Advice from Advertisements

Advice from Advertisements

While reading on Semiotics, John Berger speaks of three aspects of representation:

the Signifier, the Signified, and the Sign.

With regards to advertisement and art, these three are the Holy Trinity of Berger’s theory. He states that the signifier is something being represented as something else. The signified is the idea of the thing being represented. Lastly, the sign being the union of the two. This seems very vague, of course. Berger mentions that this is a complex system of communication that historians and audiences can use to properly describe and diagnose a work of art. There are quite a few advertisements that fit this signifier, signified, sign category. For instance, many commercials show people enjoying themselves driving the safest car on the market. The car is the signifier, representing safety in a vehicle, the safety the signified, being represented by the car, and the happy people is the mixture of the two. To rephrase: if you drive our safe car, you will be happy.

An advertisement that I frequently see, due to my age and obsession with shopping, is modelling in catalogs when viewing online clothing. There are always very skinny, small and tall models. They are almost always displaying very angular facial features, usually of European heritage (as that is the world’s general view of ‘beauty’) with, you guessed it, Photoshop. In this scenario, like the car one mentioned, if you buy these clothes, or spend this money, you will look sexy and skinny. This is where the signifier is displayed as the beautiful model. The clothes are then the signified, and the outcome–the sign– being your happiness with your magically new flawless body.


Shoe section of store in Charlotte Russe from WikiCommons

The picture shown is what the inside of a store looks like for a preteen-mid 20s aged girl’s store. This is exactly what a girl would want: fancy bright and looking good for a good price. This store, known as Charlotte Russe, also uses Photoshop for their online catalog models. Many other stores do this, leading women to believe that if they are to purchase these clothes, they, too, will look as good as the models do. For younger women who do not know better, however, they believe that they will not look good until they appear like the models. This causes much insecurity, and sales to go up. Even the mannequins on display like in this photo are abnormally skinny, usually with the clothes pinned in the back. The women and girls who go into these stores now pray that they will be able to look like this if they buy such clothing.

This is not the exact intention of Berger’s idea, of course. But, this is something that speaks heavily to his theory. Women want to look good, so they will buy what they are advertised will look good. There are some stores that try to keep the playing field fair, like Aerie and American Eagle, as they have stopped Photoshopping their models in their catalog photos. It still doesn’t help that they use naturally attractive and skinny models, but I suppose one should just pick their poison.

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