<The Gender ADs Project>

 

The Ambiguity of Advertising

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<Background: As a number of theorists have considered, the nature of postmodern culture involves forms of signification that deliberately defy linear interpretations (see M. Gottdiener, Postmodern Semiotics, Blackwell, 1995). In the world one of advertising, one of the recent developments has been the ambiguous ad—an ad, that through pictorial or written means, resists conventional interpretation. For advertisers ambiguity can serve multiple purposes. For one, the viewer of the ad may be more inclined to buy a product because of the "postmodern" coolness associated by the ad. The controversies over Bennetton's advertising campaigns illustrate that this strategy can sometimes backfire. Another marketing ploy is to employ multiple audience marketing strategies. We see examples of this in a number of ads populating our consciousness over the last five or so years. They include lesbians and gays in varied contexts. On the one hand such ads can be seen as progressive in opening up considerations of non-heterosexual culture, while on the other one say that they are being used to fulfill traditional desires—such as in the case of lesbians in advertising and the context of male heterosexuality.  This page focuses on the role that ambiguity plays in advertising. Because we are viewing these ads as critics of culture, we are presented with an additional challenge that consumers of ads do not encounter—how to critique ads given their ambiguity. A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from an individual regarding this ad:

 

 

The Ads: The concern was that I had misinterpreted or overinterpreted the ad in terms of its sexual meaning. Indeed, there are many possible meanings, and the purpose of this website is to consider both the meaning of ads and their role in our lives. As you consider the exhibits below, focus on the difficulty of interpreting advertising given the ambiguity of meaning of the ads. Discussion Questions: (1) If advertising is ambiguous, meaning that it is more difficult to interpret the meanings of particular ads, does that negate the politics of advertising? (2) Are the meanings of ads becoming more ambiguous? If so, what are some social or political explanations of this shift in advertising? >

 

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<presented by Scott A. Lukas, Ph.D.>