Four SOC 344 students with cameras.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Viewer’s Creating Meaning: Targeting Audiences in Advertisements

Downtown Edmonton offers consumers a wide range of advertisements promoting an array of bands in a variety of locations within Edmonton. Walking down Jasper Ave, one thing, among the many, that become obvious about these advertisements: Advertisers know their audiences. Whether these advertisements, usually in the form of a poster, depicted a clown hung from a guillotine or a serene picture of Michael Jerome Browne holding his guitar, images and messages displayed on these posters seemed selected to target or draw in a certain type of music consumer. The codes and conventions associated with these images are the precursors, or stimuli, that allow for the recognition by the desired viewer to attend an event. Knowing this, advertisers, especially those who have an audience in mind, gravitate to these ideas in order to persuade the viewer. How? By making these posters universal to the world they are promoting, advertisers give the viewer a place where they can call home. For example, New City Compound, a local ‘gothic’ club in downtown Edmonton, uses this idea exactly as they promote events using images of clowns, depictions of vampires and featuring bands such as the ‘Royal Red Brigade’ to target this sort of ‘Goth’ following. In knowing their audience, New City is able to target “people like you” (Sturken and Cartwright 50) and give home to those who confide in this identity. Further, they will have these people coming back continuously as long as they continue to pursue and appeal to their consuming needs.

This idea can be transcended into many different categories, not just Gothic. In the downtown Edmonton core alone there are a handful of clubs all playing a different genre of music on any given night, all of them targeting the audience they want in attendance. If you are a male who enjoys Playboy bunnies and are a female wanting to meet a male, then Empire Ballroom has DJ Colleen Shannon “The sexiest DJ alive” playing their nightclub. In this advertisement, DJ Colleen Shannon is scantily clad standing wrapped in headset cords with her hair tussled all around her. There is no denying, in this ad, that sex sells and that the promoters of this event are targeting young males, who will also draw in young females. This type of visual “hailing” (Sturken and Cartwright 50) aims to represent viewers as individuals which in turn will develop a wider audience. The only idea that advertisers have to rely on is that the viewer is able to acknowledge themselves as part of a greater whole, or a member of a particular society that shares the same commonalities. Sturken and Cartwright, authors of Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture (2009), transcend the original idea created by French philosopher Louis Althusser that “images interpellate viewers.” Sturken and Cartwright state that “advertising seeks . . . to interpellate viewer-consumers in constructing them within the ‘you’ of the ad.” (50) Meaning that in some way or another we can all identify with images in ads, and even if we do no fully relate to the ideas, we understand that we are meant to.
This idea of recognizing yourself as part of a specific society, however, can be used negatively toward the viewer. The advertisement poster depicting the band “HammerFall,” a metal rock band from Sweden, promoting their recent appearance in Edmonton, was covered by a leaflet for a research study in depression and anxiety performed by the University of Alberta. Here, listening and being able to relate to the band is considered a prerequisite for this study. Though person’s listening to a heavy metal rock band may, in fact, suffer from depression or other symptoms related to the disease, this alone in no way can be a precondition for the study. Researches at the University of Alberta, however, feed into the notion that those who are consumers of this type of music have some added internal anger or issues, and are vulnerable to the symptoms of depression. Here, we can see how stereotypes of a certain audience that are used to the advantage of advertisers, can be a disadvantage for the viewer to associate themselves to.
Through our investigation of advertising bands in Edmonton, especially on Jasper Ave, we can certainly see how well advertisers know their audiences. By appealing to those on a individual basis, advertiser’s are relating to their audiences and creating a personal experience for the viewer. Though they rely on the viewer’s ability to place themselves in the bigger scheme of things, advertisements, especially those advertising bands, use stereotypes and codes and conventions within images to make the viewer feel at home. At times, as we saw with the University of Alberta leaflet covering ‘HammerFalls’ poster ad, using these stereotypes can create negative notions and ideas about a consuming music audience. However, as we witnessed more than often, advertiser’s have a way of relating to their desired audiences and creating an experiences for them, through images and messages, that ultimately get the job done.

Works Cited
Sturken, M. & Cartwright, L. (2009). Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York: Oxford University Press

The General Layout of Jasper

The internet may make spreading the news about an event easier but with so many bands sprouting up it isn’t hard to get lost in the murky MySpace ether. Postering is a great method of reaching an audience (and if bands / promo teams know where to go, the audience) as we are accustomed to being bombarded with advertisements and logos everyday in our cityscape.

There is definitely a hierarchy to postering. Not all posters are made equal: some are large, some small; some in color, some in simple black ink; some include artwork, some have pictures of the band.

Around Jasper Avenue, the rule of thumb seems to be that bands with big label backing have bigger posters in full (and mesmerizing!) colour whereas smaller bands are more likely to have smaller posters. Simple economics! Some notable sights include techno/dj based bands/artists/collectives with small posters in full colour and bands that effortlessly fit in the Alternative Rock, Pop Punk or Metal genres tended to have greyscale band promotional shots incorporated into their average/small posters, whereas bigger acts had a mixture of album art and promotional shots in full colour. Examples:

Bands with the money can get enough copies of posters out to repeat their message with the hopes of making a mark on passersby. The most prevalent poster was most definitely DJ Colleen Shannon, often appearing in sequences of two or three all over Jasper Avenue and the University. In the photograph, she is staring towards the viewer, using what Sturken and Cartwright call conventions of “the personal” (p.51). Multiply this by three and add the fact that the ads are in colour and she happens to be a Playboy representative in a bodysuit and we find that the image has interpellated us somehow.

Posters didn’t seem to fight for any type of line of sight, and appeared in any crack or crevice afforded to them by the City.

The City of Edmonton’s website offers up a nice search tool that gave me the bylaw results from Pigeon Maintenance and Care to Postering.

According to Bylaw C2202, Section 16:

"Your poster may be placed in an area designated by the City for that purpose, for example, kiosks. ... Unless you have permission from the City ... a $100 fine may be issued.”

o According to Bylaw C5590, Section 64:

(1)A person shall not place, cause or permit to be placed any poster, handbill or other similar item on any:

  • (a) decorative street light pole;
  • (b) traffic control device; or
  • (c) item of street furniture.

Whyte Avenue

Whyte Ave is the center of night life and activity for young people in search of a good time with friends, drinks and music. In an area of large crowds looking for entertainment, bands are advertised through posters that appeal to the 18-30 year old social groups in attempt to attract people to their venues. This busy street is the perfect outlet for hosting entertainment, advertising bands and having concerts take place.

Band advertisements are directed at people out and about looking for a place to go or event to attend. The majority of posters are displayed in high traffic areas where people are going in and out of trendy clothing shops, music stores, bar and restaurants will notice them and be interested in the band. Street posts on the avenue corners also display layers of posters and function as sites where people find out about the hottest shows or newest talent coming to Edmonton. Most posters are advertising local bands in smaller venues where people can hear and learn to recognize bands.

Bright colors, scantily clothed females, outrageous images and bold print characterise the posters advertising bands. Semiotics as a principal practice of looking describes how images call out and capture the gaze of a viewer. Advertisements for bands are a prime example of such practices of looking. These posters demonstrate how loud, detailed, interesting designs and colourful images attract the gaze, and furthermore the attention, of passerbyers. The symbols and signs on these posters convey meaning about what type of music the band plays and the genre they represent. Outrageous images may portray rock concerts where people expect a certain loud music, heavy drinking, and wild behaviour environment. The denotative images and colors used on band posters contribute to the connotative meaning of the message the band is delivering to the fans and viewers.

University of Alberta & Wrap Up

Each environment we looked at held variety. There wasn't a specific corner where certain messages would get conveyed and others wouldn't. Bands generally seemed to advertise in the same way when postering: often and in plain sight.

At the University of Alberta, there are a few places where bands tend to place their posters: The gigantic wall outside of SUB and the general posting boards in CEB, CAB and Tory.

What we've noticed is that there are ads for all sorts of shows. Blues guitar, hardcore shows, DJ sets at clubs, classical music showcases and recitals all share the same wall. Larger shows are awarded quite a bit of space, and we guess it must be due to the Ticketmaster kiosk in SUB. That way, when the tired and hungry masses stumble groggily into SUB in the mornings, they can see an ad, walk to the Infolink booth and buy a ticket.

The trends remain the same, largely due to the fact that all of the posters can be found on Whyte or Jasper. The University does have an advantage, frequency-wise, when it comes to smaller pub show advertisements and performances within the realm of high culture.

In short, Edmonton's local bands show patterns when advertising their events. Posters with specific imagery begin to trigger genre recognition. Style of poster creation is significant in speaking to the codes that could potentially be encoded by passersby. For smaller collectives, like Clean Up Your Act Productions, style also becomes a signature. Stark black and white images may mean the band is conveying a minimalist, Get-In-The-Van-type message, or that a local Twee collective didn't have enough money to print.

Spending as little as a few moments glancing at some of the posters in a kiosk or on a pole gives us insight as to what images are best associated with a type of band or band in general; images are meant to be odd, revolting, arousing, hilarious, ethereal...

When bands advertise, they go for memorable imagery that makes their paper investment worth their while.