Judith Williamson: Decoding Advertisements

Judith Williamson makes several interesting points regarding differentiation in advertising. The first is that there is very little distinction between products in any given category. This means that one brand of cigarette or hand soap is essentially the same as the next. It is up to marketing to emphasize what makes each brand unique from the rest; as often as not, this distinction is an arbitrary one.

She continues by saying that there are occasionally products that are unique, but that they typically don’t need the same level of advertising that other, more commonplace products need.

Her primary examples draw from  the world of perfume advertising. A classic example is Chanel No. 5. The ad for this perfume is simply that of an image of Catherine Deneuve looking into the camera and a bottle of the perfume with its logo on the bottom of the page. There is no real connection between Catherine Deneuve and Chanel No. 5 . This ad wants you, the viewer, to draw a connection between the glamorous, sophisticated actress and the perfume. Perhaps the viewer will feel that if she uses Chanel No. 5, she too will be glamorous and sophisticated. The ad works because the viewer is already familiar with the image of Catherine Deneuve.

Williamson contrasts the ad for Chanel with one of a brand of perfume called Babe. The image for this ad is in striking contrast to the Chanel ad. In this one, another actress named Margaux Hemingway is practicing karate with her hair tied back. The values associated with this product are distinctly different from Chanel because they are using a very tomboyish, unusual image to sell the product.

At their very core, Babe and Chanel No 5 are essentially the same product. They are both bottles of perfume with a similar chemical makeup. But they hope to sell to consumers by appealing to different values, thus standing out in a very saturated marketplace.

One thought on “Judith Williamson: Decoding Advertisements

  1. rmichals

    You summarize the piece beautifully. I would add that Williamson argues that the Babe ad takes its meaning from being different from the Chanel No. 5 ad. It would not seem radical if we were not used to the other typical perfume ads.


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