only refer to concepts in “the real world” that we deal with on a day-to-day basis, butthat they also refer to other texts, and that the degree of this “intertextuality (Fiske1987)” is what enforces social beliefs in the culture or context we choose to live in.This degree can be found using semiotic analysis, but as the essay will show, themeaning depends on how “open” the ad is, and who it is meant for.The ad from Wallpaper is for the Swedish car company VOLVO (see ad 1)
: Colour photo of large, white, designer house in background. In front of thehouse from left are: a young, attractive woman with a beige winter coat with a fur-collar and confident “power”-stance. Next to her young man, dressed in a brown, plaid tweed suit, his stance is boyish and passive. To his left a sitting dog. Next tothese three is the car, a Volvo station wagon. The left front car-door is open, and inthe opening stands another young male, visible waist up in a dark brown cardigan andalso a sixpence. Directly beneath everything, the written text.
: Fur is expensive, tweed suits are old fashioned (even “daggy?”), dogs represent familyand hunting, Volvos are the safest cars in the world (also expensive) and sixpencesrepresent working men.
: The couple and the key signifiers connotatearistocracy. The passive stance of the husband and the fact that it is the servantstanding on the driver side of the open car, can direct connotation to thegeneralisations of the decadence of aristocracy; it’s a love-triangle cliché; somewhatresembling “Lady Chatterley’s lover.” The form of the written text, in that itresembles the writing style of ads from the ‘30’s and ‘40’s seems to underline this.
: the love-triangle theme also brings an ironic element into thead. The ad is complex and witty in the way that it spoofs the notion of Scandinavianaristocracy, but also that it juxtaposes Volvo as a sophisticated car. As a result of this
The advertisement of Kylie Minogue’s fragrance for men, Inverse (Study Guide), is a good example of the fluidity of gender roles in today’s society. Atypically the ad portrays the man as a sexual object, while the woman (Minogue) is portrayed as the dominant figure without being overly sexualised. This dominance is portrayed through her confident body language and the way she embraces the nude male figure while herself being fully dressed. It is also enhanced by her recognisability as a brand. The figures in the ad project wealth, success and power – desirable qualities for the consumer, which is one of the most common tools in advertising. However, the ad also challenges the traditional values and stereotypes associated with gender and the relationship between men and women. It plays on how masculinity and femininity are seen today and portrays gender as multifaceted.
In the advertisement there are three figures set against a black background: an undressed man (wearing nothing but underpants), the famous female pop singer Kylie Minogue and a man dressed in a formal suit. Because of the difference in the way that the men have been photographed, the audience may not immediately realise that this is, in fact, one model; Andrés Velencoso Segura, Minogue’s boyfriend. The name of the scent “Inverse” is superimposed over the three figures, unifying the picture. Two perfume bottles are shown in the right bottom corner. Again, this is actually one bottle shown from the front and from the back. There is a caption just above it.
The undressed man in the ad is depicted in a very sensual way, flaunting his physique, which conotes sexuality. His eyes are closed, lips slightly apart. This shows he is relaxed, but also references sexual ecstasy. Because he is not making eye contact with the audience, he becomes objectified. More commonly we would see women depicted in this way, being presented as sexual objects. The model has a muscular body, but because his muscles are relaxed, this portrayal of him is definitely signifying eroticism, rather than physical power, which would have been a more common representation of masculinity in the media (O’Shaughnessy, p. 374). The male model is leaning back against Kylie, his head reclined on hers. This pose is submissive, but also shows a tenderness – a side of masculinity that is traditionally not explored much.
In contrast, the dressed man is looking straight at the camera, his expression serious, determined, in control. The formal suit he is wearing is an indication of work/business, therefore success and power. This is a more typical representation of men in media. However, it can be derived that the man is metrosexual — well-groomed, his image and physical appearance are very important to him. The tie is done up quite loosely and the hairstyle appears youthful and a little messy/careless, although it is clear that it has taken a lot of effort to achieve this look. His head is also reclined onto Kylie’s, creating symmetry in the photograph. It also signifies their relationship, but not as intimately as with his semi-nude double.
The ad uses this technique to show two contrasting sides of one man and two sides of his lifestyle: formal and intimate. The men are metaphorically linked to the perfume bottle in the right bottom corner. The label on the bottle is white from the front and dark from the back, mirroring the light body of the undressed man and the black suite of the dressed one. The caption, “Two facets, one scent”, anchors this concept of duality of one. The connotations that the advertisers want to achieve is that the scent is appropriate for day and night, for work and for the bedroom, for men that are diverse.
Kylie Minogue is at the centre of the advertisement, between the two men. In this case, she becomes the brand (like Diesel or Hugo Boss), her face is the logo, the recognisable sign. Minogue is often referred to as “Pop Princess” and associated with success, wealth, feminine beauty, glamour. It is quite unusual for female celebrities to produce men’s fragrances (Born P, 2009). However, it is important to note that Kylie Minogue is considered to be a “Gay Icon”. This means she has a large fan-base of homosexual men who appreciate her music, her style and look up to her as a role model. Also some women prefer men’s fragrances, which suggests a blending of gender roles and also the fact that Minogue’s target market is quite wide and diverse.
The way Kylie is portrayed in this ad is interesting. Her body is concealed and all we can see is her arms in the long mesh sleeves and her face, therefore the image of her is not physically sexual. Her arms are wrapped around the undressed man in a gesture of affection, but also possession. It is like she has control and ownership of him at this moment. She is looking at the camera in a flirtatious and confident way. Her expression shows that she is enjoying the intimacy she has with this man and is confident about her sexuality. It almost looks like she is teasing the audience: “I have this gorgeous man to do with as I please, but buy my perfume and you will too.” This enforces the idea that the ad may be aimed at gay men. Kylie is positioned a little behind the men, as if to suggest that they, not her, are the main subject of the advertisement. Her position can also denote that she is literally the creator “behind” the product.
The text is rather polysemous. From his relationship with Kylie, it can be concluded that Andrés is heterosexual. Therefore, one connotation can be that the ad is trying to sell the product by selling the concept of a heterosexual relationship with a beautiful, successful woman like Kylie. However, this is arguable, because it is not her that is presented as a sexual object, but Andrés, which is doubtfully attractive to heterosexual men. A gay man, or a female, however, could see him as a “prize” that comes with buying the fragrance.
Also the male-female interaction in this ad differs from the way heterosexual relationships are traditionally presented in the media. It is unusual that there are three characters in the photo, rather than two, which would be standard (O’Shaughnessy, p. 375). The dressed man reasserts some of the more traditional characteristics of masculinity (he’s formal, serious and confident), but creates questions about the nature of this relationship. Although the two men are actually the same person there is potentially a subtle element of homoeroticism in the ad. The nude man’s left arm is extended back, away from his body, with Minogue’s arm overlapping it. However, we can see that they are not holding hands. His hand is presumably where the dressed man’s hand would be, had it been visible to the audience.
A dictionary meaning of the word inverse is “Reversed in order, nature, or effect.” (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, The). This, as the name of the fragrance, also reinforces the idea that gender roles in this ad are reversed from traditional norms. It is also important to consider the context, as the advertisement was retrieved from a women’s lifestyle website sofeminine.co.uk, where it would most likely be seen by women (and perhaps gay men). Part of the appeal of the ad to the female viewer is the power and success Minogue is associated with.
Overall the Inverse advertisement challenges a few patriarchal stereotypes about gender roles and representations, showing that media in the western world (at least in individual cases) has come a long way from traditional patriarchy and misogyny and reflects the more fluid attitudes towards gender and sexuality (O’Shaughnessy, p. 393). The ad challenges homophobia in that the straight, metrosexual male model is being portrayed in a way that could be attractive for gay men. Although homosexuality is a subtle theme in this ad, the fact that gay men are identified as a distinct market in its own right is a relatively recent phenomenon. The ad also challenges male dominance; by making Kylie the most dominant character in the ad through the way she has been presented in the photo (not as a sex symbol), and also through the denotation of her being more famous, wealthy and successful than Andrés. This type of representation would not have been acceptable without the success of feminism and gay rights movements.
However, this ad may inadvertently reflect the “crisis of masculinity” ideology (O’Shaughnessy, p. 372), portraying a man as a sexual object and in terms of his physical attractiveness rather than the stereotypical masculinity traits like strength and dominance. Unfortunately there are negative connotations associated with men assuming more feminine traits. For example, Andrés is dismissively labelled as “[Kylie’s] latest squeeze,” in the press release (sofeminine.co.uk) as it is not fully accepted in society for a man to be less successful than his woman.
While this advertisement, like many others, is selling the image of success it also plays on the shifting perceptions of gender in society. The ad explores two different aspects of what it means to be a modern man by juxtaposing to images of the same male model. While one representation, the man in the suit is familiarly masculine, the other is portrayed as a sexual object – which is usually associated with portrayals of females. The woman, on the other hand is not sexualised, yet in control. She appears to be taking pleasure in the intimate closeness with the nude male figure – suggesting her confidence about her sexuality. The advertisement could therefore appeal to women, who would feel empowered, and men (gay and straight) who could relate to either or both of the male representations. The portrayal of sexes in this ad is aimed at an audience in “processes of exploration and development” of gender roles and identities (O’Shaughnessy, p. 393), who are prepared to challenge traditional conventions.
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, The, Fourth Edition. (Updated in 2009). Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Retrieved March 29, 2013 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/inverse
Born P. and Naughton J. (2009, July 17) Kylie Minogue to Launch Inverse for Men Fragrance [Press Release]. Retrieved March 29, 2013 from http://www.wwd.com/beauty-industry-news/fragrance/kylie-minogue-to-launch-inverse-for-men-fragrance-2213851
O’Shaughnessy, M. and Stadler J. (2012) Media and Society, 5th Edition. Oxford University Press Australia Higher Education.
sofeminine.co.uk, Him Editor (2009, August 10) Kylie launches men’s fragrance [Press Release]. Retrieved March 29, 2013 from http://www.sofeminine.co.uk/beauty-fashion-men/kylie-men-s-fragrance-n34345.html
Study Guide. (2013). Study Guide for Introduction to Media Studies. Massey University, College of Humanities and Social Sciences.