Analysis of Three Advertisements from Purportedly “Top-Shelf” Magazines

add #1 from The New Yorker

This first advertisement comes from the NewYorker. Now it’s not your traditional advertisement, in my mind, because what it’s selling at surface value is the idea that you want to go check out this art gallery 1220 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY. Apparently this gallery is just too cool for a name, it just has an address! Now the image floating above the text in the upper left hand corner occupies the center and bulk of the ad, so the image is definitely meant to be the focus. The information, the title of the exhibit and the dates it’s running are cropped around the right hand side and down beneath the image almost as if the critical information is mostly just an afterthought, or should be considered that way, because once again, “this gallery is about the art, and the business is just a necessary evil, or even a formality.”

Now the image itself is of a woman’s face. This woman is caucasian, she’s pretty, definitely feminine in a “classic” sense of the word, her eyes are blue, and she’s wearing a large emerald ring on her right hand. She’s wearing red lipstick, and the shade of her nail-polish matches the shade of her lips. She’s not looking at you but away to the right of you, and her gaze is veiled in something like black fishnets that cover her bangs and hair which is obviously pulled back or short in a bob, and stylized. There is what appears to be a fur collar around her neck and her face is only seen above it no neck. Her hands are also held very close to her face one an open hand brushing her cheek the other a closed and weak fist almost obscuring her mouth. Her eyelashes are stylized, and her eyebrows are well manicured and sculpted. There is not a wrinkle on her face which is completely smooth.

She is youthful, she is vulnerable, she is not entirely confident in herself but her eyes are open wide and she seems alert. She is not distracted by the viewer’s presence almost as if to suggest there is some goal ahead of her that she’s got her eye on, which is amplified by the gleam in her eye where the light has caught emphasizing the blue of her irises. I think she is supposed to be a mystery, and because she is looking away the viewer is invited to inspect and judge her with anonymity, and she is white and she is wealthy, and there is nothing to fear from her because she has worked very hard to embody classical notions of beauty and femininity. Because she is unthreatening she is an invitation.

If a male sees this ad most likely he will not feel threatened. He will see the emerald ring on the woman’s finger and he will know, this gallery is commenting on wealth explicitly and my identity will not be shamed or challenged critically by this necessarily. Furthermore he might think, that should I ever want to visit an art gallery this one might be a good one to visit because it ignores those subjects which I am fearful of and focuses on something that is socially acceptable in my mind, and within the realm of acceptable analysis… if I go there I might even feel intellectual because I can stand back and engage in the social commentary on wealth in America while I myself and the cultures and habits I engage in that might be harmful to my fellow citizens remains unscrutinized and unexamined.

ad #2 from The Economist

This second ad comes from The Economist, a magazine that seems to be quite a bit more conservative in its appeal than the NewYorker, but both seem to market themselves as top-shelf Literature containing analysis and news that matters and is relevant in today’s modern society. Now this ad is a little more traditional, in my mind, because what it’s selling at a surface level is the Hyunai Genesis, an elegant new model with the power to turn heads at even the most prestigious sporting events, like say golf.

The ad itself has paid for the whole back page of the Economist, and is printed on fine waxy paper… already a higher and more luxurious grade than all the other ads in the magazine. Golf is a sporting event that comes with a perception that it is only palatable to an upper class audience that believes in exclusive events, pastimes, and products. This advertisement is not meant for me, and in that regard there is a strong message of class as a limiting factor with an overt message that says, “separate thyself from the classless peasants ye noble and mighty captains of society.”

This ad is geared towards and ideal of luxury and a higher class, but Hyndai is not typically associated with that class… no, names like Benz and Mercedes come to mind way before Hyndai. This tells me that Hyundai is trying to send a message, “Re-consider what you think about our company and our products. We are luxury and top-shelf, and perhaps we are still more affordable and economically-sound a choice if you are in the market for a new car… and look, you are already reading the economist, which means you pay attention to value, right?”

Within the add you see lush greens, a strip of blue sky, and within the ad is a hierarchy of people. At the bottom of the hierarchy is a general public separated from the pro-golfer and the media crew by a rope boarder. These are fans of golf. Just above them is the pro-golfer and the media crews filming him… normally he would represent the highest branch of the hierarchy with the most prestige and the most power, but the balance is upset by the introduction of the Hyundai which is parked to the right of the people and is actually on the same side of the rope boarder separating the golf-star from the luxury care itself. This sends a very specific and very cleverly constructed message, “This luxury is for you upper-middle-class people of privilege, and it is a privilege the golf-star you adore so much is separated from, because this is for you special people alone, not him, not the media, and certainly not any of the lower classes who are not represented in the image at all.

The last layer is the fact that the entire ad is a cartoon except for the car which is rendered in glossy smooth finish with crisp detail which says, “This is real, it’s not a fantasy like dreaming about playing golf in the pro-tournaments, this is accessible prestige and power, and you owe it to yourself to grasp it!” In a world where the lower classes are facing inequality and injustice in every facet of their lives, this ad ignores them completely, “because it’s not about them it’s about you, and your American dream that you’ve worked so hard to attain, and that you so deserve. Buy the Genesis because you deserve it. Because you earned it. Live brilliant.”

ad #3 From Poets and Writers

Now this last add comes from Poets and Writers, a magazine that purports to be a resource to those interested in writing. It is largely text based, 2/3 text v. 1/3 imagery, and the main text reads, MFA in Poetry. So the audience is student’s like me, who have seriously considered creative writing or poetry as a career path and who want to receive an education that reflects that passion and that will probably open doors for us in the publishing world that you just wouldn’t receive from a place like Chico State (This is the myth about such programs).

Now the not so subtle stray messages appear in the image in the top third of the ad itself. In the left hand corner of the image is a smiling woman holding a large book open in front of her. She is wearing glasses, still a symbol of intelligence in our culture today, and her dress is long and flowing which is reminiscent of a graduation gown, and, and this is a bit more interesting, her skin is of a darker complexion, and her hair is curly and not straight or ironed out to be made straight. She is not Caucasian, and this is clear.

To her right is a row of students, in this row of students there is only one that is clearly male, and all the rest are clearly female, of varying ages, and they are all white and looking up at the dark skinned woman with beaming and attentive faces. They are all clearly thrilled to be in her presence and sharing, no basking in her wisdom and expertise. What a happy bunch…

Now this might reflect a reality of the school, that they’ve worked hard to secure a diverse staff, and unfortunately a disproportionate majority of their students are Caucasian, but the ad itself seems more than a little patronizing, because the message that exudes from the image is this, “Look how forward thinking and open minded we are. If you are a student who’s also open minded and looking for an education reflective of that then come here. You will be surrounded by Caucasians so you will never feel truly threatened or have to face a pesky minority as a peer, but you will also get to learn under a ‘not quite black but colored” professor and from that point on you can put that token colored girl with the smiling face on your resume and say golly I learned a lot from that magical woman.”

I might be more than a little cynical about the image. Anyway, the message reflects an ideal of “forward thinking” to some and “tokenism” to others, including myself. I feel a little disgusted when I see ads like this. Tokenism is disgusting, and it feeds the patriarchy and power structure of this country, because you don’t have to be accepting of entire cultures different from your own so long as you can tolerate (or more likely ignore) them and have collected at least one positive experience with a minority to prove that you too are a beacon of “forward thinking and progress.” Tokenism doesn’t really promote progress it promotes stasis while merely claiming to show progress.

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