Scholarly article on topic 'Aspects of Symbolic Communications in Online Advertising'

Aspects of Symbolic Communications in Online Advertising Academic research paper on "Economics and business"

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{"symbolic communication" / "online advertising" / image / "visual communication"}

Abstract of research paper on Economics and business, author of scientific article — Iasmina Petrovici

Abstract This study aims to develop an interdisciplinary analysis concerning the features of symbolic communication in the field of online advertising. In the first part of the study, applying some theoretical models specific for communication sciences, hermeneutics and semiotics, we intend to discuss the particularities of different forms of symbolic communication present at the level of image in online advertising. In the second part we insist upon the importance of functions of this communication form in online advertising. In the third part of this study, using a qualitative research, we aim to interpret the symbolic components of visual communication specific for online advertising and finally we shall settle some conclusions.

Academic research paper on topic "Aspects of Symbolic Communications in Online Advertising"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 149 (2014) 719 - 723

LUMEN 2014

Aspects of Symbolic Communications in Online Advertising

Iasmina Petrovicia*

aWest University of Timisoara, Blvd. V. Parvan 4, Timisoara, 300223, Romania


This study aims to develop an interdisciplinary analysis concerning the features of symbolic communication in the field of online advertising. In the first part of the study, applying some theoretical models specific for communication sciences, hermeneutics and semiotics, we intend to discuss the particularities of different forms of symbolic communication present at the level of image in online advertising. In the second part we insist upon the importance of functions of this communication form in online advertising. In the third part of this study, using a qualitative research, we aim to interpret the symbolic components of visual communication specific for online advertising and finally we shall settle some conclusions.

© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of LUMEN 2014. Keywords: symbolic communication; online advertising; image; visual communication

Forms of Symbolic Communication in Online Advertising

The importance of this study is given by the role played in symbolic communication and online advertising. Each of the elements that form online advertising are aspects of symbolic communication. Thou, considering the length of this paper, in the following, we shall exclusively focus on and debate the symbolic aspects encountered at the level of the image in online advertising. Online advertising (or internet advertising) consists of an ensemble of verbal (textual) and non-verbal (imagistic and acoustic) communications means, each of them using specific symbolic forms. Independent of the medium used (web-site, web-banner, frame-add, e-mail, newsletter, display advertising, social media marketing, etc.) from a compositional point of view, online advertising contains a series of static and animated graphic elements (pictures, commercials, videos, films, animations) and acoustic elements, where we can

* Corresponding author. Tel.: Tel.: +0-040-726-487009 E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of LUMEN 2014. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.08.276

add different applications to enhance its expressivity and to be able to distinguish it from mundane advertisement. The codes used to transmit the symbols are diverse - shape, colour, composition; they are commensurably determined by the specifics of online advertising, as well as by a series of demographic, social and cultural factors (Taylor, 2012). Depending on the targeted audience, one can use mass media codes or limited broadcasting codes (Fiske, 2010). The first type of code entails a narrow and single-voiced semantics, their reception and understanding being generally accessible for the audience. Limited codes address a much smaller audience group; reception and understanding are based on a common cultural experience.

The most important mean of symbolic communication in online advertising is the image, much through content as through shape, the later being itself represented by a series of visual communication forms: graphic, shape, colour, font, style. Symbolic communication present at the level of image in online advertising involves message broadcasting by means of different symbolic signs, representing a form of projective communication (Fiske, 2010). An original image, one with expressive and pertinent symbolic elements, give visual identity to online advertising. Through visual identity, online advertising is made memorable, unique and easy to distinguish from the other competing and available advertising. Identical to the case of offline image, the image in online advertising consists of representational art and symbolic elements, which transmit iconic coded visual messages (visages, sings, representations), iconographic (syntagmatic configurations with cultural connotations, for instance religious symbols), stylistic (original creations correlated with an ideal or an aesthetic value) (Eco, 2007). More than this, the image in online advertising contains codes of the unconscious, forming the basis of a psychological response at the audience level generated by visual symbols. According to a socio-cultural or archetypal determined semantic convention, the image allusively imparts information, sometimes situated in the boarders of semantic recognizance. Due to the symbolic angle, the online advertisement image can present itself as polysemantic, decoding it insists on the correct usage of interpretative conventions. This is due to the fact that, in contrast to the representative signs (for example, the model, the emblem, the attribute, the allegory, the parable, the apologue), presenting an analogously based relationship, the symbol has a conventionally assigned meaning, entailing the "homogeneousness between the significant and the significance towards a organizational dynamics" (Chevalier & Gheerbrant, 2009). Visual symbols express an "encoded cultural language" (Eco, 2007), translating certain existence condition, the advertisement image represents a social context strongly infused with cultural values. The symbolic image fences in myths, archetypes, structures risen form the collective imagination, configuring itself into a substitutive expression with a certain semantic and emotional charge, exerting action on mental structures, decoding it determines different levels of interpretation (Benoist, 1995).

The online advertisement image can present different types of symbolic representation: archetypal, religious, cultural, politic, social, etc; each one of them has various meanings depending on the culture they apply to. For instance, the symbolism of colours is different according to the cultural contextualization, thus non-colour black can stand as a symbol for the absolute, or mystery, the unconscious, mourning, hell, eccentricity. However, numerous visual symbols have come to be recognized independent of the cultural context, and are constantly encountered in online advertising. For instance, the socio-cultural significance of the colour green is associated with environmentalism, nature, health and its archetypal and religious meaning points us towards diverse symbolic representations of the sacred. Symbolic communication, when referring to the online advertisement image, can be presented in various forms. They focus our attention on the referred item. Symbols are considered to be: archetypal (water, air, earth, fire), religious (different representations of the sacred), mythical (creation, cosmogony, theogony, narration, etc.), metaphysical (visions of the world and life), cultural (pertaining to different traditions, customs or rituals), ethical (moral values and behaviors), social (the meaning of these symbols are associated with the values of a community, institution, generation), psychological (types of personality, emotional states), political, technological, geometric, pertaining to animals, space and time and finally chromatic. Accompanying the others we can also find the symbolism of numbers, action-symbols (events, behaviors, gestures, attitudes - all transmitting meaning), material or concrete symbols (objects, nature, clothing elements), abstract symbols (ideas, notions, values) and different symbolism forms of the human body. All of the aforementioned representative forms of the symbol are used in online advertising to capture the audience's attention, mobilizing its mental structures. Advertising creators specifically exploit the symbols ability to unify and motivate (McStay, 2009), the symbolic image being able to project a positive and convincing association. Perceiving and decoding the image in online advertising symbols rather entails the sensory and imaginative experience of the audience, than the overwhelming task of

conceptualization, except in the cases where they are heavily coded, their interpretation requires referring to a determined cultural context for the targeted audience. To fulfill a feature of pertinence, the online advertisement image, has to present a few characteristics in its used symbols: coherence - the visual elements used must form a representative entirety of the advertised subject; semantic and emotional elements - to capture the audience's attention and to facilitate the ability to recognize the brand of the coded visual messages; aesthetic expressiveness -has to present a coherent, consistent and attractive graphic, adaptability - to be visible regardless of the font or text's structure and size; reproductivity - to be visible after such activities as downsizing the image of photocopying it.

The functions of symbolic communication in online advertising

Symbolic communication in online advertising can have various functions. The information function can be appreciated as being the essential function of symbolic communication in online advertising. According to a semantic convention or agreement, a socio-cultural determined one, the online advertisement symbolic image allusively transmits a piece of information, within the borders of graphic reconnaissance. The later, designates online advertising as being a communication process, the main objective of the symbolism in this case being to transmit certain information pertaining to the product or service, facilitating decoding the messages. As we have mention beforehand, messages are differently encoded depending on the targeted audience. This function of symbolic communication facilitates the relation between the announcer and the consumer and corresponds with the primary objective of advertising: to present and promote a product or service. Second, we find an ontological function (Benoist, 1995), as in it always makes reference to a concrete or imaginary reality associated with the values of the advertised product or service.

By its rhetorical function, symbolic communication in online advertising, utilizing different argumentative models and figures of speech, has as a main objective influencing opinions and changing behaviors for the audience. Rhetorical figures are generally used in the broad spectrum of online advertisements, functioning as to enhance the persuasion effect of the message as a whole; the more prominently used ones are the epithet, the comparison, the metaphor, the repetition, the hyperbole, the personification, the antithesis, the syllogism, the homophony, the metonymy or the synecdoche.

Another reason for the usage of symbols in online advertising is their socially unifying function, as products of collective conscience they build a bridge for social groups, identities, affiliations, cultural, religious and political communities. Considering this, we must contextualize symbolic communication in online advertising, depending on the psychological, social, cultural, politic or religious representations of the target audience. In order to be accepted and recognized, the symbol must be composed out of specific signs, recognizable by the audience. More so, the receptors of advertising messages also receive information regarding to generally social accepted rules and patters of social behaviour. Thus, symbolic communication in online advertising can enhance the degree of social integration, furthering the propagation of cultural models, innovative ideas and technological innovations (for instance, the H&M brand targets audience focus on environmental issues through its online advertising).

The aesthetic function is another important component of symbolic communication. Considering its graphic aspects and structures, the image in online advertising can generate an aesthetic attitude of reception and satisfactory contemplation of its component symbolic elements. The aesthetic aspect of symbolic communication in online advertising can be determinant in maintaining receptor attention, especially if it contains original elements (Pricken, 2008). These are the necessary conditions for building audience sensitivity and taste, the introduction and presentation choices for a product or service being the key factor when deciding to purchase it.

The educational function of symbolic communication in online advertising is manifested by the advertisement's ability to educate, influence, suggest patterns and generally make the audience being sensitive towards different issues (for example, the anti-racism campaigns put forth by different online advertising campaigns).

Symbolic components of the image in online advertising

In the following, we shall make a qualitative research in one of the most important symbolic components of online advertising, respectively the chromatic scale. To emphasize the importance of colours and non-colours as a

symbolic form of communication in online advertising, we have opted for a qualitative research, which epistemologically, is a phenomenological-comprehensive approach towards the studied object. We have studied the symbolic signification of colours and non-colour black in the online advertisement image in a open and inclusive manner, thus data was collected by means of qualitative methods, excluding any type of quantification. The research involves observation, description and qualitative analysis of online advertising, from the symbolic signification angle of colour scales in the image in online advertising. The obtained conclusions can thus be extrapolated to similar situations in the field of online advertising.

As mentioned beforehand, the entire sphere of components in online advertising has a symbolic value: the graphic elements, the shapes, the style, the font, the structure elements, etc. Accompanying other forms of visual symbolic communication, colours present a strong symbolic value, positioning them high on the importance scale in online advertising. A generally accepted fact is the one that colours have the role of engaging strong emotional reactions and generate "a state of mind that represents a message in itself, even before perceiving the symbolic values of each shade" (Joannes, 2009).

Generally speaking, colours intervene over the human psyche, being able to induce certain emotions, as surprise, joy and sadness. They can influence the manner of perception of an object or an idea (Nahai, 2013). Same as in offline advertising, in online advertising we encounter the entire spectrum of colour, accompanying the non-colours black, white and grey not only to achieve an aesthetically pleasing graphic image, but also to more pertinently transmit certain messages, to highlight the features of a product or service, to influence the audience's concern and behaviour and to generate a recognition (being able to associate products or services with a particular brand or advertising campaign). Thus, green as a colour, is more often encountered used in advertising campaigns that support environmental issues, while black and white, for example, are associated with the Chanel brand. The symbolic meaning of colours can be perceived differently according to the cultural context. The symbolic of colours is extremely complex; the symbolic meanings are in cases very different or even antagonist from one culture to another, making it thus paramount for the creative production team to completely understand and know the symbolic valence of the chromatic palette in order to coherently and efficiently communicate an advertisement message.

When accomplishing online advertising, a varied spectrum of colours and non-colours is to be found, a significant role here is presented by the non-colour black. The importance of using black in online advertising is sustained not only by its stylistic and expressive valences but also by its role in the graphics of the image in online advertising. Black is capable to convey complex and diverse symbolic messages. Black manages to situate itself in both extremities of the colours spectrum, as border to warm or cool shades, depending on brightness or saturation; it becomes the absence, sum or synthesis of the other colours. The symbolism of the non-colour black is extremely complex, depending on its context, being able to have positive or negative connotations (Chevalier & Gheerbrant, 2009), as: mystery, unlimited, nothingness, hell, ending, unconsciousness, fear, death, evil, sin, mourning, solitude, pain, violence, abuse, antagonism, vice, sickness, censorship but also eternal life, power, knowledge, strength, stability, wisdom, prudence, humbleness, austerity, fertility, ancientness, material being, professionalism, seriousness, slenderness, elegance, refinement, luxury, fine taste, prestige, dignity, femininity, sensuality, seduction, uniqueness, rebellious spirit, technology, pollution, industrialization. The social significance of black is associated with social values as power, performance, tradition, authority, uniqueness, anarchy; the cultural significance is connected to diverse cultural and artistic values (for instance, gothic, romance, minimalism), with customs and rituals; the religious significance is liked to different religious values, and the archetypal significance (water, air, fire, earth) stems from mythical representations or symbols of the sacred. Given the fact that black can symbolize social values as wealth and luxury, respectively, aesthetic values as refinement, elegance and slenderness, it can successfully be used in online advertising to highlight limited edition collections, more efficiently emphasizing the features of the target product. Black can also present psychological and psychoanalytical significations, symbolically communicating different psychological states, worth mentioning are: self-examination, self-control, self-confidence, introspection, fear, agony, loneliness, sadness, desperation, relinquish, humiliation, pessimism, anxiety, isolation, frustration, repression. We must note the frequency in symbolically using the black and white pairing in online advertising and the contrasting usage of black alongside colours as red, yellow, orange, gold, pink, green. As an example we shall mention the black-gold scheme used to highlight a limited edition collection, symbolizing wealth, luxury, refinement, class; a black-pink scheme is symbolically used to emphasize breast cancer awareness advertisement campaigns and finally black-green, mostly used to symbolize the environmental issues and

the effects of pollution. Black demands attention and enhances all the other colours it is paired with, a thus presented colour scheme has the ability to capture the essential and ease the assimilation of the central focus element, meaning, to facilitate retaining it. Moreover, black and white images easily be culturally coded, mentioned and encountered in all socio-cultural contexts, symbolizing equilibrium or in opposition, contrast or resistance, power. On the basis of these grounds, black is used in online advertisements to capture, influence emotional states and communicate symbolic messages. Black is a compulsory tool in creating an online advertising image, being able to more efficiently, expressively and varied convey information about the promoted product or service.


Online advertising is a state of continuous growth, on the one hand because of the massive number of websites, on the other hand because of the overwhelming number of virtual media users. Compared to the offline advertising, this type of advertising, presents a series of communicational and interactive advantages, as segmenting the target audience, the accessibility of the broadcasted message, numerous creative possibilities. In this context, online advertising creators must be able to anticipate the reaction of the audience when faced with the information (Micu, 2007), constantly searching for diverse methods to enhance the expressiveness of advertisements; accompanying the persuasive and aesthetic components, symbolic communication forms are an efficient means. The symbols play an important role in constructing the online advertisement message, being in many cases, not only a support for the image expression but means of producing multiple acceptations, as we have purposefully mentioned with the usage of the non-colour black in online advertisement images. The symbolic elements that make up the image in online advertising, mentioning here shapes, objects, characters, abstract representations, colours, graphic effects, composition structure - have the ultimate goal to capture the target audience's attention, to communicate ideas or messages in accordance with the specifics of the aimed subject, to convey unique values regarding the product and to produce a certain type of aesthetic experience on the audience level. The symbolic components of the image in online advertising capture the audience, more expressively conveying different information and messages. The efficiency of online advertising decisively depends on the manner in which its symbolic elements are being dispensed.


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