Text and context : an analysis of advertising reception
The aim of this study is to explore advertising and in particular advertising reception as a significant part of contemporary social practice. Although advertising in some form has been a feature of a wide range of societies, historically and culturally, its economic and social importance has perhaps never been greater. Advertising, across the industrial period and in particular since the Second World War, has through the entrenchment of market economies and the development of different media technologies increased its reach and density through a variety of means. It has become a significant media form, received by audiences differentiated by social, economic, spatial and other factors. This study enquires into the nature of audience reception of advertising through an exploration and application of the encoding/decoding media model. The study argues that attention to the textual and formal elements of the model need to be given greater emphasis and the decoding aspect of the model broadened to deal with a complexity of contextual factors contributing to the process. Advertising media by their nature are comprised of different formal and presentational means. The study focuses on newsprint, television and billboard and other outdoor advertising. The public and private environments in which these forms appear can be characterised through the social and symbolic difference between the domestic environment in which much television is viewed and the outdoor urban environment in which much billboard advertising appears. These are recognised as contributory elements in the reception of advertising and any significance the advert may have for its audience. Audience decoding of advertisements is then a combination of producer intent and a complexity of contributory factors brought to or found in the decoding process. This includes a recognition of various ways of seeing associated with different media forms and social and spatial circumstances and the presentation and reception of adverts as part of a flow of advertising and of a wider social experience. The relation between adverts and other texts also has important intertextual consequences for reception. In the process of decoding, it will be argued that social groups can be understood to act as interpretive communities and a process of advertising diffusion can be observed. Three empirical case studies form a survey of mainly car or car related advertising, featuring television, billboard and newsprint advertising, and highlight a range of possible decodings. The significance of historical and social factors is confirmed as important in securing particular readings of advertisements, and spatial, environmental and contextual features are emphasised in this survey. The survey acknowledges the significance of advertising form and medium and highlights the circumstances in which negotiated and oppositional readings may occur. This study re-emphasises that advertising texts form their signification within a complex arrangement of synchronic and diachronic circumstances in which immediate social and environmental factors should be accorded further significance in the study of advertising. The study concludes with a reflection on its methods and procedures and a consideration of further work that might be carried out in the area of empirical advertising studies. In the interest of a richer understanding of advertising, further research would acknowledge the complexities of audience reception and might include an enquiry into further advertising contexts and environments.