Reducing decoding variations - enhancing the resonance effect of advertising communication
The ideal communication effect is produced when both the encoder and the decoder are located within an identical semiosphere and the decoder deciphers the codes entirely in accordance with the intended meaning of the encoder. But in communication practice, the chances for such an ideal outcome to take place are slim. This is because, by undertaking his encoding, the encoder has only completed the step of “producing” the information, and, in those steps of “circulation” and “consumption,” the information is not entirely under the control of the encoder. This makes it possible for the encoder to enjoy a certain degree of “latitude.” Hall believes that “the codes of encoding and decoding may not be perfectly symmetrical. The degrees of symmetry - that is, the degrees of ‘understanding’ and ‘misunderstanding’ in the communicative exchange - depend on the degrees of symmetry/asymmetry (relations of equivalence) established between the positions of the ‘personifications,’ encoder-producer and decoder-receiver. But this in turn depends on the degrees of identity/non-identity between the codes which perfectly or imperfectly transmit, interrupt or systematically distort what has been transmitted.”44 This means that the higher the consistency between the codes of the encoder and the decoder, the more easily comprehensible the information; on the contrary, the higher the inconsistency, the greater the misunderstanding of the information. Therefore, in the cross-cultural communication of advertising, in order to enable the audience to capture the intention desired by the communicator with greater accuracy, it is necessary to carry out encoding by taking into account the codes in the existing semiosphere of the recipients. Reducing variations in decoding would certainly mean minimizing potential misunderstandings.
As pointed out above, to shape the corporate image, it is necessary to construct and reinforce certain signifying relationships in the corporate symbol and this process needs to make use of other symbols in order to achieve the transfer of the con- notateur’s meaning. But this transfer of meaning would not occur on its own accord; it depends on the interpretation performed by the audience, the decoding which the audience actively undertakes in order to “reproduce” a certain meaning. As shown in Fig. 1.21, in order to make possible the transfer of connotateur’s meaning, a prerequisite is that the meaning of the symbol E has become a consensus in the present-day society so that the audience can accurately decipher its meaning within its particular semiosphere and transplant it onto the symbol E’. This is exactly the general communication mechanism inherent in the celebrity endorsements. In Fig. 1.23, it is shown that China Mobile has chosen the pop star Jay Chou to endorse its mobile brand M-Zone. Jay Zhou was chosen because M-Zone is a brand aimed at the younger generation as its key target customers, and Jay Zhou is primarily known for his “youthful, fashionable and dynamic” image, enjoying extremely wide popularity and influence among the younger generation in mainland China. This makes it easier for this group of consumers to voluntarily transplant E1 Jay Zhou’s con- notative signified C2, those “youthful, fashionable and dynamic” qualities, onto the signifier E1’, the M-Zone. In this way, the decoding process is successfully completed. However, if the audiences are not familiar with Jay Zhou or if they have a different evaluation of him, then this transfer of meaning would be highly unlikely. As a result, variant decoding would ensue, and the image of the enterprise’s brand would be difficult to construct or to be communicated successfully.
In particular, in a consumer society, whether or not meaning can be created exerts a direct impact on the materialization of a commodity’s symbolic value. Consequently, more and more advertisements have given up the discourse of
Figure 1.23 The Communication Mechanism of Connotative Signification of M-Zone Endorsed by Jay Zhou direct “buying calls” in favor of lyrical narratives whose “critical task is to design the package of our stimuli (ads) so that it resonates with information already shored within an individual and thereby induces the desired learning or behavioral effect.”45 Here, the idea of “resonance” actually has something in common with the notion of “the resonance of metalanguage” analyzed above. When the public is exposed to a new corporate symbol, they will automatically associate it with the symbols they were exposed to in the past, thus engendering an even richer series of associations. By constructing new symbolic texts, advertising seeks to “create pleasurable emotions that will be triggered when the product is viewed in the marketplace.”46 In this way, the existing social experiences of the audiences are brought into full play, and they would actively use those experiences to fill in and enrich the meaning of the text. In the process, the audiences become the ultimate constructor of the meaning of the advertisements. This mechanism is fully congruent with the claims proposed by the Reception Theory in aesthetics,47 which argues that the reading and interpretation by the audience is a crucial step in completing a work of art. In this light, advertising can constitute a complete process of communication only when it is decoded and consumed by the audience. In their interpretative act, if the audience transfers his or her sentiments and fantasies into an advertisement and produces a kind of empathy, a “resonance” effect would emerge from this advertising communication. The audience would even unconsciously inject more and more nice associations and meanings into a commodity and make the advertisement’s semantic domain be strewn with ever-richer implications. What should be pointed out is that such an extension or expansion of meanings is not the same as the misreading or the distortion of the meanings. Even if the audience incorporates plenty of his or her individual experiences which somehow distort the equivalence between the codes encoded and the codes decoded, they nevertheless would keep on the same track.
Semiosphere and specific codes provide both the communicator and the audience with a system of meaning or, more precisely, a frame of reference for the generation of meaning. Within this system, the audience would demonstrate a certain degree of consensus and a relatively unified understanding concerning certain cultural symbols. A large part of this consensus has been naturalized, becoming a kind of truth in the public’s cognitive system that is often taken for granted. Although the consensus consists of social sanctions developed out of the ideology of particular social classes, it is nevertheless those sanctions that make it possible for connotative signification, metalanguage and other meaning-generating mechanisms to function and operate, which in turn facilitate the transfer of the symbolic meaning, the reconstruction of the signifying relationships, and the ensuing birth of the mythologies of communication.