Decoding adverts with Judith Williamson

We are directed towards Judith Williamson’s ‘Advertising’ articles in the Source photographic review journal, and one example is available for download on the oca-student website. On the basis of that example, I have subscribed to Source

The example is her deconstruction of an advertisement for an Apple iPad, showing a small girl reading from her iPad in a darkened room. Overall, the effect is almost reverential or religious – an impression that reinforces to concept of ‘Apple evangelists’ in the days when Apple was a niche manufacturer. Williamson comments on the lighting (lit to appear that the iPad is the sole source), composition (with the iPad held high, the girl is lit from above and the impression is one of ‘annunciation’) and the other signs giving Apple’s message about Design as a concept elevating their products out of the ordinary.

Williamson then looks at the text and draws contrasts about the privileged position of the users of Apple products with the Chinese child labour that produces them. This is an aspect that will quite escape the layman reader of the advert.

I was inspired to research Williamson further and found an online extract (some 15 pages) from her 1978 work, Decoding Advertisements, Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. In this extract, she looks at 16 adverts and dissects them in the language of semiotics. (I have to confess that semiotics is currently, at this end of the module, a foreign language to me – a position to be corrected over the next few months) I found the explanations down-to-earth and easy to follow, although I am sure that the book (I have ordered a copy) will repay further study later in this course.


Williamson, J. (1978) Decoding Advertisements, Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. London: Marion Boyars [extract online at],%20Decoding%20Advertisements%20smaller.pdf (accessed 9/2/2017)

Williamson, J. (s.d.) Advertising, Apple [referenced online at] (accessed 9/2/2017)


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