Words, Images, and Reality

Katrina Gearhart, Ned Ferris, Jacob Taylor, and R.J. Kelly

Introduction

Words and images are everywhere. From children's books and newspaper articles to text books and road signs, including everything in between, one cannot possibly escape from the pairing of words and images in the world in which we currently live. As one might expect, not only would it be nearly impossible to discuss every single example concerning words and images paired in this manner, it would be ridiculously unnecessary for the topic at hand. The word-image pairing examples above have the power to report reality--inform the audience of the actual truth, and possibly enhance reality--adding new true information to the reality of an observer, but offer little more than that, and thus should not (and will not) be focused on. There is one example of the pairing of words and images, however, that rises above all others because of its potent power not only to report and enhance reality, but also to alter it--having the ability to warp the way audience members think, feel, and ultimately live their life through their reality. This particular example of word-image pairing in its varying forms is advertisement.

Advertising is arguably the most concise and focused way people try to contort the reality of others. In today's fast-paced, media-driven world, individuals are constantly bombarded with a myriad of images and words in advertisement, all attempting to impart an opinion to the viewer. This reality manipulation is employed for a variety a reasons, some of which include encouraging people to join or support a cause, urging people to purchase a new product, and even promoting a healthier lifestyle for people to follow. Evidence of this lies in the billions upon billions of dollars many top companies spend on getting their name and image out on the market, whether they are trying to sell consumers sweatshirts or get them to stop smoking. From where we live and what we eat, to what clothes we wear and causes we support, advertising plays a key role in all of our lives. Think about it- advertisements are found in newspapers, on milk cartons, television, radio, movies, clothes, and even written in the sky! This incessant barrage of word-image stimuli is the fabric which creates the world around us. The purpose of this page is to show how advertisement, the most important and relevant form of word-image pairing, alters the reality of observers through appeal to individual's emotions, sense of humor, needs, desires, and potential stereotypes. All of these factors are integral parts of each person's identity, and are therefore the things that shape the world as we know it and the reality in which we all live.


Advertisements Appealing to Emotions

In order to discuss how the pairing of written words and images, specifically those seen in advertising, appeal to human emotions and thus effect their reality, we must first discern exactly what human emotions are. In a general psychological sense, an emotion is a mental state associated with a wide variety of feelings and thoughts. These feelings and thoughts can often manifest themselves as physiological responses -- how the person reacts and physically behaves while under the impression of a certain emotion. Specific emotions are often hard to put into words because they more abstract feelings than concrete entities, but many psychologists and cognitive scientists alike have tried to do so. According to influential emotional psychologist Paul Ekman, the six basic human emotions are: sadness, happiness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise, which can be combined in infinite ways and varying degrees to form the wide range of possible emotions (Phelps, 52).

When it comes to many types of advertisement and propaganda, the main job of the advertiser is to design an advertisement encouraging the uprising of a certain emotion within the viewer (Messaris, 199). "The brain takes a hold of the situation from there", continues Messaris, transforming the emotion into a predictable behavior, more specifically the original "target behavior" of advertiser (199-200). In sum, advertisements appeal to certain human emotions embedded in consciousness, which evolve into the advertiser's desired behavior, ranging anywhere from buying a useless product to enlisting in the army.

As we have already discussed, advertisements are designed to bring about an emotional response. The most compelling ones combine words and images together, to create the deepest emotional response possible. For any who has read a romantic novel or valiant poem, it is quite obvious that words alone can yield such an emotional response. A similar response is just as obvious to anyone having reminisced over old family photos, a series of images alone. However, as Messaris points out, when written words and images are paired together in any form of media, specifically advertisement and propaganda, there becomes a "synergistic effect", compounding the emotional responses of the two individual factors to a "level that could not be otherwise reached" (ix). Thus, as will be demonstrated with the examples below, advertisers often join the powers of written words and images together, in order to evoke the greatest emotion response possible, subsequently leading to the greatest chance of achieving the target behavior.


Sympathy and Sadness


Advertisement are perfectly capable of appealing to the wide range of emotions laid out by Ekman, but often appeal more to negative emotions, creating a stronger emotional response than advertisement focused on positive emotions. It seems that one of the easiest emotions to appeal to is that of sadness. Everyone has experienced sadness in their life at some point or another, which makes it more universal than other negative emotions, say for instance remorse. Because it is so universal, advertisers often employ ads designed to appeal to sadness in order to effect the greatest audience possible. The more people effected, the higher the changes of the target action being executed. This type of advertisement is primarily seen used by organizations looking for donations to their cause, as demonstrated by the video below.





The first 30 seconds of this Humane Society commercial are especially important to the topic at hand. These images of abused animals are heartbreaking, to say the least, and the words, especially the bolded ones, carry heavy negative connotations. When you pair these two forces together, however, one can hardly keep from shedding a tear, under the emmense influence of genuine sadness. If just the pictures were displayed without the words, or vice versa, the commercial would not have elicited such a large emotional response, and thus the Humane Society would have not received nearly as many donations, the ultimate target behavior.

Guilt and Shame


Hitler_Car.jpg
Riding with Hitler (Cherry).

Other negative emotions that advertisers often play into are guilt and shame. Although less global than sadness, people often experience the feeling of shame and or guilt at a very young age, and thus these emotions still appeal to a large audience. Advertisements appealing to these emotions are often seen in times of war, in the form of propaganda posters. The sign to the left targets people wasting resources during war time by driving alone. According to
Poor_Children.jpg
Protect the Children, Buy War Bonds (Discoshaman).
sociologist Theodore Kemper, "guilt stems from the the sense that one has acted in a manner to cause pain, suffering, and/or deprivation" to another person or persons undeservedly. (Pixley
, 67-68). This poster aims to make the reader feel guilty, claiming that one might as well ride with Hilter, the sworn enemy of the US at the time, if one was going to ride alone and use up precious resources. During this period, an image of Hitler alone was enough to stir up an emotional response. Having the image paired with these words, insinuating a buddy-buddy relationship with the enemy, the poster elicited the greatest emotional response possible, stopping people from driving alone and being wasteful.

The picture to the right also appeals to one's sense of guilt. Depicted are helpless patriotic children, oppressed by the black shadow of a German Nazi swastika. This piece of propaganda implies that if one doe not by war bonds, the next generation, innocent little American boys and girls, will suffer the consequences. By using the specific phrase "Don't let", the poster makes it seem that the entire situation rests upon the shoulders of the reader. By using these words, the advertisement becomes much more personal, increasing the viewer emotional response. Even if they have not let anything happen the the children yet, they feel that if they don't purchase a war bond, they will personally be to blame for the destruction and corruption of the country's youth, yielding an emotion response of guilt.

Surprise and Shock


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1996: The Deciding Vote Organization (Grmeyer)



Advertisements can also easily appeal to the emotion of surprise or shock. According to Messaris in reference to visual print media, "in a medium whose very essence is the ability to reproduce the look of everyday reality one of the surest ways of attracting the viewer's attention is to violate that reality" (4). Take for instance this billboard designed by The Deciding Vote organization, an example Messaris himself uses in his discussion. The most eye-catching characteristic of this sign is the woman depicted on the left-hand side. Her worried eyes seem to bore right into the soul, as a seamless void occupies the space where a mouth should be. This "one-of-a-kind aberration...is a warp in reality", surprising and confusing the viewer, drawing them in for a closer look (Messaris, 7). However, without the written explanation on the right-hand side, the image, although intriguing, is considerably vague. A view could guess, but never really know why the woman was without a mouth. As the written words explain, "most politicians still think that women should be seen and not heard", hence the lack of mouth. No mouth, no voice. The sign further states, "in the past election, 39 million women agreed", referring to the fact that millions of women failed to have their voices heard by not voting in the 1996 presidential election. This is where shock comes into play. Upon reading this sign, women are surprised to find out that they are the cause of this problem, forcefully putting themselves in the place of the mouth-less voiceless woman. Not wanting to voiceless, this ad increased woman's voting turnout in the following election, the precise target behavior. This could have have been accomplished without the pairing the these written facts and reality altering image together.



Fear


Finally, advertisements can appeal to the highly negative emotion of fear. It is safe to say that one of the greatest human fears is that of death. In general, most people do not want to stop living, especially if the cause of death is something preventable. At the same time however, people engage in dangerous activities, putting their lives on the line every single day. One such activity is smoking, the leading cause of lung cancer in the world. For as long as people have been smoking, other people have been trying to get them to quit. Anti-tobacco and anti-smoking campaigns often employ this fear tactic advertisement to scare smokers into quitting. Take these two ads for instance:

Smoking_Kills_Gun.jpg
Loaded Gun: Smoking Kills (It's Your Life Foundation)
Smoking_Kills_Gun_2.jpg
Smoking Kills: The Smoking Gun (It's You Life Foundation)























Both use a similar written word style with the simple phrase "smoking kills". Although potentially frightening, this phrase does not yield a very strong emotion response because many things can kill, old age, swimming, bee sting, etc. It these posters, it is the image that intensifies the emotional response set up by the words. Whether used for good or bad, a gun always yields feelings of pain, suffering, and death. These ads directly compare smoking to loading a gun and pulling the trigger. In either case, death is likely to follow. Smoking alone seems harmless, perhaps even cool or glamorous, but when visually paired with something as deadly as a gun, the fact the smoking really can kill is far more obvious, instilling fear in smokers worldwide. Ads such as these have decreased the rate of smoking in the past years, the target behavior, but not nearly to the desired degree. I believe this is because the fear id very variable -- different things scare different people.





Advertisements Appealing to Humor


The world is created by images by appealing to an individual's sense of humor. This method is frequently used because of the positive influence that humor has on the audience, and it is for this reason that humor is one of the more effective ways by which our reality is created. This is especially true when dealing with particularly difficult subjects. In a study published in the Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, it was conclusively determined that "humor [appeals] relative to no-humor appeals on threatening topics are [more] effective". (Conway&Dube 863) This is due to the fact that audiences are generally more prone to have a positive response when prompted by a stimulus that makes them feel good, as opposed to one that is aimed at making them sad or afraid.

When an individual is positively influenced by some stimuli, they are more likely to react favorably towards that stimuli than if they had been negatively influenced by it. This is evident in advertising as well as in the entertainment world. There are currently more comedy movies in theaters than horror films, and even the movies in the action/adventure category often contain frequent instances of humor. In all of these genres, the portions of the films in which there is comedy are often highlighted in the advertisements for them, because of the fact that individuals respond more positively to this kind of appeal. This holds true in the advertising world. Humor is frequently used as a tool to help convince people to buy a product, or think a certain way about something. An example is this Michelin ad:

funny-ad-pic009.jpg
Michelin Ad (Qubra's Flickr)

In this ad, the goal is to appeal to the viewer's sense of humor, and possibly take advantage of the 'aww factor' in order to make the viewer think of Michelin as a good company to buy from. Although Michelin's business has nothing to do with babies, the coincidence that the baby resembles their trademark figure is used as a comedical way of making the audience think positively about Michelin Tires.

In summation, humor is often one of the most effective ways to appeal to a person, and to therefore create the world that they live in. The advertisement, or movie, or image is the same for each person, but each person interprets it differently, and therefore it creates a different reality for each person. This is just one of the ways in which images are targeted at a certain portion of an individual's personality, in order to shape their opinions, and therefore their reality.

Advertisements do not always target emotions. Sometimes companies actually target the needs of people; but therein lies a trick. Companies can make the consumer feel like they need a product, which makes the level of dependency or urgency to buy the product a step higher than just appealing to emotions.



Appealing to Human Needs

As media resources start to expand for the human race, it is no longer easy to maintain a simple argument. Differing audiences will interpret messages from media differently than other groups. Diversity from countries and social upbringing changes the meaning of an 'ideal media' or 'ideal message.' Needs change, and some are more prominent than others. Andrew Jakubowicz, PhD in Sociology, explains that, "Ideology can serve as a shorthand term for that 'complex set of meanings and a structuralization of the processes of production and consumption of meaning on the part of the audiences' (Hodge and Tripp 1986: 23)." It is argued that we are not taking the simple idea that all ideologies can be identified by their social contexts. "They are patterns of ideas that link individual identity and consciousness to wider social practices and forces" (Jakubowicz, 14). There is, however, a tendency for individuals to mistake their own needs for the needs of the entire country. For example, someone who needs to change their life may have felt a draw to Barack Obama, and this in turn could transform to the association that everyone in the nation needs to change and vote for Obama, which, of course, is not true.

There are some media companies who claim they can not express the needs, in words, of the human races as a whole. There was an interview performed with a prize-winning senior television producer, and he said, "ethnic people are not as good as Australian journalists, and we appoint on the basis of merit- if you want us to have more ethnics, you'll need an instruction from management that we have quotas, and that we have to take care of them (Jakubwicz 15)." At the top of the media food chain, we have one example where a media producer refuses to include ethnicity in his company's name. There appears to be more than just ignorance here. It seems there is a deep-rooted hostility and maybe a sense of pride when it comes to introducing new cultural ideas and images to a mainstream message.

The question arises, "Since the media are organizations for the production, dissemination and consumption of meaning, how are meanings from images and words produced, disseminated and consumed? (Jakubowicz 15)" This question is answered simply; however the media producer wants the message to be consumed. Many factors are involved in the production of this media, as mentioned above. Needs are not truly represented on a global scale because of resentment and the need for individuality. However, individual viewpoints feed into a general need.

What opposes the greater mass media image? Usually, it is a very small minority that controls the general thoughts of the population. This group will attempt to confront the needs of all social groups, but usually the message is one that will uphold the social order so that they can keep control of the message. Tony Mitchell, a PhD for Drama from Bristol, reports, "We have indicated that the key decision-makers in most media organizations share broadly similar social characteristics- except for the womens' press, they are nearly all men, mostly over 40, of Anglo-Australian or British background, imbued with a media ideology that justifies views that more or less uphold the social order. Thus the media are controlled by a minority of the population, one that attempts to speak for the majority, but does so through a limited range of discourses." Research shows that the needs of the human race can not be truly represented, if one demographic is in control of interpretation. From what is mentioned, it seems only a super-human who has experienced everything that could possibly be experienced could plausibly and honestly say what we as a human race truly need.

To recap, words and images are controlled by a minority, and do not represent all humans. All humans read or see these messages, and interpret them differently. These messages convey needs that could be very unrepresentative of those who have other needs; those who experience the same problem and need for resolution on a grand scale.

An image to illustrate a point. Pun intended. "Advertising copy-writes and producers pull together a promotion for coffee which appropriates the lyricism of Kenyan Africans overlaid with music of Soweto, and end the television narrative with a white man drinking the coffee, so that they encapsulate in 60 seconds the history of western imperialism in Africa and the European celebration of the exotic, and reinforce the audience's sense of the Other simply as a fount of pleasure for the 'dominant race'" (Goodall, 189-190).

There is a fine line between needs and desires. We desire our needs, but we do not necessarily need our desires. Let's investigate that point.

Advertisements Appealing to Human Desires


Images and words also contribute to human desires. It is in human nature to typically desire better than what they have. Constantly, strides are made to advance, in technology or on our earth. Manifest Destiny is a well-known idea that originated in the Americas in the 1800's, in that it was the destiny of Americans to expand to the western coast of North America. In the present day, with the technology explosion and the advent of the internet, new and creative ways are being created to communicate and share ideas across the globe in mere seconds. From more resources to better goods; people are constantly desiring new things.

However, before taking a look at examples of marketing, and practice of images and words, one must look at why humans are so susceptible to desiring more. Alexandre Kojeve analyzes it from a very psychological standpoint. He says that humans have basic needs they have to fulfill, so they desire things to fulfill them. This makes humans lose self-consciousness, because they are simply focusing on establishing themselves materially, and not necessarily mentally or spiritually. Kojeve says that to truly avoid desire and attain self-consciousness, "Desire must therefore be directed toward a non-natural object, toward something that goes beyond the given reality" (Kojeve 2). Quite obviously then, humans will desire things in order to try and find what completes them and makes life the easiest. Thomas Haakenson analyzes how some artists are seeing that there is a postmodern emphasis on appearance, and are trying to "recuperate lost encounters with surface culture" (Haakenson 272). He also says that histories of visual culture and appearance should be done "without ignoring the preconditioning from the current commodification of intellectual life" (Haakenson 272). Therefore, when analyzing the current state of advertising, one must look at the past, to see how advertising took over and how simpler and more straightforward visual culture was.

Looking at it from an economic standpoint, the consumer mindset is quite similar. The cognitive senses of a consumer are "doing a good job if she or he is rational in the sense of, for example, computing/processing information with precision, accuracy, reliability, and so forth" (Woodside 42). Woodside analyzes the consumers mind, asking why does a consumer process information to begin with? The simple answer is that they simply want to see what is acceptable. "The economist's answer," he states, "is as usual parsimonious: The (motivational) assumption that a consumer attempts to satisfy his or her preferences as much as possible" (Woodside 42). Therefore, consumers want their desires fulfilled to their standard, and since they search for material pleasures, they never find completion, thus perpetuating this desire, and hence, why advertising is such a bloodsport.


dos_equis.jpg
The Desire for Popularity


Obviously now, marketing and advertisements cater to the spiritually unrealized human. They want people to pick their product, showing that they will be
happy and accepted in life. For instance, this ad for Dos Equis alcohol shows a well-dressed man, in the company of a man, two sexily dressed women, smoking a cigar, obviously somewhere nice. Many of these things appeal to basic desires; male camaraderie, female camaraderie, nice clothing, as well as money. But also, examine the words in this ad as well. they hint at acceptance, but also rejection. The headline is "Happy hour is the hour after everyone from happy hour has left." This suggests that if you're not there, and you leave, you're not accepted. You're singled out. Humans very rarely want to be alienated from a group, and seek assimilation into many social groups. And if you're willing to stay, at the bottom, the tagline says "Stay thirsty,
my friends." Once again, it hints at acceptance. Therefore, people will drink this alcohol and try to be a friend to someone who also indulges in alcoholic beverages, lest they risk being exiled out of the social hierarchy. This is one of the few ways that images and words contribute to human desires.




Brands often use their competition in humorous ways in order to show people that use those other brands that they should switch, and the other brand is worse; leaving them desiring this new product. For instance, the image that's seen very often on TV is of the Mac and Windows computers. Apple Computers' advertising scheme has them showing the new hip Mac computer, played by a young actor, dressed very modern, and contrasts this image with the PC computer, played by a slightly overweight male, dressed in a very plain colored suit with large glasses, who is obviously not as young, obviously not as well dressed, and is obviously boring compared to Mac. PC also speaks very rigidly and professional, For people who are a PC, this is also an image that one doesn't want to be seen as, lest they be seen as social unaccepted, or ridiculed. In this particular commercial, the PC's downfalls are pointed out and made fun of, while their features are downplayed; as a matter of fact, Mac and PC spoke the same lines, hinting that whatever the PC could do, Mac could also do. Even at the end, with Mac leaving, it too hinted at a sort of nonacceptance, and abandonment associated with having a PC and not a Mac.


The Selling Point

What is clearly shown is that words and images can appeal to various emotions. These advertisements can be in the form of propaganda, a coupon, or a commercial telling us to help children in Uganda, to name a few examples. Humans live their lives by the feelings they have and the reasoning behind these feelings. It makes sense that companies will invest large sums of money to investigate powerful techniques to lure people into a product or idea. Let's investigate the lengths companies will go to get their name out on the market.

A top marketing company spends $300 million on magazine advertising alone. The top 15 companies who advertised in magazines in 1989 spent a total of $1.7 billion on magazine advertising- in addition to the $3.9 billion they spent on television ads. What they are buying is the chance of catching our attention, or of slipping the product into our minds while we are in a state of relative inattention and relaxation." If companies are willing to drop top dollar amounts to merely get their name to the public, they better use the most effective methods of advertising possible. Words and images most be strong, concise, and emotionally appealing. "We use consumer goods to define and reinforce definitions of what is masculine and what is feminine. The idea that these definitions are not natural but rather are socially constructed is given weight and credibility when we look at how such definitions have changed over time" (Craig, 138). The first point is made: Humans do not buy product, but image. From the start, we are using images to make an image out of ourselves.

Centuries yield different standards for dress of men and women. In the earlier centuries, men wore ruffles of lace, colorful tights, and pantaloons. In the eighteenth century, men favored colorful silks and considered it proper to not appear in public without powder. The Industrial Revolution brought in the image of masculinity and strength that we know today. "The Doctrine of Separate Spheres encouraged a strict divide between the man's world and the woman's world, and this divide was symbolically communicated by appearance." The image of masculinity was known to be dark, somber, and strong. For most status-conscious men, the brand name and cut of the suit is what painted the image of 'successful' onto society's frame.


Poise
Poise
Confidence
Confidence



Marketers will do whatever it takes to create a fluent, changing man. Slowly but surely, men everywhere were taught to believe that the suit makes the man. Men were taught through words and images how to evaluate the personalities and traits of others through what they wear. Jeans and t-shirts are viewed as okay for college students and for economically challenged people, but for the ambitious young man, the finest suits and most expensive jewelry showed success. Not only did these men see traits in others, but they used the cues of media companies to be able to label themselvesas ambitious and forward-thinking.
Advertisers use many 'buzz words,' words that stick out or appeal more strongly than others, to catch the viewer's attention. Some words include, 'Enjoy' and 'You're Worth It.' These words will create a sense of deserved self-indulgence, so people will no longer feel badly about splurging gross sums of money on a nice cardigan sweater or on a high end cologne or a flashy car. This has been the stereotype for men for years and years. Men must have the most extravagant stuff to be an extravagant. As a heads up, inheritances are very real, and sometimes the mere existence of a human can get him millions upon millions of dollars. This does NOT mean that he is deserving of said money. Therein lies the point. We cannot trust all messages thrown to us by advertisers. Being a daddy does not make you a Father, and having money surely does not make you a man. This is the tarnished image thrown at us through words and pictures.


Conclusion

Advertising is one of the main examples of images and words together, and obviously the most effective. It shapes our entire world, influences how we think, and is geared towards the human psyche. Advertising contains appeals to emotions, sense of humor, needs, desires and stereotypes, and these appeals are a necessity for advertising to be effective. Emotional advertising appeals to pathos, which causes humans to evoke natural feelings and opinions and be more affected by such advertising. Sense of humor makes people drop their guard down, making them feel happier and more likely to pay attention to the advertising. Needs are typically regionally based, and assess the general goals of a group of people. Desires appeal to not only material ideas, but also emotions, because of humans need for completeness and their constant desire for higher meaning. Stereotypes are also used to make people want to fall into a certain bracket, and make people question whether they're living up to the supposed generally accepted standard of certain things. Basically, advertising appeals to all types of human modes of thinking, and combining images and words, they show humans what the world is and want them to live up to this certain idea. Given the importance of material goods, and seeing the giant production made about commercials and advertising in the world, it is easy to see how advertising is the most important combination of images and words.



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