All forms of media (traditional and new) have the ability to transfer meaning from producer to consumer. Whether explicitly or indirectly, media producers have the creative power to elicit certain emotions from their viewers by the images they create. The ability to recognize these tools of persuasion is considered being media literate. The Media Literacy Project (n.d.) provides a variety of tools that people can use to begin having a conscious, active relationship to media without feeling manipulated to buy, feel, or think a certain way. This post will highlight a number of these persuasion techniques, including semiotic color theory, to provide an analysis of a St. Patrick’s Day commercial from Party City.
Understanding the difference between text and subtext is important in media literacy because one is interpreted from the other. While text is the media that you can actually see and hear (produced by the source or sender), the subtext is the underlying meanings and interpretations of that text (produced by the consumer or receiver). Certain symbols, images, and texts elicit specific actions, which I believe are often born from a pattern developed over a period of time. Color theories for example are one way to demonstrate certain feelings when attributed to a particular symbol. A casket which symbolizes death, is linked to the color black, while a bride’s gown representing love and union, is associated with the color white. The use of subtext is often subliminal in commercials, ads, and various other texts as they tent to persuade viewers into doing, feeling, or believing something that you might ordinarily not have. Becoming media literate is important because “once you know how media messages try to persuade you to believe or do something, you’ll be better able to make your own decisions” (Media Literacy Project, n.d., p.6).
The link below is to a commercial from Party City which I will analyze using some of the language of persuasion tools provided by The Media Literacy Project (n.d.).
This commercial is meant to increase sales specifically for the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. Symbols and color theories are embedded within this text, illustrating the importance of semiotics in media persuasion. British visual semiotician Daniel Chandler (2002) defines semiotics as “the study of signs […]not only of what we refer to as ‘signs’ in everyday speech, but of anything which ‘stands for’ something else” (p.2).
Based from this understanding, producers of this commercial used the color thematically associated with the Irish Holiday – green. This is because the three-leafed shamrock has been used as a symbol to represent Irish history (Wikipedia, 2014).
Knowing this construction of meaning, the commercial’s producers overly used the color green in the ad in order to make viewers feel that they have to wear green and decorate their party in the same color – even if they are unaware of the color’s origin in Irish history.
The three main persuasion techniques used are association, bandwagon, and beautiful people. The commercial takes place at a St. Patrick’s Day house party full of attractive people wearing green, all having a good time. Association is understood as trying to “link a product, service, or idea with something already liked or desired by the target audience, such as fun, pleasure beauty, security, etc.” (Media Literacy Project, n.d., p.7). The target audience of this commercial is reflected by who is cast, which is the predominately college age, 18-29 demographic. And because everyone in this party is shown having a great time, it is understood that their happiness is associated with shopping at Party City. The overall message being driven from this text and these tools is that if you shop at Party City to dress yourself and your house, you’ll 1) have the best St. Patrick’s Day party, 2) look attractive, and 3) save a lot of money all at the same time.
Bandwagon and association are highly connected tools of persuasion. People ultimately want to have a good time and shopping at Party City is linked to happiness in this commercial. An unhappy viewer of the text might be persuaded to join the festivities and get in on the party just because everyone else is doing it (Media Literacy Project, n.d.). This is an illustration of the bandwagon tactic.
At one point in the commercial the voice over says “cute headband” while an attractive woman blows a kiss at the camera. The meaning behind this scene is to make female viewers feel that they can participate in the “green theme” and still look sexy doing it, and to make male viewers feel like they have to attend such parties because attractive girls will be there. As a persuasion strategy, the use of beautiful people largely implies that regular every day viewers will look like models as long as they consume the products being sold (Media Literacy Project, n.d.)
There are many other tools media producers can use to elicit specific emotions from potential consumers. Developing a media literate mind is important because understanding the references and strategies used to communicate messages from sender to receiver allows people to feel more in control of their own decisions. In addition, doing this exercise also restored a respect to the media production process because its hard to understand how much power a piece of media has until you have to create one.
Chandler, D. (2002). Semiotics: the basics. London: Routledge.
Media Literacy Project. (n.d.). Introduction to Media Literacy. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from http://medialiteracyproject.org/sites/default
Saint Patrick’s Day. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved March 15, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick’s_