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Visual Identities

Jean-Marie Floch
Translated by Pierre Van Osselaer and Alec McHoul

CONTINUUM London and New York


Waterman and its doubles


In this chapter I want to do two things: to work through the problematic idea of identity and also to introduce the kind of semiotics used in the six essays that comprise this book. I decided to do this, simply and concretely, byanalysing a particular Waterman advertisement that appealed to me from the first time I saw l it I'm not referring, then, to its obvious charm or to its humour; rather to its narrative and linguistic richness. Let's start by saying that the advertisement is a story: a story about the differences and similarities between two brothers. By narrating their respective careers - and the part played by aWaterman pen in marking the commonalities between their different paths - the advertisement deals with the question of identity and, in particular, with the question that interests us in this book: the question of visual identity. More particularly it deals with such things as school uniforms, handwriting and (very specifically) the way in which the letter 'W' is drawn - so that the letter itselfbecomes a symbol of 'tWinship' or 'gemellity'. But the 'message' of the advertisement is also an example of linguistic syncretism. That is, by combining writing, photography and graphics (th..u.Qgo) to give meaning and value to a brand-nal1).~...p-~.n, the advertisement itself justifies the kind of semiotic analysis used here. This is because the advert's own purpose is to describe the means by whichmeaning [signification] is produced and ultimately expressed through various signs and forms of language.



This advertisement for Waterman was created by the McCann-Erickson agency. Delangle was the commercial director and Steve Ohler the creative director.





Visual Identities

A segmental analysis of the advertisement
When analysing a writtentext, a picture or any other cultural object/event - for example, riding on the subwa/ or using a particular tool (as we will see later with the Opinel knife) - the semiotician's purpose is, first, to consider it as a whole and then to proceed with a segmental analysis of it, an analysis of the units that compose it. One advantage of working with units is that they are manageable. But first andforemost, by working segmentally, the semiotician should not isolate details arbitrarily or for their own sake but rather should ensure that each part is always considered as a part of a whole. For once an overall 'map' can be established the object in question presents itself as a hierarchy. We will explore this below. The Watennan advertisement (Figure 1) which I'm using to introduce theproble.rnAtif.._ £ identity can, in the first instance, be divided in two more or less Q distinct parts. The first consists of everything that produces a perception of a concrete and material reality for the viewer. That is, we seem to have 'in front of us' a handwritten letter and, as part of the letter, an old photograph and a fountain pen. The second part consists of the typographic text of theadvertisement and the trademark. This part does not give the impression of a direct or immediate reality: rather it reminds us that what we have here is, in fact, only paper, that what we have 'in front of us' is actually just a page of magazine advertising. We can already see, then, that these two parts are manifestations of two different discourses. The first part is the manifestation of a discourse aboutan T. The second is the discoursc9i.)rand names. Indeed, 'th~ photograph, the handwritten text and the fountain pen are part of a single enunciation: the old, unfolded photograph and the Watennan have been placed symmetrically in relation to the handwriting, and the one who calls himself T has also, then, put the pen at the bottom of the letter - Pour notre anniversaire, tu m'as offert ce...
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