Both the advertisement and the web site have the Make-A-Wish Foundation as producer and are texts which require the reader to be active in the interpretation and navigation of the texts. However, the construction of the texts is produced to make the reader focus on a specific interpretation of the texts. The texts basically mirror the Foundation as a regular ‘feel good’ organisation with an international and professional character.
In the analysis of the two texts I will look at the relationship between form and function of the various elements which are a part of the construction of the advertisement and the web site.
Analysis of the Advertisement
The advertisement is a photograph produced by the organization Make-A-Wish Foundation International. It is from Time Magazine, July 18th 2005 and its real measurements are the size of a page in a magazine, so a quite small and personal advertisement.
In a pre-iconographic description of the picture you see a boy holding a toy plane above his head. The setting can be a bit difficult to determine, but the colours indicate that the boy is outside in nature, perhaps in a forest or a park. An anchorage text is divided in three parts and placed above the boy’s head, to the right of his face and across the lower part of his torso. In the bottom right corner another anchorage text is placed together with the name of the organization and in the bottom of the picture a lot of international countries are mentioned.
To make an iconographic description of the advertisement, all elements in the picture most be considered. The anchorage text in the picture indicates how the receiver should understand the advertisement and thereby the stories in the picture. First of all, there is the boy holding the toy plane, he is obviously running around playing with the plane. Why has the producer chosen a plane? Which story is used? The connotations we have in relation to planes are e.g. adventure, travelling, excitement and perhaps even danger. A cliché relevant when interpreting the image is the idea of boys dreaming of becoming pilots when they grow up and “experience the thrill of life” as it also says in the anchorage text above the boy’s head. The word thrill is placed exactly in the direction of the boy’s gaze, right between his head and the plane. The second part of the anchorage text reminds the receiver of the fact that the boy in the image has a serious illness. It appeals to the receiver’s sympathy for the boy, since his wish might not come true, because of this. However, the focus of the story is that the receiver, together with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, can make a difference in this boy’s life by making his wish come true. I will return to this in the iconological analysis of the advertisement.
Visual Language and Visual Modalities
The visual language of the image is important to consider in the analysis, since it has been constructed in this particular way in order to underline the specific story in the image. The story the producers want the receiver to focus on.
The composition of the image is diagonal, which indicates conflict in the action of the image. The image becomes more dramatic and dynamic, than had it been a symmetrical composition. As can be seen in the illustration below, the boy’s body, or torso, forms a diagonal line going from the bottom left corner towards the upper right corner. However, the line stops before having reached the upper corner, positioning the boy’s face more or less around the middle vertical line, where the most important figure in a picture is often placed. The almost vertical line the boy forms and the horizontal line the toy plane forms meet in the central part of the picture and add movement to the image and create a focus on the relationship between the boy and the plane. This diagonal line, which the boy’s body forms, is the action line of the image. The action line is extended by the boy’s gaze, since he is looking up at the toy plane in his hand, and that indicates the importance of the symbolism of the toy plane. The placement of the anchorage text divided into three parts also contributes to the diagonal composition of the picture and the three words thrill, forget and wish, which are highlighted, are all in the diagonal line – the action line – and thereby in focus.
The boy and the toy plane are placed in the foreground of the picture and there is actually nothing in the background but the colours suggesting a forest, or at least outside surroundings. The figures and the action are placed in the left side of the picture and this underlines the importance of the figures and it creates a certain balance in the picture. The viewpoint of the picture is normal and thereby neutral. However, this viewpoint makes the receiver identify with the boy and the action in the image. Another interesting element when looking at the visual language is framing. As seen in the illustration above, the boy’s arm, the toy plane and its propellers almost form a square framing the boy’s face. This is also a way to point to the importance of the boy’s expression, his experience and his situation. So to sum up, it seems that the visual language of the image is constructed in a way to make the receiver focus on the relationship between the boy and the toy plane. Other important elements of the visual language such as colours and lightning will be considered in the following, in relation to visual modalities.
Photographs in general are considered to have high modality. However, there are several factors to consider, when deciding whether the way the content of the image is represented is truthful or not, and furthermore why the particular visual modalities of the image has been chosen.
The colour saturation and differentiation of the image, or at least of the boy and the plane, indicates rather high modality, but the colours used in the background are very unnatural, since only bright green and black are used. The contextualization of the image indicates low modality. The background shows no visual detail in the depiction and is out of focus to a great extend because of underexposure, however, this brings focus to the foreground of the image that is the boy and the plane. Also there is almost no depth in the image, since this is created by using overlapping only. Furthermore, some very important visual modalities to consider in this image are representation, illumination and brightness. Representation in particular indicates low modality, since the photo has been manipulated so the sharpness of focus is very low and thereby there is a low amount of details. This is combined with a rather unnatural illumination of the image, especially in the background, where light and shadows are overexposed. Also the brightness of the green colour in the background in contrast with the black gives the image an unnatural look.
So, when considering these different modality markers, low modality is mainly used in the image, although the boy and the plane are represented with higher modality than the background. These particular modality markers are a part of the story the producer wants the receiver to focus on. The low modality underlines the notion of a wish. A wish is something magical, a dream, and this is the feeling and image the producer wants to create in the advertisement. Also, by manipulating with the sharpness of focus of the image, a sense of movement is created, as if the boy is spinning around or running with his toy plane, absorbed in his dream world. So the specific use of modality markers, which mainly creates low modality, actually makes the image truthful in relation to the story it tells and the message the producer is trying to send.
On the whole, the advertisement can be interpreted as a depiction of a dream, or a wish as is also the main issue of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. As stated above the visual language and the modality markers help create the magic, dreamy and somehow idyllic image of a child’s dream and wish. But also the specific story with the boy and his toy plane depicts the story of an uncertain future, which the text in the right corner tells us is the reality for these children with life-threatening illnesses. The story the receiver is supposed to focus on is the story of a sick child wishing for experiencing the thrill of life and forgetting about the illness for a while, as the anchorage text around the boy explicates. The specific paradigms and syntagms chosen for the image are important, since only they can create this particular story and point to a certain understanding of the image. This can be seen if using the commutation test, where one signifier is substituted for another within the different paradigms. This creates a new meaning of the image. If for instance the toy plane was replaced by a toy gun, the meaning would have been entirely different and much more dramatic, or if the boy was replaced by an adult, the decoding would also be different and not represent the statement of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
As mentioned earlier in the analysis, the relationship between image and text is important to look at. This is clearly established in the anchorage text surrounding the boy. The two first lines almost rhyme and this underlines the story of the magic wish. The text in the right corner also adds another level to the story and the message, since it invites the receiver to share the thrill of life. Thereby the Foundation claims that if you help make a child’s wish come true, you are actually doing something magical for yourself as well as for the child in question. This is further explicated by the text telling us that the Foundation is a non-profit organization. The statement is that the reason for helping the children is purely humanitarian and beneficial for the modern human being leading a busy and somewhat egocentric life with resources enough to share some of it. The Foundation gives the receiver a possibility to make a difference. This also helps establish the image the Foundation would like to be associated with.
The Make-A-Wish web site invites the user to be active in the reading and interpretation of the information available on the site. The various features of the form and layout chosen for the web site, give the user an idea of the site as being a site of information and human relations. In this analysis I will look at the structure and layout of the website and how it creates a certain iconology. That is what the function of the form is and what the Make-A-Wish Foundation wants to signal with this website.
As shown in the flow chart enclosed in the end of my paper, the web site uses the tree structure. That means that the user becomes a co-author when navigating in this hypertext, because the user to a great extend decides for him or herself exactly which path or link to follow. In the main structure the web site operates on three levels. There is the start page with the menu line in the left side, which is quite usual, and then when you click each of the links in the menu, you may have several opportunities for your next move. However, three levels are not too many, and the user does not get lost in the web site, the structure is very user friendly. The user always has the possibility to go back, since all the links are reversible.
When talking about screen layout several elements are important. First the typography forms used on the site. Display typography is used in the title in the upper left corner. A twinkling star is a part of the title and together with the white letters it connotes magic, wishes coming true and perhaps it makes the user think of the song When You Wish upon a Star. Also, display typography is used in the word NEW!, placed next to some of the links to stories in order to create attention to them. Reading typography is used under the top stories and the inverted pyramid has been used, since only the core of the stories are shown on the page and the user has to click on more to read the rest. This is very news magazine like. Consultative typography is used in the menu line and in the bottom of the page where the exact same links are available to the user.
Secondly, the illustrations used in the screen layout are mostly mimetical because they are photographs. However, many of the photographs on the site are similar to the advertisement analysed above and connote the same kind of magic, dream-like images of children having their wishes coming true, as the anchorage text on the upper photo says. Since I have been looking at the web site several times this week, I have noticed that the images change. The upper photo is daily replaced with a new photo of a wishing child. This gives the user something new to look at and it signals dynamic and engagement. Again it is part of creating the image of an updated and news informing web site. Another illustration important to notice is the image of the “Seal of Excellence” award, which is placed so that everyone will see it and is a part of the Foundation’s image. There are not used other media forms than photographs and this indicates that this is not an entertainment web site, but a web site for seeking information.
As mentioned above it is a very user friendly web site. This is highly due to the fact that the same frames, modular grid, menu line and layout are used on all the pages within the site, which creates continuity. It is very recognisable for the user. The interface of the site exists very much on the start page, since there are both the menu line bringing the user further into the site, the search function under the menu line, and there are all the links to stories written about the Foundation in other magazines or newspapers. This gives the user more opportunities and the stories also help establish the image of the Foundation. The iconology created with the form of this web site is of course connected to the one created in the advertisement, since the same images are used on the web site. However, the particular layout, structure and user friendliness creates the idea of a professional, up to date Foundation, which can help the user make a difference in these children’s lives – and it seems very easy. Furthermore, the web site signals international engagement, which is important in our world today. All in all the Foundation seems trustworthy and this is an important signal to send for an organization you trust your money with. However, the money is never in focus on neither the web site or in the advertisement. The slogan in the bottom of the page is a clear statement of the image the Foundation would like to be associated with.2
The genre of this web site could be an institution site formed as a magazine or another recognisable news medium. So, the web site may be a remediation of an organisation. You can actually be a part of the organisation and donate money without having to contact them in person. All you need to know about the information and a link to your home country’s web site are there on the web site. It is in itself an international organization. The continuity and easy navigation of the web site creates immediacy. The user becomes part of the text when using it because it is so easy to find your way and you can always go back to the former page. The structure and layout are well known to the user because it reminds of other types of information media and the tree structure is the most used structure in the construction of web sites. However, it can be discussed if hypermediacy can ever be absent in a digital text. Every time you click onto a new page you are reminded of the fact that this a computer, because of the time it takes to download the different pages – even though it takes fairly short time on this web site, since no animations or videos e.g. are included on the site. Another element which creates hypermediacy is the many stories from other sites which the user can click onto. When you click on a link a new window shows and when you have read the story you have to close the window before you can return to the original web site. This destroys the immediate feeling of being part of the text.
To sum up, this web site is very user friendly in its form, structure and layout and the function of this is a professional and trustworthy image of the Make-A-Wish Foundation International. The web site contains elements and focuses on the same message as the advertisement, so continuity also exists between the two texts.
References: McIlvenny, Paul & Christensen, Jørgen Riber. Compendium: Media Analysis. 2005. Engelsk Aalborg Universitet. Institut for Sprog og Internationale Kulturstudier.
1 Last consulted on October 31
2 The mission of Make-A-Wish Foundation International is to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening diseases around the world.