Advertising messages are everywhere. We see them in our morning newspapers, on the billboards we see on our way to work, and even in the magazines we read. They are impossible to miss and we are constantly influenced by their messages even when we do not realize it. One such message was in this month’s Cosmopolitan magazine. The advertisement attempts to persuade the reader to buy a 2013 Ford Escape. The words and the pictures in the ad are innocent enough at first glance, but it is important for a reader to consider what can be construed from taking in more than the literal message found there.
The message contains denotations, connotations and a dominant ideology that is important to consider when one attempts to make sense of the true effect of today’s advertising on society. Ford’s advertisement features three different shaped and sized photos. The first picture captures the inside of the vehicle from the rear view. It depicts a large, clean and well lighted interior space. The second picture is taken along what appears to be a country road with trees and mountains. The sun is rising just above the trees and is shining right into the camera, causing the eye to be drawn to its rays.
The third and biggest picture shows a Ford Escape parked in front of a very large and modern home. There is a young, white woman with her hands full swiping her foot under the rear of the car. The quote on the page reads “Your foot just got a lot more handy… Perfect for those times when you’ve got your hands full. Another reason to check out the stylishly capable, tech-savvy totally reimagined 2012 Escape. It’s ready for anything. Ford Go Further. ” (Cosmopolitan, 2012). Denotation is described as the literal or obvious meaning of a sign (Chander, 2008).
These are messages that would be understood by anyone who is from any culture or any time. The literal meanings in this advertisement are easy to spot. The eye is drawn to the vehicle and its newest feature. The reader can see how the car allows someone to open the rear hatch with just a swipe of their foot under the car. When looking at the car the reader notices the car has clean lines making it stylish and trendy. It is compact in its appearance, yet the first picture depicts how much room is available on the inside.
The woman has her hands full, but is still able to open the door. Just as the words instruct, he car is convenient. The connotations are just as easy to pick out, but more difficult to interpret. These types of images are attributed to the personal associations of the person viewing the picture such as age, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic class. These meanings are more open to interpretation (Chandler, 2008). There are many of these messages within this ad. The first underlying message is found in the background of the vehicle. The modern looking home and the lack of children in the picture are both significant messages communicating that this vehicle is contemporary and appropriate for modern, fashionable people.
The woman is well dressed, young and she appears to be wealthy. This message combined with the opulence of the home suggests to viewers that owning the vehicle may make you appear young and wealthy. Finally, the picture of the empty road surrounded by trees and the bright sun, suggests that the owner of the 2013 Ford Escape is free and isn’t bothered by other cars or the stresses of the city. The verbal and nonverbal messages of advertising today are as persuasive as possible.
This form of media is one that exerts control over society without brute force, but instead through the ideology it conveys (Gruyter, 2002). Even in an advertisement for a vehicle, a reader can identify the dominant ideology. There is clearly a sense of affluence found in this advertisement. The advertisement sells the stereotype of wealthy white people. It also portrays a stereotypical role of women. It suggests women are good only for carrying the bags and looking good. The advertisement is an example of how advertising can transmit an elitist, conservative viewpoint.
There is also the suggestion that the Ford Escape is a method of attaining freedom from the constraints of life. The written message implies that this type of freedom and style is achievable by everyone. Its positive messages about freedom can be considered a way to break free from the elitists’ power and control. Unfortunately, the overwhelming message suggests this freedom is only for certain age groups, socioeconomic classes, and specific genders. The meanings in this ad promote the belief that stylish, capable and tech-savvy is for wealthy, white males.
The statement that advertising is attempting to persuade consumers is clear. What is not clear is what messages are we being persuaded to believe. Is advertising a way for elitists to control subordinates through symbolism? Just like in the Ford Escape advertisement discussed here, signs that are in and of themselves neutral can be combined to become symbols intended to bolster the social dominance of certain groups (Clarke, n. d. ). Nevertheless, as consumers we can analyze the types of messages we are receiving and make our own determinations of the values of our society.