Thursday, February 15, 2007

Both rhetoric and semiotics ...

... are huge disciplines, which we will begin discussing Monday. In the meantime, use your grad-school skimming skills to get the general idea:

Rhetorical analysis

What is rhetoric? We'll talk more in class, but here's an overview:

Here's a link to a journal article using rhetorical analysis:

Semiotic analysis

Here's a web site,

and a snippet from a book chapter of my own, using semiotics to decode what was happening during a visual event [citation: Lambiase, J. (2006). "Erotic encounters: Female employees and promotional activities," in T. Reichert and J. Lambiase (eds) Sex in Consumer Culture: The Erotic Content of Media and Marketing. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.]

"The Maserati and Ferrari display at the 2004 Auto Show stood at the center of the Dallas Convention Center, a barely controlled hive of activity just 75 feet from the show’s main entrance. Border ropes used along the display’s perimeter kept people from freely entering the display space. Instead, visitors needed appointments to enter or could wait in line to see the latest Maserati and Ferrari car models. And a second set of models was just as important to the buzzing success of the display.

Six women in their 20s and 30s served as escorts for visitors wishing to enter the display to learn more about Maserati’s and Ferrari’s newest cars. All were professional models and actors hired through a local company for the weeklong auto show. They were not experts on foreign automobiles, but good at memorizing a script, and they were an important part of selling the automakers’ image to the public. Each new visitor or small group seeking entrance to the display was assigned a personal female attendant dressed in high heels and a closely fitted pantsuit. Once inside, visitors were offered hors d’oeuvres and champagne served by a waiter in white gloves. The booth’s atmospherics, like no other at the auto show, generated cocktail-party and call-girl vibes.

Cars and women may be a nostalgic coupling, considering that automakers for years used cheesecake frequently in print advertising. Beyond automakers, many trade-show displays, restaurants, retailers, and companies of all sorts utilize a branding approach that still relies on an old formula. This formula is not that sex sells, but that it both attracts attention and becomes an important part of a brand and its atmospherics, mostly an appeal to enliven lifestyle choices through consumption of the brand. The spectacle at the auto show provides some proof of this marketing assumption.

Spectacle, along with good face-to-face or handshake-to-handshake contact, becomes the goal of many promotional activities. In the Maserati/Ferrari example, signs of exclusivity, including the cars themselves, provide the spectacle. Face-to-face contact is ceded to models and professional actors, rather than to auto salesmen and saleswomen. The scene is an inversion of the usual car-buying experience. It is an illusion. Instead of anxious sellers pushing emotional buttons in order to make a sale, anxious spectators—the majority of them men—wait in line for a quite different emotional experience. Eros is mixed into a clever concoction that is part woman, part car.

This qualitative study focuses on the erotic codes and scripts used for many live promotional or selling activities and uses semiotic protocols to interpret these behaviors. First, ethnographic analysis of live promotional events captured descriptions of this erotic code in action, such as the Maserati/Ferrari example above. Based on these observations, the researcher developed story prompts and a topic guide for narrative interviewing of female workers and models. These participants were asked to tell stories about their experiences with promotional activities.
Research questions for the project were these:

How do companies combine physically attractive employees with sexualized contexts to attract attention, brand their products, and sell merchandise in the marketplace?
What are the codes and scripts of these sexual appeals in commercial spaces?
What constitutes sexiness, based on perceptions of promotional professionals and models, as well as the expectations of their employers?"