instead of snorting coke...

by inam on October 30, 2016 - 5:53am

I chose this ad to demonstrate how much different types of knowledge are necessary to understand the meaning of an image. On the one hand, the interpretation of this advertisement (of all images!) is based upon the knowledge the viewer may have access to. On the other hand, you always have to note the social context in which the ad is presented.

This advertisement was produced in February 2016 (a specific time) in Germany (a specific local context) by SIXT (a specific agency) with particular intentions. It shows a middle-aged man with a business suit, big glasses and a well-groomed three-day stubble beard. He is looking at us with a friendly and relaxed gaze. Next to him – on the right side of the image – there is a luxurious blue car (a cabrio) and the logo of the car rental company. In the foreground, you can read the sentence: “Gönnen Sie sich zur Abwechslung mal eine Nase frischen Wind. (In einem günstigen Cabrio von SIXT)”.

So, first of all you have to be able to translate the words on the image into your language; the next step –  and this is the most decisive point to understand this ad – is to identify the man (Volker Beck, a german politician) and find the relation between the person and the slogan. It is not only about understanding the words, but also about understanding the message within the content.

This ad represents a calculated provocation (SIXT is known for provocative ads as a reaction to current topics) and has been intentionally crafted to resonate with a popular discourse about the drug scandal in which this politician is involved. Otherwise, the ad does not make any sense at all.

Advertisements, images and other signs “are encoded by a sender and decoded by a receiver”. To understand the message “has to do with the perception of codes, context and intention in the readings of the sighs passed between the sender and receiver and back again. […] Both sender and receivers need to possess similar forms of cultural knowledge to avoid ‘noise’." (Spencer 2011: 20f.)

To put it in a nutshell:

“To understand the image and ways of seeing and constructing meaning requires a discussion of the social and cultural context in which imagery is used and in which conventions of representation are developed in culturally bounded ways.” (Spencer 2011: 34)


Spencer, Steve, 2011: Visual Research Methods in Social Sciences: Awakening Visions. London: Routledge.