Polysemy in Advertising

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Polysemy in Advertising

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Su
 Mei
 Koh
  344185
 

 

 

INTRODUCTION
 
The
  world
  of
  advertising
  is
  continually
  evolving,
  as
  consumer
  culture
  shifts
  to
  incorporate
  cultural
  ideologies
  that
  have
  become
  increasingly
  progressive
  over
  time.
  A
  growing
  body
  of
  research
  has
  helped
  shed
  light
  on
  a
  genre
  of
  advertising
  steeped
  in
  ambiguity
  and
  void
  of
  traditional
  executional
  design
  elements,
  as
  deliberate
  obscurity
  is
  designed
  to
  appeal
  to
  a
  wider
  range
  of
  consumers
  and
  induce
  higher
  elaboration
  and
  involvement
  with
  the
  message
  (Williamson,
  1978).
  While
  the
  ambiguity
  appeal
  is
  not
  a
  novelty
  in
  advertising,
  the
  idea
  of
  ‘open-­‐text
  advertisements’
  –ads
  that
  are
  open
  to
  multiple
  interpretations
  and
  do
  not
  eliminate
  alternative
  meanings’-­‐
  have
  led
  to
  the
  notion
  of
  polysemy
  (Warlaumont,
 1995).
 
 
  Puntoni,
  Schroeder
  &
  Ritson
  (2010:6)
  define
  advertising
  polysemy
  as
  “the
  existence
  of
  at
  least
  two
  distinct
  interpretations
  for
  the
  same
  advertising
  message
  across
  audiences,
  or
  across
  time
  and
  situations.”
  Theoretically
  this
  implies
  that
  polysemous
  advertising
  can
  bear
  multiple
  meanings
  and
  can
  be
  interpreted
 in
 a
 variety
 of
 different
 ways,
 depending
 on
 the
 relevance
 of
 ads
 as
  well
  as
  consumers’
  cultural
  identifications
  and
  collective
  conventions.
  Fiske
  (1986)
  advocates
  polysemy
  as
  a
  valuable
  and
  productive
  asset,
  and
  maintains
  that
 it
 is
 an
 inherent
 quality
 of
 media
 products.
 It
 is
 also
 argued
 that
 consumers
  construct
 their
 own
 meanings
 based
 on
 semiotic
 codes,
 which
 can
 be
 produced
  by
  fissures
  and
  excess
  in
  a
  text,
  allowing
  polysemic
  reading
  (Fiske,
  1986).
  The
  present
 paper
 will
 illustrate
 the
 various
 forms
 of
 polysemy
 advertising
 through
  an
  array
  of
  print
  ads.
  Subsequently,
  this
  paper
  will
  also
  demonstrate
  how
  a
  particular
  ad
  can
  contain
  multiple
  meanings
  and
  how
  it
  can
  be
  interpreted
  differently,
  as
  underpinned
  by
  the
  theoretical
  understanding
  of
  advertising
  polysemy.
 
 
  This
  paper
  will
  begin
  by
  discussing
  the
  synchronic
  and
  diachronic
  dimensions
  of
  advertising
  polysemy,
  which
  illustrates
  how
  an
  ad
  can
  have
  multiple
  meanings
  between
  and
  within
  individuals.
  It
  will
  then
  elucidate
  on
  four
  forms
  of
  purposeful
 polysemy
 with
 various
 goals,
 and
 how
 they
 are
 implemented
 within
 
 
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