Monday, October 22, 2012

COnnotative and Dennotative meanings

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Connotative and denotative meanings coexist frequently in advertising. It is important

we analyze advertisements on both of these levels to obtain the full intention of them. This is

the case with Truth’s advertising campaign. Analyzed denotatively, this advertisement appears

to be an extremely inefficient anti-smoking campaign, which relies on the use of deception, both

in its false “facts” and in its name Truth. The advertisement itself involves too surreal

information to believe it is truthful. However, connotatively, the advertisement serves a very

different, and more effective purpose as a message pertaining to the mass population’s inabilities

to critically analyze such seemingly pointless advertisements and see the messages that lie within


On the surface, Truth’s advertisement appears to be an anti-smoking campaign. It claims

to have gotten its hands on an “actual internal document” proposing “solutions to the public’s

growing concerns over the dangers of secondhand smoke”. The document has been enlarged to

the size of a three- story building and is placed for public viewing in a downtown setting. On the

street in front of the document-made- billboard is another sign about five feet tall and twenty

feet long which explains exactly what the document is and displays Truth’s motto “This is what

we know. Imagine what we don’t.”

What we know is that this advertisement is ineffective on the denotative level. It does not

speak out against smoking itself. It does not offer reasons to quit smoking. It does not present

fear- oriented facts such as those located on packages of cigarettes via Health Canada, under the

Canadian Government’s guidance. Instead, it reminds us of a well known fact that industries

have two very different images. A public image, that is presented through media mediums, and a

private image, to which the public eye is uninvited. What we don’t know, by looking at the

advertisement on this level, is what the purpose of it is. We must analyze it, and all aspects of the

advertising world, connotatively as well as denotatively to understand their true message.

Everyday we are sold ideologies, lifestyles, facts and products through advertising. We

believe the glass of Minute Maid Orange Juice we drink provides us with exactly 150% of our

daily recommended intake of vitamin C, simply because it is printed on the carton. We all know

the perfect size is a six but that the ideal size is a one or two, due to advertising campaigns by

such fashion industries as Versachy, the Gap, and Gucci, and that women are only sexy when

wearing lingerie, miniskirts and strappy, expensive heels. Like any other industry, Truth is trying

to sell something to the public. Unlike other industries, however, who want you to believe the

“facts” they present pertaining to their product, Truth is simply selling the idea of being skeptical

about these “facts”. They are telling us to question the information we receive from advertising,

examine and challenge it before buying into it.

Truth is stressing the fact that we, the mass population, are quick to believe everything in

print is true or real. They are emphasizing our gullibility with their unrealistic ad, assuming that

since we are able to allow ourselves to believe everything the marketing world tells us, we must

be able to believe that a “major tobacco company” actually keeps agendas involving possible

“solutions to the public’s growing concerns over the dangers of secondhand smoke” simply

because there is the illusion of validity present as often occurs within advertisements. This

illusion is incorporated discreetly through the use of the heading on the document stating the

date, time, and subject. Also, the black ink in the top right hand corner suggests that the

document had been received and hurriedly photocopied, perhaps before the company realized this

vital piece of information was missing. This adds a reality to the advertisement and enables us to

think inactively and continue believing the story portrayed to us on the surface of this

advertisement. This fable that after sixteen years of keeping this “actual internal document” a

secret, it was leaked to a company whose sole purpose is to spread the truth about the tobacco

industry and receives no money from external forces. While a romantic thought, the truth is right

before your eyes and through the criticisms of the unrealistic nature of the advertisement the

purpose of it is emphasized criticism itself. The Truth is hoping you won’t believe the validity

of this “actual internal document” but that you will question it and seek the truth.

There is a strong sense of irony in the fact that this advertisement is “exposing” tobacco

companies that hide information such as this from the public, since advertising is about hiding

the drawbacks of your product from the public and accentuating the benefits. This is not an

attack on this particular “major tobacco company” or even the tobacco industry. It is an attack on

the population’s inability to read critically into the public stages that await us everyday on every

corner in every street - or did you honestly believe the blown up document is placed in the

middle of a city setting as purely coincidence?

With the purpose of the ad being a critique of our ability to view advertising and other

public events or displays it is easy to justify the means of displaying the ad in a magazine called

“Young and Modern”. A magazine which targets the fourteen to sixteen year old crowd. A

population who has not yet been educated to think critically of the public world around us. A

group who has thus far been taught to believe everything in print, everything our superiors tell us,

and to always believe the “truth”. Is there any wonder that no colors (save one, orange) were

used on the document, which represents truth, in an advertisement directed towards a subculture

who is taught to see issues in only black and white terms? Is it odd that only the color orange

was used; the color of bluntness and boldness which happens to be represented in a way all

students can relate to through the use of the highlighting effect?

Of course, students are not the only population who often ignore critical thinking

practices and accept the face value of information in our world. This is emphasized with the

many different age groups, as well as ethnic groups reading the document. Also, the size of the

document alone makes a statement about the human population as a whole; we are oblivious to

any issue that is not presented to us in an over - the - top spectacle. These presentations must be

bold, overly dramatic and even shocking to receive adequate attention from us. In a world where

the only adjective for time is valuable, attention must be forced from the public. These

spectacles distract us briefly from their reality and cause us to take notice. Is observing, though,

the same as acknowledging what is being said? Is the popular Marxist view true Is pop culture

nothing more than an attractive distraction; one that encourages passiveness and discourages

critical thinking? Are we all able to be molded, to believe we need certain objects or feelings in

our lives, simply because we are told we do? It soon becomes apparent that the size of the

document also symbolizes that the problem aforementioned is bigger than all of us. However,

this problem does not lie in the tobacco industry’s means of advertising and ethics, but in our

own lack of critical thinking procedures.

Truth is telling us to be critical of not only tobacco companies, but all forms of media.

To not stop there but continue to analyze all parts of our society, both denotatively and

connotatively, to see the truth that always lies behind it; behind the extravagant curtains that are

everyday being pulled over our eyes; behind the deception companies must use in their

advertisements to attract, to inform, to encourage; behind to the truth. Essentially, Truth is

selling truth, on you own terms and to the extent you wish to pursue it.


“Truth advertisement” YM Young and Modern June 00 1.

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