Throughout my final paper, I will concern myself with TV commercials in the 1950s/1960s (see Assignment 5) and, particularly, look at how a certain product has been historically marketed. That said, I will use multimodal discourse analysis in order to both elaborate on the discourse surrounding this specific product as well as analyze certain visual material.
The Kodak camera will stand in the center of my research. In terms of the TV commercial, I would like to focus on the 1956 Kodak advertisement promoting the Signet 40 camera (see video below) and conduct a multimodal analysis in coherence with Machin (2007).
Since discourse analysis helps to understand how social reality is constructed and maintained while perceiving language as constitutive (not representative) of reality, I consider it to be a suitable method to reveal Kodak’s rhetorical strategies. I subsequently apply a multimodal approach to be able to ‘zoom in’ on the semiotic modes Kodak uses within this particular commercial and to investigate how these modes work together to produce meaning.
Theoretical Framework and Discourse
To introduce this topic, I will study Tungate (2007) and Marling (1996) to illustrate the history of advertising, especially how it changed due to the emergence of television. After having explained the method on the basis of Rose’s work (2001) and the lecture by Pohrib (2017), I plan to elaborate on the discourse surrounding the Kodak camera. In the process, I will outline how the company managed to transform the professional practice of photography into a mass activity (e.g. by linking it to societal discourses about going on holiday) and established new roles, especially for women.
I will then connect this discourse to the TV commercial and portray how Kodak’s efforts to turn professional photography into an easy, meaningful practice are visualized using Machin’s framework (2007).
Aims and Research Questions
The aim of my work is to reveal how Kodak has positioned its different models of cameras using specific advertising and institutional strategies. It will thus become apparent how the brand managed to alter the image of photography from a highly professional practice to a popular activity. The superior goal, however, is to reflect on how this discourse translates into semiotic modes throughout the TV ad from 1956.
Ultimately, I aim to answer the following research questions:
What kind of rhetorical strategies did Kodak use to integrate photography in popular culture?
How do the semiotic modes within the 1956 TV commercial relate to these strategies?
Participatory Culture certainly is a central and recent concept within the field of New Media, especially in terms of social media. Particularly Henry Jenkins has elaborated on this phenomenon throughout his works, which are critically addressed by other scholars such as Fuchs (2014) as well as Van Dijck and Nieborg (2009).
Initially, Jenkins’ definition of the term involves a culture “in which fans and other consumers are invited to actively participate in the creation and circulation of new content” (as cited by Fuchs, 2014, p. 54). Jenkins (2008), as cited by Fuchs (2014), further stresses interaction, low barriers for artistic expression and social connection as defining features of this development. Participation, in this sense, means that “humans meet on the net, form collectives, create and share content” (Fuchs, 2014, p. 55). Fuchs’ main critic in terms of Jenkins’ discourse relates to the reduction of Participatory Culture to a mere cultural dimension. Accordingly, Jenkins’ understanding of this concept is “mainly about expressions, engagement, creation, sharing, experience, contributions and feelings and not so much about how these practices are enabled by and antagonistically entangled into capital accumulation” (Fuchs, 2014, p. 57).
The downsides of the internet, namely the exploitation of users, concerns about privacy violations, surveillance etc. are thus not part of Jenkins’ paradigm. Fuchs (2014) criticizes this lack of scrutiny by pointing to political revolutions (e.g. in Egypt 2011) that were supported by social media and the forming of political (not ‘fan’) communities, which however, play no part in Jenkins’ emphasis on the ‘fun’ in popular culture. Scholars like him, Fuchs continues, declare popular culture itself a political movement so that they would not have to address ‘real’ political matters.
As far as Fuchs (2014) is concerned, academic writers like Jenkins further exaggerate the degree of creativity and activity of internet users. Here, Van Dijck and Nieborg (2009) cite a survey showing that only 13 percent of those people who use the internet regularly are actual creators (p. 861), while the majority is in fact merely watching or downloading content produced by others. As a consequence, the term ‘user’ is misleading, since it does not differentiate between active and passive or rather producer and consumer. The term ‘collectivism’, too, is mistakenly used to describe the motivations behind such activities, whereas as entertainment remains the major driving force behind user-generated content sites and visiting them (p. 862).
Again, according to Van Dijck and Nieborg (2009), the latter is further promoted by friend networks and marketing strategies – i.e. “networking activity” (p. 862). Event though Youtube stardom (as in the case of Dutch teenager Esmee Denters who uploaded a video on Youtube and 9 months later signed a contract with Justin Timberlake’s record label) appears to be ‘self-made’ in a sense, it is often the case that it is in fact created by “commercially driven social platforms and aggregator sites” (p. 862). That said, participation being ‘community driven’ remains a rhetorical ploy often used by advertisers. Companies like Google or Facebook are much more about ‘connectivity’ than ‘collectivity’; about (meta) data on consumers and selling this valuable information to other businesses.
As previously mentioned, ‘Youtube stars’ like Esmee Denters or Justin Bieber depict examples for the impact participatory culture can have. The two musicians (seemingly) gained huge popularity thanks to the Youtube community and its members clicking and commenting on their videos, showing them in their bedrooms singing, as well as sharing them e.g. on Facebook. It is however often the case that this ‘fan base’ is in fact composed of adverts, who strategically place the posted videos in order for them to become ‘viral’. That way, the record label can later on use this image relating to modern ‘self-made’ stardom in order to successfully market its artist.
On a similar note, Fuchs (2014) highlights the dominance of corporate social media usage. Political blogs that are not related to big media companies and thus are not ‘branded’ in any way do not stand a chance in terms of visibility and meaning to the public eye. “As long as corporations dominate the Internet”, Fuchs claims on page 61, “it will not be participatory”. Hence, the question of ownership needs to be addressed when talking about Participatory Culture. Against the background of enormous data-driven enterprises like Google and Facebook portraying themselves as convenient tools to connect people and/or knowledge, users are being exploited even if they are merely liking, searching or commenting on certain content.
Fuchs, C. (2014) Social Media: A Critical Introduction. London: Sage.
Van Dijck, J., & Nieborg, D. (2009). Wikinomics and its Discontents: A Critical Analysis of Web 2.0 Business Manifestos. New Media & Society, 11(5), 855-874.
When something goes viral, it rapidly gains popularity on the internet. It becomes a ‘virus’ according to Rushkoff (1994). While the protein shell embodies an event, image or technology containing hidden agendas (i.e. ideological codes), popular culture serves as a host organism. That said, Rushkoff (1994) does not introduces ‘media virus‘ as a metaphor but literal meaning as it is spreading “through the data sphere the same way biological ones spread through the body or a community (pp. 9-10). However, he refrains from considering media viruses a necessarily bad thing and instead views them as tools to target systems and faulty codes controlling society (p. 15).
Though how do media events become viruses? Millions of people do not spread a certain media content because each of them finds it particularly interesting or well-produced. We pass e.g. videos, images and texts on because they mean something to not only us, but to the whole social community we are part of. That said, “when advertising spreads”, as Jenkins (2008, p. 76) puts it, “it is because the community has embraced it as a resource for expressing its shared beliefs or pursuing its mutual interests” (p. 76). It has thus acquired a certain ‘worth’ and is subsequently considered a ‘gift’. Consumers no longer talk about brands, but through them. They articulate what matters to them by distributing commercials to other members of their social surroundings that do not merely ‘stick’ anymore but feature ‘spreadable’ characteristics.
Here, Jenkins (2008) stresses a number of differences. Whereas ‘stickiness‘ aims to attract and hold the attention of users, ‘spreadability‘ rather tries to provoke them to react – to spread the word. While ‘stickiness’ implies an unified consumer experience and pre-structured interactivity, ‘spreadability’ is all about a diversified experience and open-ended participation. Lastly, the concept of ‘spreadability’ users neither maintain separate and distinct roles anymore, nor do they merely navigate through finite channels of communication (p. 3).
Correspondingly, the role of the consumer or rather “multiplier” (p. 22) has severely changed: Instead of passively consuming media content, the audience transformed into what Jenkins (2008) calls “grassroots advocates” (p. 23), who do not simply carry or host ideas anymore but pick and choose material that is personally and socially meaningful to them. Naturally, this motivation to spread content differs from the media producer side: a notion, Jenkins (2008) is particularly concerned with. At this point, it is important to understand the concepts of ‘Commodity Culture‘ and ‘Gift Economy‘ (as summarized in the chart below). While the latter solely follows social motives, ‘Commodity Culture’ adheres to economic interests – which is why they clash frequently (e.g. in the case of sharing music files online with friends). However, ‘spreadability’ offers a wide range of benefits to companies – preconditioned that they embrace this concept instead of fearing the loss of “centralized control over the circulation and interpretation of their brand messages” (p. 78). ‘Spreadable’ media content raises awareness of new brands or transforms the perception of established ones. They open up new potential markets and increase consumer loyalty by enabling emotional attachment.
Everything just said is, however, tied to four basic conditions according to Jenkins (2008). In order to become ‘spreadable’ a commercial must…
contain humor or parody;
pose puzzles or enigmas which encourage us to seek out other information;
be incomplete without our active participation and/or
express themes of community and nostalgia (p. 6).
This commercial by Edeka, one of the biggest German supermarket chain, has been an extremely controversial viral ‘success’ (released in November 2015; since then 56 million hits on Youtube). Already 24 hours after its publication, the video was clicked 5 million times on Facebook and 1,2 million times on Youtube. It deals with an elderly father who is being left alone on Christmas Eve by his pre-occupied children. In order to change this, he spreads the notion of his death, which triggers all of his children and grandchildren to visit after all – and enjoy a christmas dinner together ‘powered by’ groceries from Edeka. Overall, the commercial resembles more a premium cinema production than a spot. It invites its viewer to sit down and listen to a story; a very emotional one at that.
The story’s curators work for the German agency Jung von Matt. According to its manager Thomas Strerath, the intention was to remind people of Christmas being the family holiday, since today nobody seems to care anymore. And, of course, they deliberately crossed a line in the process – which he considers the only and therefore necessary way to become part of a general discussion and, ultimately, to be remembered.
Beyond being talked about, the clip was imitated in both professional and amateur ways. For one, the German TV show “Circus HalliGalli” produced a parody of the theme: when the mourning children encounter their father alive and well, they scream at him and eventually shoot him. Within the description of the Youtube post it says: “No, it is simply not a good idea to fake your own death. Never.”
Similarly, three friends remade the clip by changing the end as well: one of them spreads the news of his death so that his two friends come over and clean the house while he enjoys his spare time. Another response video was created as a comic. Here, the main protagonist fakes his death in order to get a quiet night watching Netflix.
Returning to the original Youtube clip and its comment section, users react mostly compassionate, claiming that this is the most touching / high-quality commercial they have ever seen. A lot of voices agree with the video’s message: do not wait until it is too late – make time for your loved ones now! Numerous viewers reveal that they had goose bumps or even tears in their eyes while watching. Under the hashtag #heimkommen (homecoming), people tweetet their thoughts on it: “brave”, “grand cinema”, “eye opening” etc.
However, there are other opinions, too: remarks like “disgusting”, “impious” and “a slap in the face for everyone who just lost someone” were posted by other Youtube users. A major German newspaper titles “This is how Edeka plays with its customers’ feelings”, calling the ad “morbid” and “sad in a far too obvious way”. Practically every online medium picked up on the ‘spreadable’ content – mostly criticizing it sharply but always concluding with some sort of recognition: Edeka’s strategy worked. If people are not touched by it, they are furious but most importantly: they talk about the ad’s content either way.
Jenkins, H., Li, X., & Domb, A. (2008). If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead. Creating Value in a Spreadable Marketplace. Retrieved from: http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2010/04/conver gence_culture_consortium.php
Rushkoff, D. (1994). Introduction. In: Media virus! Hidden agendas in popular culture (1st ed.). New York: Ballantine Books.
Deceiving, misleading, exploiting, oppressing – four verbs with highly negative connotations. And, according to Simons and Jones (2011), all of them are in fact linked to rhetoric.
The authors define rhetoric as the art of persuasion (p. 6). Persuasion, in turn, is referred to as the “engine of our market-driven global economy” (p. 11). It is the goal of a rhetorical analysis to precisely examine this mode of persuasion in terms of its symbols, i.e. frames, used to shape the audience’s perception (p. 19).
Already in the ancient age, greek and roman sophistics (i.e. sophisticated people) were prioritizing rhetorical power and effectiveness above the values of truth and justice. That said, persuasion has always dealt in matters of judgement rather than certainty in the sense that it cannot be settled by stating facts alone – just like it is the case with psychologists and doctors offering different kinds of judgements today. Since people as autonomous agents act individually on acts of persuasion, one cannot predict the outcome of one’s persuasive strategy, which indicates its main difference to coercion: persuaders do not force something on someone.
In the process, persuasion has basically become the “language of business leadership” in terms of law, sales, social work and other professional fields (however, Sonesson, 2013, actually states that publicity discourse is the only domain today in which rhetoric “is alive and well”, p. 8). We thus deal with persuasive strategies in our everyday lives, which actually constitutes what Simons and Jones (2011) call the “not me” phenomenon, i.e. one’s belief that he/she is invulnerable to the persuasive impact of the messages he/she receives (p. 12).
Simons and Jones (2011) further identify two methods of studying persuasion: Rhetorical Criticism and the Social-Scientific Approach. Whereas the former refers to critics examining how symbols are used to shape the audience and meanwhile study everything from political speeches to songs, films and billboards, the Social-Scientific Approach uses an array of methodologies like surveys, polls, interviews with focus groups and research experiments in general (p. 18). Here, the ultimate aim is to investigate variations throughout the independent variables, namely the source (persuader), the message, medium, audience and context in order to determine their effects and construct a “communication-persuasion matrix” (p. 20).
As to be seen in the diagram above, Sonesson (2013) mentions four or rather five stages of classical rhetoric that have already been applied throughout the ancient times. At the beginning, information is gathered in the sense that one thinks about talking points and by that, already sorts the material considering questions like: “What is taken for granted within society?” and “Which are the ways to influence people?” – constituting the structure of the argument (p. 9). Within the realm of Elocutio, one is then concerned with stylistic figures such as metaphors.
Within the framework of his communication model, Sonesson (2013) stresses that communication is “a double set of acts, which may coincide spatially and/or temporally, but often do not, and which are initiated by at least two different subjects, the sender and the receiver” (p. 11) or the creator and the concretiser. Here, concretisation involves the “elements that are to receive emphasis and which will then organise the remaining elements of the structure according to their purpose” (p. 11), allowing the perceiver to associate own experiences and to fill in lacking details.
At this point, Sonesson (2013) explains rhetoric as the basis for creating a message in the first place (p. 13), while hermeneutics (see chart above) relates to the receiver and semiotics is situated in-between: from the artefact to its concretisation. It is basically interested in the how – “in what way is meaning produced, conveyed, and collected” (p. 14).
When Sonesson (2013) introduces the examples of Absolut Vodka, a Turkish car service advertisement and Ikea, he elaborates on cultural semiotics, meaning “the relationship between cultures, as shaped by the ideas one culture entertains about the other, and vice-versa” (p. 21). He illustrates how Ikea uses stereotypes from its place of origins (Smaland – people being thrifty, miserly) for its communication within Sweden but draws on ‘outside’ stereotypes when advertising Ikea products e.g. within Germany or France (since the Smaland-attributes are well-known within the country, yet not abroad). That said, Ikea and Absolut Vodka (ignoring its Swedish heritage and instead positioning Absolut as a core-European good) target very different audiences and use entirely different strategies.
Similarly to Ikea’s strategy of separating national and international advertising, Apple released different iPhone 6 commercials in Germany and the US. In the USA, the following TV ad featured Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake having a conversation about the “Health” App on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
By choosing exactly these two celebrities, Apple tries to link certain characteristics to its product: In the States, Justin Timberlake is known as an ‘all-rounder’ with him successfully engaging in singing and song writing, acting and record producing. Many people associate him with youth, sexiness, stylishness and this ‘American Sweetheart’ kind of charm, while the comedian, actor and TV host Jimmy Fallon is presumed to be a genuinely nice, uncomplicated “US-American original”. That said, Jimmy Fallon is not very well-known in Germany, while Justin Timberlake is mostly associated with his boyband-past and rather bad actor-skills.
Therefore, Apple chose two typical German entertainers, known as Joko and Klaas, to embody the iPhone 6 (video is not available anymore). Accordingly, Apple makes sure that the ‘right’ characteristics get attached to its product – since both of them can somewhat be referred to as the German equivalents to Fallon and Timberlake: they are known to be (foolishly-) fun, charismatic, down-to-earth and hip.
Simons, H. W. & Jones, J. (2011). Persuasion in society (2nd ed. ed.). (2011). New York: Routledge.
Sonesson, G. (2013). Two strands of rhetoric in advertising discourse. International Journal of Marketing Semiotics, 1(1), 6-24.
During the 1950s, television commercials were all about beauty – a “feast for the eye” as Marling (1996) phrases it. Throughout his discourse analysis of Betty Crocker’s cook book and the following transformation of the whole food industry, he also sheds light on the practice of TV advertisements. Beyond the food business, airlines and manufacturers of different products in fact adapted this distinct portrayal of womanhood: a competent household expert embodying maternal authority and heritage (p. 208). In the process of conveying the message that cooking and baking is effortless, fast and that there is no possibility of failure (a major fear of women back in the day), the cake mix and, ultimately, other convenient foods became the “perfect solution” (p. 227). Betty Crocker’s visually packed cook book simply reassured women that they were still wonderful cooks even if they were making use of the cake mix, which was merely meant as a “tool” supporting the customer’s talents (p. 228). In the meantime, the frozen food companies invested considerable shares of their advertising budgets into sponsorships of “popular, low-key, family television shows” (p. 236) in order to link the practice of eating such meals to the medium of television as another artifact embodying “delight”, lack of effort and pictorial pleasure” (p. 236). That being said, the whole food industry adapted and further developed the connotations previously attached to Betty Crocker. Here, the introduction of television as a medium for advertising played a crucial role since it “threatened to change the pictorial relationship between audience and corporate symbol by exposing the agreed-upon fiction of Betty Crocker” (p. 211). Betty Crocker suddenly had to become a “real” person, whereas radio commercials allowed her to “be” multiple voices.
At this point, it is helpful to draw on Tungate’s work (2007) since he concerns himself with the historical and technological context of advertising. By 1878, advertising had become a professional practice with J. Walter Thompson opening up the first modern advertising agency (p. 25). Throughout the 1920s – the “boom years” (p. 28) for advertising – and long afterwards radio was viewed as the medium to promote products and ideas. For instance, the “Jack adventure series” by Wheaties ran from 1931 until the 1950s, while the soap opera “Ma Perkins” was actually broadcasted for 37 years (p. 34). This eventually changed though when the first television commercials aired in 1941. By 1949 already, the renowned US advertising agency BBDO was spending 4 million Dollars on this new medium and expanded its TV department from 12 to 150 people. The total spending on advertising in the US rose from 12 million Dollars in 1949 to 158 million Dollars only 3 years later (p. 36). This did not mean however that advertising obtained the image of a honorable profession. It was rather considered somewhat “glamorous” by the beginning of the 1950s.
I will now proceed to elaborate on an example of a TV commercial that I personally chose in order to conduct a multimodal analysis based on Machin’s method (2007).
1956 Commercial for Kodak Signet 40 Camera
Generally speaking and in coherence with Machin (2007), images and videos displaying individuals aim at communicating “particular ideas about the participants and a particular attitude towards them” (p. 109). Within this TV commercial from 1956, Kodak tried to position its new Signet 40 camera as a convenient accessory for young and “stylish” couples. The commercial both offers information as well as includes certain demands, which Machin refers to as “image acts” (p. 111). In the first scene, the narrator requests the spectator to “see” how colorful the big photo slides are, which are being watched by a man and a woman cuddling on a sofa. That said, the participants are not acknowledging the viewer, while the narrator is asking them to do something. Ultimately, he or she takes up the role of an “observer” (p. 112) and is prompted to associate with “the theme of their feelings rather than their individual case” (p. 112), i.e. to relate to this particular situation based on own life experiences. The scene thus contains both an offer and a demand. After a close-up of the camera model itself, the (presumably) same couple is portrayed on a cruise ship. Both dressed in fancy suits, they are, again, looking past the camera. After pointing at something next to the camera, the woman takes a photograph facing this direction, accompanied by the narrator’s brief instructions (“Just aim, focus, snap. It is as easy as that.”). Throughout the commercial, the narrator is directly addressing the viewers, who remain observers though since the participants themselves are not acknowledging them directly. The angles of interaction mostly remain vertical, the camera slightly looking up to the protagonists. According to Machin (2007), this strategy is supposed to give the audience a sense of them having a higher status and more power (p. 114). Some angles are also oblique, adding movement and energy to the images, which suits the topic of “action shots” mentioned in the third scene. Here, the husband is engaging in a game of badminton while his wife is taking a photograph of him. Subsequently, the roles switch when the husband is taking a close-up shot of his wife – again, filmed from a lower angle. Throughout the different scenes, the distances (close shots / longer shots) change constantly. In fact, proper close-ups are only focussing the camera itself. By drawing on Machin (2007), this can be interpreted as the means to position the artifact as ‘the actual’ intimate companion, while the couple itself is supposed to embody a rather random, “general” (p. 116) couple or people, which could be anybody in fact. However, this notion is to be seen in Machin’s paradigm of “cultural categorisation” (p. 120), which might be supported by “generic and specific depictions” (p. 120). Here, stereotypes play a crucial role: As briefly mentioned before, the couple is wearing rather fancy clothing. The male appears in a suit, even a smoking, while the woman wears a blazer and skirt, a white polo shirt, a dress and an Alice band. What comes to mind is the “Hamptons” type of couple – white and wealthy yet young, married yet open for (classy) adventures ( e.g. going on a cruise). Significantly, the woman appears to be the “agent” – in this case, taking more photographs than her husband (and ultimately empowering woman to ‘take the lead’). That said, this product’s customer is not probably ‘anybody’. It is supposed to be someone (preferably female) who can certainly afford this technology as well as those journeys and activities providing especially beautiful motives.
Tungate, M. (2007). Adland: a global history of advertising. London and Philadelphia: Kogan Page Publishers.
Marling, K. A. (1996). As Seen on TV. The Visual Culture of Every-day Life in the 1950s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Machin, D. (2007). Introduction to multimodal analysis. London: Hodder Arnold.
As opposed to Discourse Analysis I focussing on the production and rhetorical organization of visual and textual materials (as outlined in my previous post), Discourse Analysis II aims to reveal the practices of institutions surrounding certain sources. These often include written texts and documents such as annual reports, interviews, photographs or other visual images as well as visits to the institution and observations of the way people behave (Rose, 2001, p. 170). Considering the example of a museum or art gallery, it is thus crucial to include interviews with its director, curator and designers and pay attention photographs of buildings, rooms and displays as well as the architecture of the institution as a whole (design, decorations, inscriptions, layout etc.). In this context, Rose (2001) also highlights the terms ‘institutional apparatus’ and ‘institutional technologies’. Whereas the former embodies the “forms of power/knowledge which constitute the institutions” (p. 166) such as architecture, regulations and laws, ‘institutional technologies’ mean the “practical techniques used to practise that power/knowledge” (p. 166), as for example the design of the windows of the ‘panopticon’ – a type of building invented by Bentham (1791) suitable for all kinds of disciplining institutions: prisons, hospitals, schools and so on (p. 166). In coherence to this important part of Discourse Analysis II and the previously mentioned example, Rose (2001) lists the technologies of the gallery and museum by dividing them into ‘technologies of display’ (display cases, simulacra etc.), ‘textual and visual technologies of interpretation’ (labels, panels etc.), ‘technologies of layout’ (spatial organization, colors etc.), ‘tactile technologies’ (touching allowed?) and ‘spaces behind the displays’ (offices, shops etc.).
During the exploration of these institutional technologies and the institutional apparatus as a whole, discourse analysts particularly concentrate on the materialization of discourses e.g. in the form of architecture and subject positions (p. 175). The latter refers (in the realm of the example) to the experts on museum and gallery policy, the technical experts (scientists and curators) and, lastly, the visitors. “What did your visit to a gallery or museum suggest about the power of the institution over its visitors?” and “How did the visitors behave?”, depict two exemplary questions that discourse analysts could ask themselves within this paradigm. In the following, I am going to take the role of such an analyst, as I visited an ‘alternative’ art gallery in order to provide an example for this type of method myself.
Hutspot – 4 in 1
“Hutspot” in Amsterdam basically comes as four places in one. On the ground floor, you’ll find a hairdresser next to a big clothing and accessories area. Upstairs, there is a spacious, open café including chairs and tables, sofas, a bed – and white walls displaying framed photographs ready to be purchased. I chose this concept as a topic for analysis since it differs from the regular institutional setting of e.g. museum and art galleries. I reckoned it might therefore depict a more intriguing example.
As to be seen in the pictures, the premium photographs are displayed within thick black frames and mostly hung in a series / as a collage on plain white walls. All of them include separately hung, white labels that are each structured like the one in the picture below. Besides the option to purchase the photographs individually, the catalogue containing all of them in miniature versions can be bought in the store downstairs. That way, the presentation of Schiffmacher’s art also serves as some sort of advertisement for the store’s items. There are no signs suggesting that the touching of the images is forbidden.
There are several decorations and technological institutions within this setting of the Hutspot café / art gallery that add up to its creative, industrial and loft-like atmosphere. Firstly, the room contains literally old-school (used in schools presumably from the 1950s onwards) chairs, sofas and tables. The latter are each decorated with wild flowers within glass bottles and small ‘domes’. The walls are white and the rough concrete floor is not covered by carpets. The prominently exposed water hose for extinguishing fires almost seems as if it is intended as a piece of art (or at least decoration) as well.
Moreover, there are several spotlights installed on the ceiling, facing downwards on the displayed photographs and the tables – except for one very long one, intended as a working place.
At the back end of this spacious floor there is one double bed and a kitchen, underlining the creator’s intention to make this space appear as something between home and work place. The building’s architecture reflects this impression: Hutspot is located within a ‘regular’ Amsterdam residential building. Overall, the atmosphere can be described as very casual, comfortable yet ‘busy’. People gather here to work or have a coffee, or both. The previously introduced institutional technologies such as the pointy spotlights as well as the old-school, scarce furniture within a spacious area affect visitors in such a way, that they possibly do not ‘over stay their welcome’ but instead wander around the store downstairs, get a haircut and drink a coffee either beforehand or afterwards. That said, the design concept almost contributes to a flair close to an entrance hall of e.g. a train station. People are welcome to spend time here, yet they are not supposed to settle down or ‘get comfortable’. Differently speaking: It is meant as a supplement – not a destination on its own.
Rose, G. (2001). Visual methodologies: An introduction to researching with visual materials. London: Sage.
In order to understand the term discourse analysis, it is vital to note that discourses are socially produced rather than created by individuals. More closely examined and in coherence with Rose (2001), it refers to “groups of statements which structure the way a thing is thought, and the way we act on the basis of that thinking” (p. 136). That said, she describes it as a type of “knowledge” (p. 136), which determines how we initially perceive our surroundings and subsequently behave. In this paradigm, art for example, does not relate to visual images anymore but to the “knowledges, institutions, subjects and practices which work to define certain images as art and others as not art” (p. 136). Rose (2001) proceeds to elaborate on discourse analysis as a research method by outlining several other key terms, often by drawing on the works of Foucault (1972; 1977; 1979): intertextuality, discursive formation, power, knowledge and regime of truth. Intertextuality is important because meanings derive from a number of texts, images etc. and thus, discourse analysis must address other images and texts rather than just one discursive material. Correspondingly, discursive formation refers to the connection of meanings throughout these materials – i.e. the relations and correlations between the meanings inherent to a particular discourse (p. 137). Power, then, articulates the productivity of a discourse. Humans as well as objects, relations, places and so on are produced by discourse, yet power is not something “imposed from the top of society down on to its oppressed bottom layers” (p. 137), but simply is being constructed everywhere – not only in institutions but within society as a whole (in the way we speak etc.). As a consequence, power constitutes knowledge and the most powerful discourses “depend on assumptions and claims that their knowledge is true” (p. 138). It is thus the task of discourse analysts to detect power relations (e.g. within an advertisement or in the way people dress), to describe what power looks like, how it becomes visible and where it comes from. As opposed to placing power and knowledge within a broad context, semiotic analysts aim to find truth or rather power relations immediately, e.g. in an image.
As a consequence, power constitutes knowledge and the most powerful discourses “depend on assumptions and claims that their knowledge is true” (p. 138). Lastly, a regime of truth depicts the grounds for claiming truths. Rose (2001) differentiates this particular type of discourse analysis by stressing that it is about visual images and verbal texts rather than practices (of institutions) formed by specific discourses (p. 140). What she calls ‘discourse analysis I’ hence adheres to the questions how a particular social world is constructed as real, truthful or natural by the means of certain regimes of truth. It subsequently aims to reveal what effects this construction has on the people involved. She states the example of the discursive construction of London’s East End in the 1880s, which is constituted by the ways bourgeois commentators produced an account of this working-class area (social production) and the effects this had on its residents (social effects) using for example contemporary newspapers, travel diaries, novels and governmental documents (pp. 141-142). In terms of the rhetorical organization of discourse, Rose (2001) formulates several steps, namely the investigation of every element of an image and their interrelation, the identification of key themes, the production of a list featuring these words or images including the coding of the repetitions of these key themes and, ultimately, the detection of connections between and among these key words and images (p. 150; p. 158). In the process, it is also essential to acknowledge absences, i.e. what is not said, as well as to locate the social authority of the source’s origin and its targeted audience (pp. 158-159).
Now, some of the method’s attributes as voiced by Rose (2001) can be related to Elliott’s analysis of Starbuck’s branding strategies (2001). Here, Elliott (2001) elaborates on the discourse surrounding the contemporary marketing of coffee and its representation of global culture by the means of a particular case study: Starbucks’ construction and representation of coffee. By paying special attention to slogans, wording and packaging, the author reveals how Starbucks constructs stereotypical images of foreignness and Third World countries through the ‘Western gaze’. Initially, Elliott (2001) states that meaning resides within the ‘artifact’ itself (coffee bean / beverage) as well as around its form (packaging / marketing). Coffeehouses went from forums for political discussions and learning to centers of socializing (p. 371). In the meantime, imported coffee beans transformed into a marker of Western consumer society and identity (p. 371). The author proceeds to trace this development from the 1920s until today, stressing that the origins of this import were insignificant or even masked back then. Fair trade coffee and later on Starbucks ultimately changed this marketing practice by emphasizing the variety of exotic origins.
Throughout the two videos, it becomes evident that Starbucks tries to link its product to exotic places all over the world through very emotional rhetorics and visual material. The articulation and sometimes masking of origins is a style that the company utilizes for semantic purposes (Elliott, 2001, p. 375). Starbucks even goes further by mixing, blending and geographically recombining places of origins in order to add value to their coffee flavours as they refer to rather ‘banal’ products. Consequently, customers can order a “place in a cup” (p. 376), while accuracy in terms of the product’s origin becomes secondary. Meanwhile, Starbucks creates its own world of coffee, instead of introducing the world’s coffees. Elliott (2001) continues to analyse semantic expressions on the packaging such as ‘wild’, ‘magical’ or ‘earthy’, which adhere to the concept of ‘orientalism’. Accordingly, the “Western gaze” (p. 378) ultimately results in the stereotypical representation of the ‘mysterious East’.
Elliott thus addresses other meanings deriving from related materials, which Rose (2001) titles intertextuality: The author elaborates on coffee as an imported commodity and on how attached meanings changed over the course of time (from ‘banal’ to premium; comparison to sugar as a similar, foreign commodity). He relates the concept of orientalism to key terms and hence creates discursive formation. Elliott (2001) also includes contradictions and ‘invisible’ details by pointing out how Starbucks advertises the origins of some coffee sorts and leaves out the place of origin of its ‘House Blend’. By keeping up the global order of the West on the one hand and the ‘mysterious East’ on the other hand, Starbucks actually maintains this particular regime of truth – the ‘normal’ way of seeing the world from a Western perspective. The practice of refraining from labeling the house brand fits perfectly into this picture.
Rose, G. (2001). Visual methodologies: An introduction to researching with visual materials. London: Sage.
Elliott, C. (2001). “Consuming caffeine: The discourse of Starbucks and coffee” In: Consumption, Markets and Culture, 4(4), pp. 369-382.
When products were introduced back in the days, their ‘newness’ factor was advertisement enough. This changed rapidly over time – even to the extent that the product itself does not really matter anymore. What matters is the brand, or rather the particular myths according to Holt (2004), that are created around a company’s name and products. This is were cultural branding starts and ends; where brands turn into cultural icons and symbols embodying certain cultural anxieties and desires (p. 8).
Initially, to become a cultural icon Holt (2004) defines as “a person or thing regarded as a symbol, especially of a culture or movement; a person, institution, and so forth, considered worthy of admiration or respect” (p. 11), companies have to properly perform these identity myths. These myths are often part of a rather far, imaginary world and are based on protagonists that do not relate to the commonly used ‘aspirational figures’ like muscular, wealthy and charming males. Iconic brands moreover function as cultural activists and provoke people to start thinking differently about themselves.
I would like to consider the example of Vapiano – a global restaurant chain that aimed to revolutionize the fast food industry. By offering fresh, presumably healthy and home-made food that one orders and takes away just like in a Mc Donald’s – though in way more open and premium manner – the company addressed (especially working) people’s desire of getting fresh, delicious food very fast. At the same time, it smoothed over the anxiety related to the consensus that fast food is not compatible with a healthy way of life.
Motives and Strategies
Insofar as Holt (2004) is concerned, great myths (in Vapiano’s case: leading a busy yet healthy lifestyle) even help customers to construct their own identities and find purpose in their lives (p. 8). But why go through all these efforts cultural branding entails? If the brand managed to transform into a symbol, customers ultimately experience a bit of this myth when they eat, wear, drink etc. the advertised product and form tight emotional bonds with the brand in the process (p. 9). This attachment means customer loyalty. It also means that the implied myth enhances the brand’s quality reputation, distinctive benefits and status value (p. 10). Considering the previous example of Vapiano, this could even mean that the prepared food tastes better. This motive of forming an emotional bond by culturally branding a product, however, can also be viewed as a strategic principle by itself. Apart from cultural branding as one strategy to transform a company into an influential brand, Holt (2004) further stresses the practices of mind-share branding, emotional branding and viral branding, which, however, are not suitable methods to build an iconic brand. As opposed to these conventional advertising strategies, communications are the “center of customer value” (p. 36) in cultural branding – customers purchase a product to experience the indicated stories. The ideal result, hence, is a “storied product” (p. 36) and “historical entity” (p. 38) with distinctive branded characteristics that allow consumers to pick up on identity myths.
CULTURAL BRANDING – MIND-SHARE – EMOTIONAL – VIRAL
Practices, Principles and Concerns
Besides Holt’s renowned publication (2004), Klein (1999) elaborated on cultural branding as well, however from a rather journalistic and more critical perspective with special regards to the anti-globalisation movement. Throughout her discourse, she portrays brands as the core meaning of the modern corporation with advertisement being one vehicle used to convey that meaning to the world. Accordingly, brands such as Nike, Apple and Starbucks always understood that they were selling brands before products – continuously interacting on a very emotional level that is all about customer experience, lifestyle and confidence. From the 1980s onwards, logos became something Klein (1999) titles ‘fashion accessories’, which were then promoted by the means of various channels: cultural sponsorships, political controversy, consumer experience and brand extensions.
Nike, Tommy Hilfiger etc. began to sponsor cultural events and therefore to brand outside-culture too, as this was understood to add value to the brand. In short: Brands were becoming ‘lived reality’. As a result, the lines between corporate sponsors and sponsored culture disappeared, creating the new concept of ‘co-branding’ meaning the fluid partnership between celebrity people and celebrity brands. Companies began to create their own cultural events (for instance VW launching the music festival DriversFest’99) as another type of strategy. These notions of cultural sponsorship and cultural creation constitute Klein’s (1999) concerns about ‘everything being believed to need a sponsor in order to get off the ground’; that even events such as private weddings would be impossible without the generosity of brands. She further criticizes the branding practice of invading whole neighbourhoods by covering them in giant advertisements, which she refers to as the ‘expansionist agenda of branding’. On another note, Klein (1999) critically describes the relationship between journalism and advertising as they merge closer together. Lifestyle magazines come to look more and more like catalogues for designers and designer catalogues resemble magazines. Additionally, every brand gradually turns into a ‘content provider’ by transforming their websites into virtual, branded media outlets.
Ultimately, there is no room left for ‘unmarketed space’, which in the eyes of Klein (1999) depicts a worrisome, even destructive development: Manufacturers and entertainers swap roles and move towards the construction of branded lifestyle bubbles nobody is able to escape from. As corporate sponsors and the branded culture have fused together, a third culture is created, namely a “self-enclosed universe of brand-name people, brand-name products and brand-name media”.
Holt, D. B. (2004). How Brands become Icons. The Principles of Cultural Branding. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.
Klein, N. (1999). No Logo: no space, no choice, no jobs: taking aim at the brand bullies. New York: Picador.
According to Branston and Stafford (2003), semiotics means “the study of signs, or of the social production of meanings and pleasures by sign systems, or the study of how things come to have significance” (p. 12). Historically, this qualitative approach was derived from scholars scrutinizing how meaning is constructed by different languages and cultures. As opposed to the quantitative method of content analysis aiming to detect patterns across various materials, semiotics has been applied in order to “relate texts to their surrounding social orders” (p. 12) ever since. In the process, it was especially influenced by the linguist Saussure (1857-1913), who argued that a sign consists of a physical signifier (gestures etc.) and an immaterial signified (e.g. associations with this gesture), stressing that “words are signs and the meaning of a word depends upon the context in which it is found” (Berger, 2012, p. 6). Language thus determines our social reality instead of the other way around. Correspondingly, Saussure introduced the signified as a sign that refers to something other than itself and must be understood as a concept rather than a real object in the world. As Berger (2012) cites, Saussure further concentrated on our practice of thinking in terms of oppositions in order to make sense of such concepts – for example, tying rich to poor and gay to straight (p. 8) and using metaphors as a visual, clear type of explanation (p. 18).
His stance of language being culturally constructed on the basis of distinct cultural codes (Berger, 2010, p. 24) was then taken one step further by Peirce (1839-1914), who added the term ‘referent’ to Saussure’s notions of sign and signified – ultimately giving a name to the object both the signifier and signified refer to (p. 13). It is intertextuality that Pierce was particularly interested in, meaning the link between the connotations of different signs. He pursued to state that there are three kinds of signs: symbol, icon and index. In the following, I will provide numerous examples in order to illustrate the differences between these significant terms.
In coherence to Peirce (as cited in Berger, 2010, p. 10), photographs or
bathroom signs at e.g. airports are iconic because they resemble what they stand for. Also, for instance, the emoticons we use within live chats such as WhatsApp are iconic signs. The emoticon used, e.g. a crying face, relates to the feeling that the user currently has. Against this background, iconic signs differ from symbols, which do not necessarily display an obvious link to something in the ‘real world’ (e.g. why does the color green stand for ‘go’ in a traffic light?).
That said, symbols embody signs for which this relationship is arbitrary, such as language (p. 13). As Berger (2012) summarizes it, symbols describe societal important objects with deep historical and cultural meanings, such as the cross for Christians or the American flag for Americans, for instance (p. 14). Another example is the car brand one drives as a type of status symbol, i.e. Mercedes, or the technology one uses, i.e. an Apple iPhone. According to Geertz (as cited in Berger, 2010, p. 15), the meaning of symbols is learned while growing up in a certain culture and enhanced by important (historical) events in that cultural context.
Lastly, indexical signs include a causal link between the sign and that for which it stands, like smoke as a precursor for fire or a runny nose as a sign for a cold (p. 14). Or a traffic jam resulting from an accident and dark clouds signifying rain. Hence, they very much differ from symbols as arbitrary signs (no relationship at all), but also from iconic signs in the sense that these merely resemble reality and do not obtain a causal connection to it.
As the previous elaborations imply, signs are generally based on distinct cultural codes, that said, semiotic studies aim at identifying the “hidden codes that shape our beliefs and the way we find meaning in the world” (Berger, 2010, p. 25), affecting everything from child upbringing to food choices. Accordingly, semiotics is used as a qualitative research method and applied to culture and society – often in combination with Marxist theory and psychoanalytic theory within the framework of cultural studies (Berger, 2010, p. 11). Contemporary theorists such as Umberto Eco, Marshal McLuhan, Roland Barthes and Marshall Blonsky approached their field of study by drawing on semiotic theory since it offers valuable insights into “how people find meaning in their everyday lives, in the media they consume, and the messages they receive from marketers and advertisers in contemporary commercial culture” (Berger, 2012, p. 11). Similarly, Branston and Stafford (2003) position semiotics as a method to identify signs and how they work together to produce meanings (p. 12). It is ultimately impacted by structuralism – a critical paradigm focussing on the “universal structures underlying the surface differences and apparent randomness of cultures, stories, media texts, etc.” (p. 12). Culture basically is a collection of codes and these codes (e.g. the way we unconsciously behave or dress) are the research subjects of semiotics.
Berger, A. A. (2010). The objects of affection: semiotics and consumer culture. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Branston, G., & Stafford, R. (2003). The media student’s book. London/New York: Psychology Press.