Archive for the ‘representation’ Category

Spot the difference

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008


Yes, that’s right. There’s a disembodied knee in the bottom picture.

What the New Yorker teaches us about visual literacy

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Richard Adams on the New Yorker cover ‘scandal’ makes a valid point:

John McCain can say that he doesn’t know much about economics and later deny it flatly, then have one of his top economic advisors say it will take one term for a McCain presidency to balance the budget, only to turn on a dime and say it will take two term, and almost nothing of it gets reported in the media. But hey, Jesse Jackson gets overheard using the word ‘nuts’ and it’s time to break out the ink.

If that’s what the ‘mainstream’ news media can do when left to their own devices, a cartoon is nothing.

Seems to me, as one of the commenters on this article says, this is another example (like the ‘nuts’ episode) of the media reporting on itself rather than on the stories.

But it also suggests something else: when we start summing up complex issues in illustrated form the scope for misunderstanding is huge.
At the New Views conference it was asked why critiques of design have to rely on words, why can’t we use design? (Similar arguments are made in favour of letting students create ‘visual dissertations’) Because writing depends on redundancy – it contains clauses, clarifications, opportunities to go off on tangents or rehearse devil’s advocate positions. Create a design to critique a design and you can’t guarantee that the message will be decoded correctly. The irony here is that I’ve just read several thousand words explaining what the New Yorker cartoon is supposed to be saying.

I think the New Yorker cover is a brave attempt to highlight the way the media and others pick apart minutae like the Obamas’ fist bump, unpicking images (often because there’s not really enough real news to fill a 24 hour news ‘culture’) but falls foul of precisely the same problems: images have no redundancy. The article that accompanies the cartoon is a few thousand words long and makes it clear what it is saying. The cartoon has no words and is consequently translated differently depending on who reads it, or (importantly in this case) reads about it. If the cover had instead been a cartoon alongside the article it might have made sense. As a cover, it doesn’t and simply exacerbates the problem it seeks to analyse.

Barthes famously said that images are polysemous, they have multiple meanings. Text, he said, fixes meaning.
I don’t think we’ve yet reached a level of visual literacy (or ever will?) where images like this can be divorced from the textual context.

Greece bans sexy roadside ads to prevent deaths

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

From The Guardian (18 June 2007)

Greece is mounting a nationwide effort to remove “eye candy” billboards from roadsides, amid growing evidence that images of women wearing not very much contribute to Europe’s worst road accident figures.
With 15,000 hoardings in the capital alone, drivers are distracted by “unacceptable levels of eye candy”, say campaigners who have convinced the courts to rule that all roadside adverts be dismantled.

Billboards invariably depict svelte females in outre poses. “Many of them not only hide traffic lights and road signs, they are put up illegally,” said an Athens traffic police official.

“We believe they are the cause of 10% of all accidents in the city.”
Driving in Greece is not for the faint-hearted. More than 2,000 people die on the roads annually; another 4,000 are seriously injured in 22,000 car accidents a year – one every 24 minutes.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London even highlights the issue in its travel advice for Greece.

This month, drivers faced a new highway code, with fines of up to €700 (£490) for ignoring a stop sign or running through a red light.

The adverse effects of billboards have been highlighted due to the efforts of an Athenian lawyer, Athanasios Tsiokos, who killed his son when he crashed into a billboard on a busy avenue in the capital. He has since campaigned to punish advertising companies, and this year his complaint was upheld by the State Council, which ordered the billboards removed.

Municipalities have begun dismantling them. “This is an issue of public safety and it only happens in our country,” said Aris Stathakis, MP for the ruling New Democracy party. “All the dangerous advertising billboards have to be removed.”

The campaign has not been easy. Corrupt local government officials have long ensured that billboards have flourished. Recently, campaigners have woken up to find that those removed frequently have been re-erected overnight.

Chewing Gum Wars

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

From the BBC’s Money Programme site comes this article about the chewing gum market, and the recent entry in to the UK of Cadbury’s new ‘Trident’ Brand.

NB The programme on which this article is based was broadcast on BBC2 on Friday 25 May 2007.

See also ‘Big Gum Battle’ and ‘Gum campaign branded racist’.

Chewing gum is at the centre of a retail battle between Wrigley, the dominant player in Britain for decades, and Cadbury, the world’s biggest confectionary company. At stake is the £250m a year the British spend on gum.

Cadbury launched four Trident products in Britain in February. They appeared on newsagents shelves alongside the 32 gum products sold by Wrigley.

Cadbury’s campaign hit the headlines two months later when the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned its TV advertisement for Trident featuring a “dub poet” enthusing about Trident on stage in a nightclub.

The ASA received more than 500 complaints that the ad was racist in its stereotyping of the over-excited, Jamaican-style character.

Now Cadbury Trebor Bassett’s managing director, Simon Baldry, tells the Money Programme that he wants to apologise for the advert.

“It was never our intention to offend anyone,” he says.

“If we have offended people then clearly we would like to apologise for that.”

But he denies the campaign was intended to stir up controversy.

“Let me be very clear, controversy was never part of launching this brand. Many consumers love this ad and it’s been a great vehicle for us to communicate to the nation about a great new gum experience.”

Fun race

Five years ago, Cadbury bought into gum with its purchase of Adams, an American gum company, which, like Wrigley, has its roots in the 19th Century.

Adams products, such as Trident, Dentyne and Certs, were big sellers in the US and elsewhere, but were not sold in Britain.

The attraction of Adams for Cadbury was that gum sales are growing at three times the rate of chocolate, a Cadbury staple.

Changing tastes key to gum war

But the UK was a market out of step with global growth.

“Britain had been chewing below its weight,” says Cadbury’s Director of Global Gum, Jim Cali. Here, gum sales had actually fallen by 4% in the past two years.

Wrigley says it anticipated Cadbury’s move into its territory. “We’ve been expecting it for a number of years, since they’ve been buying gum companies around the world,” says Gharry Eccles, managing director of Wrigley UK.

And Mr Eccles says he would relish the prospect of increased competition.

“If you’re running a race, running it on your own is actually no fun,” he says.

“When you’re running against someone it becomes a whole new ball game, and a lot more fun.”

Pleasure and indulgence

Cadbury does not appear to have been harmed by its controversial campaign.

According to the latest market figures from AC Neilsen, Trident is taking a 12.5% share of the market, leaving Wrigley with a still-dominant 86.3%.

The good news for both companies is that the £12m total gum market is up almost 20% on this time last year and Wrigley itself has grown its sales by 5%, with new products such as Orbit Complete.

Both companies have been seeking to differentiate themselves.

Cadbury wants to stress how it is bringing its confectionary experience to the chewing gum business.

“Pleasure and indulgence is what we know best,” declares Mr Baldry.

“It’s our expertise in our total confectionary field, and we’re bringing that to the gum category too.”

Agrees Mr Cali: “Gum is fun.”

Health benefits?

Wrigley is anxious not to be painted as the functional alternative to the indulgence of Cadbury, but nevertheless has set up a research programme under the title The Wrigley Science Institute.

Based in Chicago, its head, Gilbert Leveille, sponsors research at universities around the world, looking for health benefits of chewing gum.

So far, they have established that gum can help reduce tooth decay, but have yet to confirm some of the newer claims, such as that chewing during learning can improve memory.

Mr Leveille is hopeful, explaining that “chewing gum increases blood flow to the brain very significantly, and that could be a plausible explanation for why some of these mental benefits seem to be associated with chewing gum”.

The irony is that Trident, whose name in Britain today reminds people of missiles rather than mastication, was originally named in the 1960’s because it contained three ingredients that were supposed to be good for your teeth – hence “tri-dent”.

Fighting litter

For all the competition between the two companies, on the question of chewing gum litter, Wrigley and Cadbury are united.

Both companies want to keep regulation at bay and are cooperating with a government initiative to control litter.

Under the auspices of Defra (The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), the companies are represented on the so-called Chewing Gum Action Group.

The Group, with a budget of £600,000 provided by the manufacturers, helps local authorities publicise anti-gum litter messages.

Defra minister Ben Bradshaw is responsible for dealing with the litter problem, and says his department has been “working very closely with the chewing gum manufacturers”.

Mr Bradshaw accepts the manufacturers’ argument that the problem lies with consumers, rather than being the direct responsibility of chewing gum makers.

“We don’t want to penalise a legal product that the public enjoy, but we want to try and change people’s behaviour when they use that product,” he says.

But anti-gum campaigners such as Westminster Councillor Alan Bradley, are unimpressed, describing the Defra group as “dancing to the manufacturers’ tune”.

He points to a similar group in Ireland that has a higher budget per capita, and will be active in all local authorities, rather than in just the 15 a year in the UK that the Defra group is targeting.

There is no sign of a limit to the global consumption of gum. Indeed, Wrigley’s sales worldwide are up by almost 30% in its latest figures.

When William Wrigley settled on gum as the way to make his fortune in Chicago at the end of the 19th Century, he had no idea that the brands he created – Juicy Fruit, Spearmint and Doublemint – would still be growing, more than a century later.