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An analysis of the signs and symbols used in Patek Philippe Geneve's "Begin your own tradition" advert.
- MARCH 2007 -
This advert shows a dad helping his son with his homework. This is a common right of passage for many families. The advert stresses conventional family values and the importance of the father-son relationship.
The watch is presented as a precious family heirloom which dads should buy to pass on through the generations. Thus the watch has a purpose beyond its function, a purpose of tradition.
SIGNS & SEMIOTICS
There are limited signs relating to the practical aspects of owning a Patek Philippe Geneve watch. The functional aspect of the watch, which is to show the time, is played down throughout the advert and only referenced in note (12).
The commercial signs of the watch are also largely ignored. Patek Philippe watches are among the most expensive watches commercially available. Revealing the value of the watch in monetary terms would prove detrimental to the priceless message the advertisement conveys.
Attention is first drawn to the two figures in the advert, one man and one boy. The relationship between the two will be investigated later, but it is assumed that this advert, by only featuring two male figures, is targeted at men.
Note (3) highlights the clothes worn by the boy and the man in the picture. The boy is dressed for school and the man is dressed in a suit for work. The suit implies a successful businessman (Na et al. 1999). This is an icon which implies he is from an upper-middle class social-economic categories AB1 (Dibb et al. 2006).
This class context can mean different things to different groups. First, it can be a reference group for others in this category. It might be an aspirational group for those working up to a management position. Such junior managers might perceive purchasing the watch as an indicator that they have reached this social class.
The father here might also appeal as a role model. He is both attractive and well dressed, implying a successful life. He also has a son who is presumably not an unruly problem child. Therefore the father acts as a well-dressed, wealthy man with a bond between himself and his son. By purchasing the watch others might also perceive themselves to have this success.
Use of Colour
This advert uses grey and black to convey its message.
Grey, when not overused, symbolises two things. The first is the practicality and timeless (Tutssel 2000). The second is education and learning (Madden et al. 2000). All of which are well reflected in other aspects of the advert.
The black in the advert represents status and power (Tutssel 2000; Madden et al 2000).
Note (11) shows the two figures in the advert are very close, the child leaning over his work and the older figure watching and/or helping him. This changes the relationship aspect of this advert from a man and a boy to father and son. The picture is also very up close, the two figures fill nearly all the space and the background is blurred.
There is a clear symmetry in notes (4) and (5) between the father and son. This is shown by both figures resting their head against their left arm in an almost identical fashion. This symmetry assists in building the connection between the two. This connection implies not only to relationship but also shared culture, values and social-class.
This symmetry also highlights a major difference between the two. On the father's left wrist is the watch, the child's left wrist is noticeably exposed lacking the watch. Given that the other child's wrist is clearly clothed, the audience is expected to notice this.
At the bottom, in note (10) the positioning of the watch between the two figures implies that there is only time between the father and son. Only time until the son takes the place of the father and, thus, the watch.
Another hint of masculinity can be found by the shapes within the picture. With the exception of the watch, there are no rounded lines suggesting femininity (Blythe 2006), there are however many sharp, angular lines both in the creases of the book, the clothes and the background which suggest masculinity (Blythe 2006).
It is also noticeable that the man is at a slanted angle to the boy. The man is in an upward left to right angle, which denotes upward movement (Blythe 2006) i.e. the progression, from a man to the boy (and thus the inheritance of the watch).
Context of the watch
The positioning and eye-focus of the father and son (both looking down at what is perceived as the son's homework) suggests that father is helping his son with the homework. In a connotative context this suggests the acquisition from father to son of positive cultural values. This places the passing of the watch from father to son in a context as important as education.
Legacy and self-actualisation.
The sentence "Begin your own tradition" taps into the importance of legacy. A popular school of thought in post-modern culture is the desire of men to create a legacy in the latter part of their life (Powell 2005). It would probably be easier though to classify legacy as part of Maslow's (1943) self-actualisation bracket. Regardless, there is a clear attempt in the advert to appeal to men who want to create their own legacy.
"Begin your own tradition" in note (6) implies separatism from society. This separatism makes it acceptable, in a society increasingly conscious about pursuit of material possessions (McLarney and Chung 1999), to purchase an expensive watch. This isn't a purchase for a single individual; it's a timely purchase for the benefit of the whole family.
There is also an individualistic appeal "Begin your own tradition". This advert appeals to men within the nuclear family defined by Greenhalgh (2002). This advert is strongly orientated to idealistic family values.
Notes (9) shows how the advert also works in a collectivist culture. Collectivism, whereby the wellbeing of the group supersedes the wellbeing of the individual (Yeniyurt and Townsend 2003), is inferred by encouraging the individual to look after a watch (at his expense) for the wellbeing of his group.
The words "you never actually own a Patek Philippe" also reduce cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is often experienced after an expensive purchase (Lindsey-Mullikin 2003). After spending a considerable amount to purchase the watch the buyer might experience feelings of regret and guilt. However this potential cognitive dissonance is avoided with the knowledge that he does not own the watch, he looks after it for his son,
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