BCM 110

The power of subtext in an image

The ad, depicting a person punching the other, with representations of cars on their body. From Terremoto Ad Agency.

Images can be both thought provoking and powerful. Often enough they don’t even need to be filled to the brim with visual information to be a ‘complex’ image. Such is the paradox of layers of subtext. This advertisement was done by Terremoto Propaganda in Curitba, Brazil as a campaign to stop drink driving. You, the reader, should look at this image for yourself and see what you think this image means, and if it’s like what I see! In this image, what I see is a denotation of a man’s hand painted with a green car, who is punching a man who has the signifier of a red car along his cheek. The person being punched is in pain as seen by the contorted facial features. The text underneath reads “Stop the Violence: Don’t Drink and Drive”. At first glance, the contrast of the background and the punching is great way to draw attention, and the saturation draws eyes to the dramatic theme this ad has. This forces the audience to register this as a serious ad and look for message.

Another example of the same ad series from Terremoto

The first layer of signs are physical- The hand and face connecting and the face communicating pain is a representation of a person being punched. Semiotics has led us to associate these objects together in this context. The person is not just placing the hand in front of the mouth for the photo, but the image connotates that kinetic movement is happening and is a signifier.

On the second layer of signs, there are the cars painted on the hand and face and have ‘connected’ because of they have punched each other. This second layer is metaphorical- about representing a car crash within a punch, and letting the audience know via denotations that driving drunk isn’t safe at all. The reaction we have to someone being punched is a good signifier for a car crash. The slogan itself can also have multiple meanings to different people in different ideological positions- the text in white, “Stop the Violence” can reference the punching aspect, and “Don’t Drink and Drive” is relevant to the cars painted on and can be taken as separate statements. By combining all the layered meanings together and the slogan, the likely signified way of interpreting it is that getting drunk can lead to violence and inebriated emotions, to the extent where they will start a fight with someone or get in the car, drive home and get into a car crash. What different conclusion did you draw from this image? Let me know your thoughts below!



Photo of Ads –

Adsoftheworld.com. (2019). Ecovia Print Advert By Terremoto: Stop the Violence, Don’t drink and drive | Ads of the World™. [online] Available at: https://www.adsoftheworld.com/media/print/ecovia_stop_the_violence_dont_drink_and_drive [Accessed 26 Mar. 2019].


2 thoughts on “The power of subtext in an image”

  1. Wow! What powerful visuals and messages behind them. I really loved the way you described the images and the clear vocabulary you used. Another message I gathered from these images is, when you drink drive or speed, you are selfishly not only putting your life in danger but the life of those around you. It’s no secret that both of these reckless acts can take an innocent life, so why do it? I’ll link below another drink driving ad that I think relates to the idea that drink driving affects not just you but those around, p.s this ad will hit you right in the feels https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56b09ZyLaWk


    1. Thank you Kathleen for that response! Yes indeed drink driving is very selfish and irresponsible. I appreciate your link to a similar ad, I watched it and it was very heartbreaking. That poor dog…

      Thanks for your comment!


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