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Decoding Advertising by Judith Williamson

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Megan McCue

on 27 October 2014

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Transcript of Decoding Advertising by Judith Williamson

Decoding Advertising by Judith Williamson is a book that explores the theory that advertising has no meaning. Williamson supports this theory by showing visible examples of advertisements from around the world. She gives these examples in order to show the pattern that advertising has been successfully running on for decades. Although the book was originally published in 1978 it has been republished 17 times since the information is always relevant to the world of advertising and human behavior.
"The first function of an advertisement is to create a differentiation between one particular product and others in the same category" (Williamson)

Book Example:
"The Natural"
"If what is socially acceptable is called 'natural', and what is socially unacceptable, 'unnatural', it is clear that social values are simply being hammered into nature, as onto a carbon copy, which may then be produced to ratify the original" (Williamson, 124).

Book Example:
Products whose only meaning derives from a re-hash of mythological elements already present in society, develop such an aura of significance that they tell something about their buyers and actually sell directly to them" (Williamson, 45).
Decoding Advertising by Judith Williamson
Megan McCue

My Thesis
I argue that Decoding Advertising is a very insightful book on how adverting has no meaning at all and that we the consumer give it all the meaning. Through our own personal experiences and biases advertising is given a narrative to which it is given meaning. If consumers did not already have notions in their heads then advertising would have no effect on the masses it would be just merely images.
I will be discussing three main terms mentioned in the book: differentiation, "toteism", and the idea of "the natural".
- Everything begins with an image. The image is to signify what the product represents.
- Images differentiate from one brand versus another or one product to another in the same brand.
- Values and ideas instilled with image once consumer observes it.
Modern Day Example

- We are all signified on what product we buy or brand we choose.
- We see ourselves as being in a specific category.
- Images, meanings, lifestyles, are all things one wishes to achieve through the labels in products.
Book Example:

Modern Day Example:
- A symbol in our culture that is considered "good" or "better", "undesirable" or "desirable".
- Nature gives man their existence so that can correlate with the product being labeled as such.
- Nature can be used as something being mystical, enchanting, or alien.
Modern Day Example:
Decoding Advertising by Judith Williamson relates to IMC because it opens up the idea that the consumer is making the decisions not the advertisement. This gives another tool for the IMC professional to figure out ways to advertise to the consumer by either bringing in new information or figuring out what narratives the consumer already knows and enjoys. This book also is very insightful for the IMC professional by going back and researching ads in depth and looking at the big picture.
In conclusion Decoding Advertising was a very enjoyable book to read along with being so informative. Not only by reading this book I learned new ways of thinking about advertisements relationships with consumers I was able to relate the book into my own life as a perfume saleswoman and an IMC student. This book is something I highly recommend to anyone going into IMC to keep as a reference tool for more insight into the minds of the consumer.
1. How do you narrate advertisements, are you basing them off the image or what you already know about the product/brand?

2. Are there any brands that you describe yourself with, or do you put labels on people by using a specific brand?

3. Judith Williamsons book brings up many theories that are quite different than what popular opinion has to say about advertising. Do you agree with the claims she is making why or why not?
Catherine Deneuve
Patti Hansen
Karlie Kloss
Dakota Fanning
Williamsons Thesis/ Thoughts
"It is not my purpose here to
its influence. To do so would require sociological research and consumer data drawing on a far wider range of material than the advertisements themselves. I am simply analyzing what can be
in advertisements. Their very existence in more than one medium gives them a short of independent reality that links them to our own lives; since both share a continuity they constitute world experienced as real" (Williamson, 11).
How Book Relates to IMC
Full transcript