Images and Ideologies

Got milk?

The famous “Got Milk?” advertisements are not shy when it comes to enforcing ideologies.

Milk makes women become better mothers.Image

Milk makes men grow stronger.


Milk makes teenagers leaner.


These three advertisements appeal to different niche markets, yet they are structured in a similar way. Each advertisement uses an iconic image to target a specific audience and seeks to interpellate viewers based on their adherence to societal ideologies.

In the article “Viewers Make Meaning” the author writes, “For viewer interpellation by an image to be effective, the viewer must implicitly understand himself or herself as being a member of a social group that shares codes and conventions through which the image becomes meaningful.”

The “Got Milk?” advertisements play off of conventions tied to social groups. Women have inherent motherly instincts; men define masculinity in terms of strength, and teenage girls long to whittle away their waists. By buying or supporting products that enforce ideologies through advertisements, we are not buying the products but we are also buying into what they represent. This can take place on both conscious and subconscious levels. For individuals that resist societal norms and stereotypes, these advertisements would be insignificant or perhaps even offensive. How effective are images or advertisements that enforce ideologies of a niche group? Do they segregate the audience?

Images are not the only aspect of advertisements that enforce ideologies. In “Viewers Make Meaning” the author discusses the power of text: “text dictates the meaning of the image and provokes the viewer, in often oblique ways, to look at it differently.”

How would the “Got Milk?” advertisements change if the text were removed from the images?

I believe the advertisements would affect its viewers on more of a subconscious level without the text. We connect a woman holding two children with motherhood and likewise we connect Super Man with unparalleled strength. Even with the absence of text, the viewer would connect the images to ideologies but have a bit more agency in doing so.

It is important to keep in mind that meaning comes forth from a complex relationship between image and text, producer and viewer, and social context. Advertisers sell products through the meanings, yet viewers choose whether or not to accept or buy into that particular meaning. However, this relationship is complex and unbalanced. Certain images give the audience greater agency than others. What aspect of the relationship do you see as the most prominent force that establishes meaning and enforces ideologies in the “Got Milk?” advertisements?


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