familiar – red on white background, recognisable logo
  • If you drink Coke you will taste the feeling that drinking Coke gives you – you can taste more than just a drink but a feeling too
  • The Coca-Cola logo is repeated on the bottle, only this time the background is green. By repeating the name but introducing a new colour the viewer is being told that something has changed, something is different
  • The colour green is equated with the Green movement; a political and ecological way of thinking that signifies caring about the earth, how we treat nature, ourselves, others. It has spread right across Western paradigms and been embraced in the same way people might once have embraced a religion, fanatically in some quarters, or else worn like a coat by people or companies that are highly skilful adopters of powerful signifiers – in a conscious exercise of impression management (a term introduced by G.K.Simon Junior, Ph.D, in his book Character Disturbance published in 2013). (I’m not saying us humans are not a scourge on the earth. Perhaps the fate of Easter Island was a micro-precursor to what will happen to the whole planet in time – quite quickly possibly.) It is seen as a movement that is on the side of good and against big business, corporate life, against greed. To be green is to care deeply about how the earth is treated and to be highly responsible, to eschew certain practices, especially those commonly and historically believed as having been employed by big business.
  • By including both the red brand and then the green branded label the viewer can deduce that Coca-Cola is still a brand that can be trusted to deliver more than a drink, a drink that gives you a feeling you can taste, and that it is also now a big business that has a conscience, is on the side of right, is connected to movement that is seen as ethical and responsible
  • The ethical and responsible aura is something we might associate with a local health food store, local, approachable
  • In addition to being politically green, green habits are viewed as physically healthy and often connected to the organic movement, a way of producing food that was often sold in health food stores
  • Organic food is viewed as more expensive but of higher quality and healthier
  • Organic is seen as a luxury by many, or as a necessity by people who might be very concerned with their health and looks, like a famous super model might be. By associating with the green organic and health conscious movement Coca-Cola Life takes risks by being seen as part of something that is out of reach to many and therefore not applicable to them, as well as attempting to appeal to a niche market, and to people who want to be associated with the niche market, even though they might not be part of it. Would the actual super models who prefer pink salt, coconut oil and all things fresh and organic actually pick up a can of Coca-Cola Life?
  • The words ‘plant extract’ links to health foods, supplements, science
  • Life – the name of the drink is one of the most positive affirmative words that it is possible to have chosen.
  • Life – the opposite of death.
  • By drinking this soda you will be given life.
  • You can taste the feeling of Life – the drink allows you to not only feel alive but to taste what that feels like. And by association be it. Be life. Imbibe life. Become life. Have a life with Life.
  • Regular Coke is associated with bad health, rotten teeth, too much sugar, no nutrients. Life suggests that this new Coke is removed from all of that and circumvents any death due to bad health.
  • The word Coke is still linked to its historical use cocaine either via urban myth or history depending on your view
  • Cocaine, although consciously seen as a bad, destructive and unhelpful narcotic also has the reputation of being fun, exciting, dangerous and used by ‘rock-stars’ and models. I won’t dwell on this but its’ worth making the connection between that meaning of the word within the whole package of the word Coke because the association has an impact and plays into the myths – discussed later.

Image

Description of Denoted elements in the image

  • Woman
  • Blonde
  • Blue eyes
  • Rings on fingers
  • Leather car seats
  • She’s in the back seat leaning on the front
  • There is a seat belt in the front
  • The seat belt is prominent in the picture
  • She has red-painted nails
  • She leans on the back of the front seat of the car looking at the viewer with an alluring look in her eyes – she looks sexually inviting
  • The hand in the foreground is relaxed
  • She holds the bottle (not a can which doesn’t hold the same cultural cache as the iconic bottle) labelled Coca-Cola Life so it can be seen.
  • She’s holding a drink suggesting she must thirsty
  • Her hair is tousled as she sits in the back seat of what looks like a spacious car with leather seats.
  • The photograph is edited to look like it has a recognisable Instagram filter – Lo-fi perhaps.

Description of connoted meaning – coded/iconic/cultural

  • Blonde – culturally viewed as the ‘sexiest’ of the hair colours, very much part of a white European cultural heritage, the culture that prompted the title “Gentlemen prefer blondes” still permeates the lens through which we view conventional ideas of beauty across Western paradigms.  However, Coke do use other ‘types’ in different advertising for other products.  Blonde actress/model, Rosie Hungtindon-Whitely is their Life mascot
  • Hair is tousled and is the sort of blonde that we might associate with surfers rather than highly coiffured locks from a salon – free, wild, youthful. (In fact blonde hair reminds us of infancy, little girls – (Randomfacts.com, 2012))
  • Her lips are more than hinting at the well-known ‘fish pout’ so popular in selfies on Instagram (My niece posted such a photograph recently which surprised me – I would have thought that look had had enough ridicule to deem it the opposite of acceptable but apparently not) Here the model manages to affect the fish-pout with her lips, suggesting its originally intended meaning – sexually aroused – without seeming overtly ludicrous – rather than conveying the more up to date intended or unintended meanings (pastiche, satirical, gauche, naive)
  • The seatbelt – from denoted notes “The model does not wear one” – The seat belt’s prominent position in the photograph suggests it is a crucial element in the image; there is no seatbelt holding her in, keeping or making her safe, sensible, responsible. The suggestion must therefore, as represented, be that she is the opposite of those things; irresponsible, risky, reckless, dangerous, possibly an ignorer of rules
  • Eyes – blue, usually deemed in white European conventional ideas of beautiful as desirable; and piercing, sexually teasing, indicating she’s in a sexually charged conversation with whoever she’s looking at/talking to
  • Leaning on the back of the front seat, from the position of the back seat of a car that has the look, due to cream leather seats, of an American and iconic car (something we might have seen in a US teen film). Since her hair is tousled, as if she’s been in the throws of passion, and she’s looking sexually inviting, we are being invited to connect her, and therefore the product, to the sort of activity, which we have routinely been told by aforementioned films, that young people get up to in the back seats of cars…drive-ins, US movies, in fact the billboard image is reminiscent of a drive-in movie, but here from the POV of the car
  • The jewellery she wears tells you this women is trendy, fashionable, youthful, confident
  • The well-manicured red nails suggest she is confident – red nail polish, especially on fingers is not a first choice for many, pulling it off requires confidence. Had her nails been any longer she’d have looked gauche, unfashionable, pastiche, old-fashioned – the length is on point, fashion wise
  • “Taste the Feeling” – the connection between the woman’s body language and the phrase suggests that by drinking Coca-Cola Life you can literally taste the feeling of sex, sex with a conventionally considered beauty ideal, and since she’s apparently so desirable – if she, a women who looks like that, is staring at you in that way – you must, ergo, be as sexually desirable yourself – therefore Coca-Cola Life could make you a ‘sex god’ or ‘sex goddess’; when you drink it you could feel sexual, you may even feel sexually aroused, you might feel attractive AND to boot you can taste all those feelings too, taste sexual arousal, maybe even taste the women who are advertising the products across the Coke platform.Therefore those feelings can be imbibed, affecting you in a similar way to how a magic potion, such as you might find in Alice in Wonderland, might be able to. Having drunk it and ingested some of its magic, you may become as sexually attractive as the women in the advert. As all Coke products are tied to this strapline we are told they all potentially have this power.
  • One cannot forget the link between the words Coke and cocaine -at the very least a synonym, but according to urban myth backed up by many, many articles online which say there is a great deal of evidence, Coke did once contain a “significant dose of cocaine” although the article this quite was then from suggest Coke denies that.(Palermo, 2013)) Nevertheless, cocaine is said to engender people with a great deal of short-term  confidence.
  • The name of the brand – iconic and considered an integral part of international language, a sign of ‘American culture’ is ‘cool’, carries a form of cultural capital; which has been exported all over the world – see “The God’s Must Be Crazy”, where a coke bottle lands on the head of a local agrarian man in Africa. We associate that brand with images that permeate our view of adolescence, popular culture, 50s America, drive-ins, romantic, idealised, fun, cool, – by investing all of that with their new brand, Life, the new drink continues to communicate all the historical cultural capital
  • AND is invested with something new: Eco economy, health foods, responsibility, nature – personal, political and corporate
  • If you drink this Coke, you can actually imbibe, swallow and therefore be part of, exude all of the old ‘cool’ associated with Coke as well as the new, be responsible, taking care of your own body, of the planet, of the environment,
  • AND – it will make you live longer. It will, if you believe the advert – the name of the product, literally give you the opposite of death.
  • In addition you will be exciting, sexually attractive, sexually appealing, maybe even able to attract super models
  • BUT in order to maintain a sense of ‘cool’ the advert doesn’t give you everything on a plate. Remember you just get to “Taste the feeling” – Perhaps “I don’t want to belong to a club that will accept me as a member” (Groucho Marx). So on top of everything else, the advert suggests you can taste it –  but will you actually have the whole meal? Actually have what they’re using to sell it? There is an Ambiguity which also maintains a distance, a coolness, and reserve,  – one that isn’t in fact real because in truth lots of people do drink Coke, despite a fall in sales and status (still No 15 most powerful brand in the world though – (Fortune.com, 2016)).
  • There is a dichotomy between the responsible notions of “Green”/health, economics/politics and the dangerous, sexually alluring, what has she just been doing, or what is planning to do – look in her eyes, which is suggested and reinforced by the placement of the seatbelt which doesn’t strap her in
  • The way the photograph has been processed is like an Instagram image in colour if not in shape (square, before Instagram changed recently) This allows the advert to have a similar accent and rhythm as the images the people they are selling to have – therefore part of their tribe
  • And finally, for, now – she’s thirsty. Or will be. Might this be linked to either recent or impending activity suggested by body language?

Myths – The advert relies on several cultural myths to help sell its product, which in turn reinforces perceived realities and therefore potentially is responsible for augmenting the myths it taps into. (Endeavouring not to speculate but my perception of mythical beliefs in our society are going to be different to other peoples’, so whilst I can probably find citations to back up my some if not all of my ideas here, others will certainly be able to find equally convincing but apparently opposing citations that look just as authoritative, I’m sure.)

  • Anything linked to a “plant extract” must be healthy and good for you. Sugar supplements and indeed sugar itself have however been linked to carcinogens/causes of cancer. Stevia was, according to Wikipedia, banned in the US but that has since changed. There are plenty of articles about Stevia online offering varying levels of advice about its potential for danger or not, so its difficult to know exactly how much to take notice of. In fact it is easy to become bombarded by the plethora of nutritional advice online, however, a recent article by Garreth Williams, a philosopher at Lancaster University, which was published on theconversation.com, suggests that ‘modern processed food poses health risks’ and that rather than concentrating on individual nutrients we should ideally be preparing and eating whole foods. (2016) Coca Cola Life, despite it’s link to a “leaf extract” probably doesn’t fit that description, no matter how you (the advertisers) try to frame it.
  • Products advertising themselves as lower in sugar (or low in fat) are better for you – in fact, health advisers suggest avoiding food that advertises itself as such because in many cases the terms used are nothing more than marketing ploys, and in fact often these foods are more processed that the sugary or fatty versions. This article offers a balanced view about sugar substitutes : http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/artificial-sweeteners-sugar-free-but-at-what-cost-201207165030. It can be difficult to find measured and intelligent advice about this because often the issues will be couched in what Barthes refers to as mythical language.
  • Health food makes you live longerCoca-Cola Life is a processed food, despite its leafy connection; it is not a whole food, but it is tapping into the fears and beliefs people have about food. Regardless, the key to living longer and healthier lives is often deemed to be primarily class/economically determined (http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/04/11/473749157/its-not-just-what-you-make-its-where-you-live-says-study-on-life-expectancy) rather than soda-pop determined. It may be that people who don’t have to worry about meeting basic life requirements make healthier choices about their diets, but that along with a number of other complex influencing external and internal factors play a role. Choosing to drink Coca-Cola Life therefore is unlikely to have any impact on one’s longevity even though in its advertising one might perceive a health food connection, and the suggestive name. It taps into the myth that you can quite simply change your diet in order to live longer. This myth fails to recognise the myriad of/various other factors that play a role in overall social longevity.
  • The whole ‘Green’ movement is fraught with potential myths. (Please don’t incorrectly assume I am suggesting the science to back up the green argument is isn’t there in that statement– and I’m not an anti-green/anti-ecological believer) It’s too big a subject to unpick here but I would just say it’s something to be wary of when a company adorns green credentials, or appears to align themselves with a ‘Green’ agenda of any description, no matter how tenuously, especially a very large corporation with plenty of money behind it.
  • “A brand makes you cool which makes life better” – well, this one is tricky, because it does in one sense because you might become ‘cool’ (or the variant thereof depending on your generation; dope, wicked, sick…etc) in the eyes of others who buy into the myth. Brands can and do add to a person’s capital. The myth therefore is more about whether or not being culturally ‘cool’ makes life better or not. (I suspect it can be argued that it doesn’t, but gives the illusion of doing so, which is almost enough in the short-term, but in the longer term will always be revealed to be not very much more than fantasy, even if it’s fun for a time while when you’re in the midst of it – real life does have a habit of taking hold though, regardless of who you are, I suspect)
  • Blonde, young and beautiful is highly sexually attractive – And, in fact those things are, due to the fact we are told by the Spectacle that they are, but so are many other versions of ‘beauty’ Beauty ideals are culturally specific and this example here, for now, is deemed the ideal – however, it is a fairly narrow and exclusive view. And one that is subject to change over time. This advert reinforces the ideal. White, blonde, youthful. To be fair to Coke, I have seen other Coke adverts that do employ alternative versions of beauty, notably – here http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/19/news/companies/new-coke-ad-campaign/index.html?category=home-international Pre-industrial and pre-agrarian cultural beauty ideals show us just how varied human notions of beauty are in reality. Look at conscious alternative representations in art as well. There is nothing unusual about human-beings having culturally specific ideals of beauty or changing their bodies in some way, hair dying, tattoos, enhancement, foot binding etc – but these behaviours feed into myths surrounding ideas of beauty and are reinforced too by media’s sometimes narrow representation
  • Aside from the green, ‘natural’ connection the biggest Myth in this advert is to do with female sexuality, which is also utilised in the advert on the link to Money.nn.com above. Stevia is natural, so it sex, ergo Coke Life (or any other Coke product where sexuality is tapped into) is a healthy, natural thing to drink making you healthy and naturally sexy. Again, being fair to Coke, they have not only relied on female sexuality in the past but the well-known Diet Coke advert from a few years ago turned things around by playing with and turning round the notion of men, constructions workers, in particular, cat-calling women. In that advert they had women leering over the perceived ideal of sexually attractive man. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbXM9ATC5_4. There Coke tapped into a myth, most likely promoted by Hollywood, about human sexuality.
  • Being sexually alluring might lead to a life that is ‘better’ (although better than what is probably a good question); and in this case healthier, and what’s more the advert suggests that drinking Coca-Cola Life potentially gives you the right to include yourself within the above paradigm by association if nothing else – one of the beautiful people – if she’s looking at you that way, you must be attractive to her therefore you’re possibly like her in some way, especially if you drink the soda
  • You can and should have it all. Today people are expected to have it all, “because you’re worth it!” It is possible to live responsibly and continue to live ‘dangerously’ too – (although in reality only vicariously through your contact with the advert)
  • To be ‘dangerous’ to is to be sexually attractive
  • Danger gives you ‘life’
  • Life (as defined in the advert) is available in a product you can buy and drink in a can or bottle
  • The image has a similar look to Instagram filters and so Coke is being sold by people that are the same as “you and me” – everyday people
  • Ultimately the images present a reality that looks dreamy, sun-kissed, sexy, fun, youthful, fashionable, recognisable

2. See next blog post

 

References:

http://fortune.com/worlds-most-admired-companies/coca-cola-10/ (01/06/2016)

http://facts.randomhistory.com/blonde-hair-facts.html (04/06/2016

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbXM9ATC5_4 (04/06/2016)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2284783.stm (04/06/2016)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stevia (04/06/2016)

http://www.livescience.com/41975-does-coca-cola-contain-cocaine.html

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/artificial-sweeteners-sugar-free-but-at-what-cost-201207165030 (04/06/2016)

http://www.coca-cola.co.uk/stories/the-sweet-news-about-stevia-extract-our-zero-calorie-sweetener (04/06/2016)

https://www.quora.com/What-font-is-used-for-Coca-Cola (04/06/2016)

http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/19/news/companies/new-coke-ad-campaign/index.html?category=home-internationa (04/04/2016)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2815775/Green-Coke-calorie-free-leaf-sweetener-South-America-sugar-regular-critics-warn-s-marketing-gimmick.html (04/06/2016)

 Myth Today, Mythologies, Roland Barthes (translated by Annette Lavers, Hill and Wang, New York 1984) http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Barthes-Mythologies-MythToday.pdf (31/05/2016)

[*] Gods must be crazy film DMB http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080801/

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2 thoughts on “Project 3.1 Rhetoric of the Image

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