Unseen Text: Chevrolet Volt
Text Type: Print Advert
Guiding Question: How do visual elements such as font, layout and image impact the reader of this advert?
Paper 1 will consist of two texts: if you are a standard level candidate, you can choose which text you would like to analyse; higher level students must write about both. One text is likely to be mostly verbal (lots of words); the other will be a multi-modal text relying on images to communicate meaning. Some images are presented in such a way that they tell a story or create a visual narrative. Your ability to retell this story demonstrates ‘understanding’ (criteria A), while your ability to isolate specific visual elements and explain how they create meaning demonstrates ‘analysis’ (criteria B). Being able to do this in a logical, structured way demonstrates ‘focus and organisation’ (criteria C). The sample answer below has been designed to show you how to achieve full marks in all these criteria. As with any sample answer, this is only one of many ways you might succeed, and alternative approaches can be equally valid.
The given text is an advert for a new Chevrolet car with a difference – it’s an electric car. Chevrolet is a famous American car manufacturer and, in a nation of gas-guzzlers, the ad is hoping to appeal to those drivers who might think twice about the impact of burning petrol on the environment. When published in 2007 this message may not have been as widespread as it is today when there are Tesla cars in every street and charging points in every lay-by. Therefore, the writers of the ad may have felt emboldened with the idea that they were beginning a wave of change, indicated by the word ‘change’ in the slogan and ‘revolution’ in the copy. While aimed at a general American readership, the ad is likely to appeal especially to progressive drivers who care about the environment and want to contribute through making changes in lifestyle and purchasing.
The advert’s composite image consists of four parts: the new car; a lightning bolt; the brand logo; and the Earth. Together, these images form a visual narrative suggesting that, by buying a new car, consumers are helping to protect the environment and save the world. Unlike many texts (which should be read from top to bottom), this narrative is best read in a kind of spiral from the right-bottom corner, upwards and to the left, then back down to the left-bottom corner, where a short block of copy clarifies the benefits of the product. Given the ratio of image to text, it would be fair to say the advert’s central appeal is pathos: the idea of changing the world is an emotive one. Additionally, the second slogan reads ‘An American Revolution’ and the word ‘revolutionary’ is in the copy too. The ad-writers are alluding to the history of American independence and tapping into emotions such as pride and patriotism: Chevrolet is an all-American brand.
Firstly, then, the product is shown in the right-bottom of the text: a brand new Chevrolet Volt. The car is silver, a colour that can symbolise money, as if the car can bring status to the buyer. The lines of the car are sleek and clean, it looks modern and desirable. The image contrasts with the black background in a visually appealing way that stands out and grabs attention. The car is angled diagonally, seeming to thrust itself out of the text and into the viewer’s eye. This 3D effect implies the size and power of the car in a way that should appeal to car lovers. The only detail that is different to typical images of big, powerful cars is the charging cable that hangs out of where the fuel tank should be. The ad-writers are hoping to persuade the reader that this is the only meaningful difference between electric and standard car models; therefore, an electric car can be a status symbol too.
Positioned above the car is a striking, stylized lightning bolt. This graphic denotes electricity, which is an important feature of the advert. Many consumers can be sceptical about electric cars, believing they are not as fast and powerful as regular cars fueled by petrol. This ad tries to counter this idea using the lightning bolt, which is presented in a dramatic way. It is jagged and powerful, an idea the writers want to associate with the car. Above the bolt is the logo of the ad: the cross represents Chevrolet brand and ‘Volt’ is the name of this electric model. The colour scheme of the logo is gold and blue, both eye-catching colours. Again, gold can connote ideas such as wealth, class and status. Blue signifies electricity which is the dominant idea in the text. The name of the car is a pun: ‘Volt’ is short for ‘voltage’, connoting electrical power. The logo is both simple and memorable, standing out against the black background.
The final element of the visual narrative is an image of the Earth cupped in a pair of hands. This image symbolises protectiveness: therefore, anyone who buys a Chevrolet Volt is helping to protect the Earth. Ideas such as ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘caring’ are also signified by this image. By itself, the image is a little ambiguous so, in order to anchor the image, the slogan in superimposed over the Earth: ‘Charge the battery. Change the world.’ The slogan connects the different parts of the image together; it is basically an ‘if.. then..’ structure: if you buy the car, then you are helping to protect the environment. By eliding the grammar words ‘if’ and ‘then’, the slogan becomes an imperative, which is more persuasive.
Of course, like many adverts, the success of these images lies in advertising claims which are not necessarily true. Firstly, the idea of ‘changing the world’ is a vague and unfinished claim. How exactly will this purchase change the world? No statistics or specific information is provided. Vagueness can also be seen in the copy that accompanies this advert: phrases such as ‘most radical departure’ and ‘many technologies and innovations’ are both vague and contain the weasel words ‘most’ and ‘many’. Secondly, the juxtaposition of the two parts of the slogan is an example of the association fallacy or red-herring fallacy. The reader is encouraged to connect buying a new car with helping the environment – but close reading cannot support this connection. In fact, the two sentences are separated by a full stop, which does not imply a connection. Finally, the idea of ‘change the world’ is a glittering generality; it is hard to argue against the idea that we should want to make the world a better place. It is, however, debatable that purchasing a new car – even one powered by electricity – will help in any meaningful way.
Categories:Paper 1 Analysis