Introduction to Photography in Advertising

Guy Debord explores photography in advertising the idea that in a consumer’s society, social life is not about living but about having and appearing. In a consumer’s society, it is mostly about having an appearance, consumers want the best products. But how do these brands design, make and advertise their ‘best’ products? In this article, I will be discussing the role of photography in advertising and how brands advertise “the best” products using semiotics such as celebrity endorsement, sexualisation, subliminal messaging and many more.

I will be analysing advertisements from Lynx, Emporio Armani and Dove: with these advertisements, I will be discussing the use of women in male advertisements, men in male advertisement and what I believe is an effective way to promote a product. Advertisements tend to attract their customers by showing them what they want to see or hear, such as the consumer’s desires, fantasies and aspirations; this then leads to the consumer believing that these products will change their lives. Advertisements are made to communicate to the subconscious making the consumer naturally feel like they need this product that is being advertised.

Advertising is the key to selling a product, without advertisement no one would know that a product existed which is why the photograph is so important. The photograph of a product must be perfect as to start of a brand or a new product there needs to be an effective first impression a good first impression will be able to relate to the audience, communicate what the product is and what it is used for, who the product is aimed at, why this product is like no other, a product they cannot live without.

Lynx Photography in Advertising

lynx body was use of photography in advertising

Lynx has used a sexual approach to advertise their shower gel. This very sexualised advertisement for Lynx body wash has a man on the left washing in the shower pouring the body wash onto himself, on the right, there is a woman in the identical position but pouring squirty cream onto herself with a sexual facial expression in what looks like a bedroom.

“In the field of advertising, a product requires social meanings to make it attractive (no matter how bland and uninteresting the object is in itself)” Bate (2009, P112-113). What David Bate is saying in his book ‘Photography’ is that without using photography in advertising for the “new improved axe shower gel” by Lynx would be boring as it is nothing but shower gel. However, advertising a shower gel by being able to help attract women makes this product more interesting and more appealing to men as stereotypically they would like to attract as many women as they can. This can all be accomplished by using social meanings in an advertisement.

The photograph of the male has low-key lighting set up with a spotlight shining onto him and onto the background; this style of lighting has an erotic look aesthetic with the lighting portraying a bedroom style environment. “Williamson argues that photographic advertisements are often created to suggest similar associations between visual signs (such as sexualised images of a woman being linked with the product on offer) (Williamson 2002: 20-39).” Bull. S (2010, P63). Lynx uses semiology to gain the attention of male consumers by using sexualised females to promote their product which stereotypically results in male gaining interest in their product. There is an unnecessary need to sexually promote this product as it plays no sexual role and is just objectifying women for no apparent reason.

The slogan on the advertisement says, “the cleaner you are, the dirtier you get”. This slogan sums up what type of lifestyle Lynx is trying to sell. What Lynx is suggesting is that if you buy this product the ‘dirtier’ you get, referring to sexual acts. This shows that the targeted consumer for Lynx is heterosexual males as the product is advertised to attract females.

“In 21st-century advertising often adopts a more informal tone as though it were having a chat with the consumer”

Bull (2010 P.66)

This quotation for Stephen Bull is about how advertisements will sometimes use slang and rhetoric questions to help to engage with the consumer giving the feeling that they can relate to the advertisement. The slogan ‘the cleaner you are, the dirtier you get’ is not seen as professionally mannered however it makes the consumer laugh as if it is talking to the consumer like a friend, with this use of humour it is more likely that the consumer will remember this advertisement resulting in them subconsciously remembering and wanting this product.

Women are dehumanized in many advertisements such as this one. Females being objectified in an advertisement is very common in the modern-day, because of this men have been known to become sexist by treating women as objects because that is how they are portrayed in the business industry; women also want to be the glamour model on T.V which is where their insecurity can start. However, most women in these advertisements can be seen as ‘average’ women, however many brandings choose not to do this and cover their model in make-up and photoshop the ‘imperfections’, leaving an unrealistic model of which younger girls aspire to be.

In Judith Williams book (Williamson 2002) ‘The term ‘advertising work’ is based on Freud’s “dream-work”, which he uses to describe the transformation that real-life undergoes in dreams as the dreamer’s unconscious makes associations between events, objects, places and people.’ Bull (2010, P.63). What this suggests is that advertisements are designed to engage with the subconscious to make you think that a product can make your dreams come true; they would do this by promoting their ‘best’ product and in this case, it will make beautiful women attracted to you.

Emporio Armani Photography in Advertising

emporio armani's use of photography in advertising

This is an advertisement for Emporio Armani underwear. In this advertisement, we can see the role model David Beckham. David Beckham can be seen on a bed with a white shirt unbuttoned exposing his muscularity. The photograph is in black and white which helps the underwear to stand out as it is contrasted against his dark tanned body and the whites are a bright shade of white which helps to promote the product as clean and fresh which stands out from the photograph.

“The role of the photographer is to provide the sympathetic eye and technical skills to convert the concept into a tangible photographic image” Saunders (1988, P.64). For this advertisement you can see that the photography in advertising has been done by a professional Photographer; the lighting has strong shadows which helps his muscles to look more predominant making the consumers envy his physical presence by wanting to look this way.

Emporio Armani has used celebrity endorsement to attract customers to this product. David Beckham is idolised around the world by millions with 45.6 million followers on Instagram (May 2018). The effect of using a role model like David Beckham to promote a clothing product is that most men want to look like him, be like him and live like him; most women will also want their man to look like him resulting in both male and female purchasing this product.

Using celebrity endorsement, especially using an ex-athlete (who still has an impressive physique) is putting a lot of pressure on how people portray a ‘man’. In conclusion to using celebrity endorsement this advertisement is not just selling a look, it is also selling a lifestyle, a lifestyle that most men would love to live. By using David Beckham as a model in this advertisement it is saying ‘buy this product and you can be like David Beckham’ when in actual truth most men won’t, they can only dream.

‘Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer criticised Western pop culture for being homogenised, contending that most products (such as pop songs) were essentially the same, but that in order to be sold they were marketed as if they were unique (Adorno and Horkheimer 1999) this creates the illusion of choice; For example, rather than another supermarket, an individual decision is apparently being made. Adorno and Horkheimer called this idea ‘pseudo-individuality. ‘.

Bull (2010 P.64)

In Stephen Bulls book ‘Photography’ he talks about Adorno and Horkheimer’s introduction to ‘Psuedo-individuality’ this term is used by brands that want to sell a product as ‘unique’. For example, the Lynx advertisement (discussed on page 4) is promoting a body wash however there are multiple body washes on the market and it is very difficult to stand out from other large brands because there is so many of them; therefore, Lynx hasn’t just advertised it as a body wash but also as a product that attracts women giving it a reason to buy this product over any other body wash.

Psuedo-individuality has also been used for this Emporio Armani as what is advertised is underwear, there are many brands that sell underwear, what makes this brand so special? Having a highly successful admired millionaire model such as David Beckham makes the consumer presume the underwear is of excellent quality and that only David Beckham would wear the best quality clothing resulting in the consumers wanting this product.

Dove Photography in Advertisement

Dove's use of photography in advertising

This advertisement by Dove is a good example on what adverts should look like. There is no sexuality portrayed, no selling of an impossible lifestyle just regular women being confident and enjoying themselves as they are.

“it is vital that the people in the advertising image are shown to be different and individual. Although the idea of the campaign is to encourage as many consumers as possible to shop at the same supermarket, like a lot of advertisements it uses the myth of individuality to do this.”

Bull (2010 P.64)

By using a wide range of models, it is interacting with multiple clients resulting in the range of their consumers to be much broader which then gives them more sales.

Dove has used the myth of individuality to promote its product. This specific photograph showcases models of different skin tones and of varied sizes smiling together. ‘images promote a myth of individuality, while simultaneously selling the same product to as many consumers as possible’ Bull (2010, P62). Because Dove using the myth of individuality it is communicating to the client that you should be happy in your own skin and not look up to unhealthy and unrealistic supermodels. The models are not posed in a sexual manner nor in a staged manner, it simply looks as though they are enjoying the company of their friends.

The slogan used in this advertisement is for the price of one supermodel we got 7 real women’, what I get from this slogan is that Dove is mocking many brands that hire expensive supermodels to promote their business. By labelling these women as “real” women it is hinting at the point that by the time the supermodels are dressed in makeup and possibly edited in Photoshop with their unhealthy dieting, the supermodels are no longer considered real. What Dove could also be suggesting is that 7 average women are better than one supermodel.

This advertisement makes people want to support this brand for the way they stand up against the fake and unnatural look at other advertisements use when including a supermodel. I think the type of people to buy into this brand would be mostly women who want to appreciate their body and are tired of these fake supermodels claiming the spotlight. Dove has built a reputation of wanting to care for the consumers and make them feel beautiful and special which is what this advert does as it doesn’t promote unrealistic models, it promotes women of all shapes and sizes, skin tones and over all ‘real’ women.

This advert isn’t selling a lifestyle like most other advertisements; it is promoting their consumers to be themselves and express themselves, making them feel beautiful in their own skin; which is what they want to hear. It is promoting a lifestyle that you don’t realise you already have and Dove is shining the light onto this lifestyle. Not many brands advertise with this approach as most of them sell their products by saying they need their product to be beautiful, but Dove does not do this which is why Dove is so admirable and should carry on advertising the way they do.

For a company that sells skincare products such as soap, body wash and moisturiser this is a great advertisement. The term ‘be comfortable in your own skin’ is a phrase used many times by the Dove company however, to be comfortable in your own skin you need to look after the skin and to look after your skin you must keep it clean which is what Dove products are designed to do. As of this Dove are gaining sales by increasing the consumers’ confidence in themselves and hinting to look after their body by buying these products which is a very smart and impressive approach to an advertisement.


Photography in advertising is most important when it comes to an advertisement as it is the face of both the company and the product. The right photograph will make the consumer subconsciously feel like they need a product to look better, feel better or live a better lifestyle; photography in advertising is all about making the consumer feel these three emotions. If these emotions are successful, then the consumer will develop something that is called commodity fetishism. Commodity fetishism is a theory from Karl Marx which he states in his book Capital: A

“As against this, the commodity-form, and the value-relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So, it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.”

Marx (2012, P.165)

The main goal of an advertisement is to gain commodity fetishism towards the consumer which results in more consistent sales. There are many ways of doing this, by using semiotics such as sexualisation, celebrity endorsement, subliminal messages and many more. If an advertisement results in commodity fetishism, the advertisement would then be known as a successful commercial.

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Bate, D., 2009. The Key Concepts: Photography. Bloomsbury.

Bull, S., 2010. Photography. Abingdon. Routledge.

Instagram., 2018. @DavidBeckham. 29th May 2018.

Marx, K., 1867. Capital, volume I.

Marx, K., Moore, S., Aveling, E. and Engels, F., 2012. Capital, volume one: A critique of political economy. Courier Corporation.

Saunders, D., 1988. Professional advertising photography. Merehurst Press.

Williamson, Judith (2002) Decoding Advertisements: ideology and meaning in advertising London and New York: Marion Boyars.