Critical/contextual analysis of an advertising campaign
Apple iPod ‘Silhouettes’ (2003)
The twenty-first century is a world saturated with media and images and also advertisements constitute a great part of our (visual) everyday life. The great (omni-) presence of advertisements – as Naomi Klein has explained in her book No Logo (2000), advertisements have invaded almost every conceivable space of public and private life from adverts in toilets and urinals to billboards on the motorway – is only one (and maybe the most obvious) reason for the acknowledgement of what advertisements mean to the postmodern life. There is more to advertisements and advertising than just the appraisal and selling of products. Hence, in this essay I will critically analyse a contemporary advertising campaign, trying to show from many different angles the wide ranging significance of advertising while relating the campaign also to a wider cultural context.
Prior to my case study and critical analysis of an advertising campaign I want to establish the means and focal points by which I will carry out my analysis. In my analysis I will draw loosely upon key ideas of Roland Bathes’ semiotic analysis, however, my aim is not to produce an in depth semiotic analysis of the advertising campaign but a more diversified critique for which I will also introduce cultural theories that relate to the wider cultural context of the chosen campaign (product, brand, etc). Furthermore, I will analyse and relate key aspects of the campaign to aspects of the target audience, the media mix/integration and the style of the adverts.
I now want to begin my analysis with some background information and description of my chosen campaign which is the (late 2003) 2004 “Silhouettes” campaign by Apple for the Apple iPod[i] (see Fig. 1-5). The campaign was planned and created with the globally successful and highly acclaimed agency TBWA\Chiat\Day[ii] who produced a series of advertisements for the iPod with the same distinctive style. The campaign launched in print and outdoor media (i.e. in magazines, on billboard, on public transport etc.) as well as online and on television. For the purpose of my analysis I will pay special attention to the series of television advertisements which feature black silhouettes of male and female iPod users that dance – each in their individual style and with their iPod in the hand – in front of bright coloured backgrounds to the music coming from their iPod[iii]. The bright background colours change rapidly throughout the clip and the main colours used are blue, green, yellow, pink and purple. In each clip there are a few male and female silhouettes dancing in their own style, which range from jumping up and down to breakdance to hip hop dance styles. Significant here is that the black silhouettes are contrasted with the iPod and its headphones and cable all of which are completely white. The music and the protagonists, like the colour backgrounds and the dance styles are different in each clip and also the advert length varies from 15 to 30 to 45 seconds whereas the written message of the advert remains the same, namely that the iPod is now compatible with Microsoft computers as well as Macintoshs[iv]. However, this, according to Barthes, is only the first level of meaning – the level of denotation[v] – and this seemingly harmless advert with its simple graphics has a much deeper meaning and relevance. As Barthes claimed ‘we never encounter (at least in advertising) a literal image in a pure state’ but that there always is a ‘symbolic message’ hidden somewhere, not accessibly at first sight (Barthes 1964 in Hall and Evans 1999: 38) or as Graeme Burton states in his book More Than Meets the Eye ‘[a]dvertising is paid-for persuasive communication. [It] is not a form of communication, but a way of using forms of communication to achieve effects’ (Burton 2002: 195-196). So what are the connotations attached to this very advertisement and...
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