An advertisement must project cultural “rules” shared by its audience for its messages to be decoded successfully. Advertisements tend to follow a normal narrative that can be subconsciously recognized by its viewers. This unthreatening, repetitive formula allows the audience to connect the advertisement’s signifiers to the brand or product being advertised. This process of abduction relies on the viewer’s familiarity with society’s preexisting notions of norm. A typical model of this narrative is of the nuclear family containing a housewife mother, manly father, jock sons, and princess-like daughters. In advertisements, family is represented by heterosexual Caucasians. This pattern reflects the morals and opinions of what an ideal family is by the majority of our society.

            The new Amazon Kindle Paperwhite television advertisement stands out from the hundreds of thousands of ads society is submerged in daily. The ad is “shocking” because it features homosexual husbands. Although this showcase of homosexual husbands in a major ad campaign seems very revolutionary and forward, the advertisement still relies on the normal narrative to introduce this newer representation of family in a major ad.

            The location of this ad is poolside at an exotic, tropical resort. This location “transfers abstract symbolic qualities to products,” those qualities being wealth and luxury (184). This setting appeals to the ideal vacation escape, which is only accessible to middle class or wealthier audiences. This setting is used to indicate to viewers what type of person uses the new Kindle. The Kindle Paperwhite has a price tag of over one hundred dollars, therefore exiling the customers who are on a budget. Roland Barthes critiques this saturation of high-class portrayals in advertisements as making “ruling-class dominance appear natural, distorting the material relations of capital in a blanket of ideology” (164). This representation, along with the majority of advertisements’ class representations, does not accurately showcase the average person’s lifestyle and leisure activities. The ad shows the man and woman relaxing by the pristine beaches. The woman leisurely reads her Kindle, whereas the man is visibly frustrated with the glare on his iPad-like tablet. This is the main problem that the Kindle is trying to cater to with this ad: tablet glare affecting reading outdoors. This problem caters to a very specific audience: one with leisure time to read outdoors and with monetary assets to purchase a Kindle and its accompanying e-books. The ad therefore attaches these qualities of an escape, relaxation, and luxury to the new Kindle product.

            In order to successfully integrate this new narrative into the ad, Amazon had to use the least threatening actors. Middle-aged, middle upper class, Caucasian, married and monogamous individuals are the narratives that dominate advertisements. By using these male actors that align with the dominant narratives, Amazon can ease the viewer into accepting the homosexual narrative. This use of a non-heterosexual couple can be seen as forward and progressive for the advertising world; however, it still only exists under strict ideals of acceptable moral norms. The ad relies on the viewer’s familiarity with the societal norm of heterosexual men buying drinks for women as a ritual of sexual courting. The ad plays with this stereotype that results in the viewer creating “inferences about the relationship of the individual” (190). The ad creates shock by revealing the presumed suitor of the woman as a married homosexual man. This interrupts the expected narrative of a man buying a woman a drink. This interruption of the anticipated narrative makes the ad memorable.

            This ad not only showcases the Kindle Paperwhite’s superior glare technology, but more importantly aligns the product with pro-gay movements. Supporting marriage equality is viewed as a progressive, forward thinking, and advanced. This ad hopes to align the Kindle Paperwhite, and Amazon as a brand, with the same characteristics. The commercial is successful, as it has generated buzz thanks to its “shock” value. Compared to its contemporaries, this ad is progressive due to a company as large as Amazon utilizing a homosexual narrative. What is more astonishing than this commercial’s “shock” value is that this homosexual narrative is still considered shocking even while the ad still follows the formula of widely accepted norms.

Works Cited

Leiss, William, Stephen Kline, Sut Jhally, and Jacqueline Botterill. Social Communication in Advertising. Third ed. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

-Connor K