Exercise – Deconstructing an Advertising Image

The image I took was from a Canadian Living magazine from May 2011.  It is an ad for Febreze Air Freshener.

Febreze Advert Deconstruction
Febreze Advert Deconstruction


If we look at the advert we see a portrait oriented photograph with a scene of a lounge on the upper half of the page. The lounge is spacious, has wooden floors and is painted in a pale blue colour with classical picture panels, chair rail and wainscoting along the walls with an open white door leading to off to a bathroom, the washbasin and shelving above it being visible from the viewer’s point of view. Off-white sofas and easy chairs are arrange conversationally around a wooden coffee table which is on a matching off-white carpet. Green and purple scatter cushions are arranged on the sofas. Next to the sofa farthest from the viewer is a wooden magazine rack similar to the type one would find in the 1960’s with decoupage artwork on the side, with a couple of magazines lying on the floor beside the rack. Orange curtains decorate the window next to this sofa. A pair of sneakers are strewn on the carpet in the centre of the room, the one lying under the coffee table. Between the two easy chairs is a dog’s basket with a grungy tennis ball just slightly behind it. A garment of clothing, probably a jacket is draped over the seat of the easy chair on the left. The curtains, one cushion, the back of a sofa, the jacket, one sneaker and the dog’s basket are all holding up white flags.

The upper image is separated from the lower image by a wavy line. The background of the bottom half of the page is pale blue. Slightly off centre is the statement “7 Odours surrender” with a line below this and the statement continues “to Febreze freshness”.  The statement is written rather like a mathematical division equation and is capitalised. Directly below this is the letter “7” in a gradient blue superimposed over concentric circles of varying shades of blue circles. Arranged around the 7 and the concentric circles also in a circle are the following words: “smelly drapes”, “Rover odour”, “foot funk”, pillow pew”, “mildew ew”, “musty coat”, and “sofa stink”. On the right hand side we see a woman’s hand holding a Febreze aerosol with her forefinger and middle fingers positioned on the trigger. We see the Febreze logo at the bottom right of the page on the aerosol container and to the left of that, the slogan “it’s a breath of fresh air”.

The first thing that struck me about this ad was it’s metaphorical allusion to a war zone. There are seven important repetitive signs,  consisting of the seven  white flags, held by morphed hands (signifiers), which all represent the concept of capitulation (signified) and are also the punctum of the image. A white flag is an internationally recognized sign for peace or surrender and the origin of its use dates back all the way to the Eastern Han dynasty (A.D. 25–220) (1). It is evident from the position of the flags in the room that they are located in various battle zones. Another continuation of the war zone metaphor can be seen in the hand holding the aerosol canister. Proportionally, the hand and the aerosol are the largest subjects in the advert, attracting our attention first. The fact that the aerosol’s trigger head encroaches into the upper half of the image, can be likened to an image of an army tank coming over a hill approaching a battle ground, which, in turn, is suggested by the undulating curve which crests just behind the aerosol.

We have another important metaphor in the aerosol. The aerosol (signifier) is comprised of various parts – a chamber filled with liquid, a trigger that needs to be activated in order to expel the liquid and a firing nozzle head where the liquid is expelled from, rather like that of a gun. The signified completes the sign with the forefingers curled around the aerosol’s trigger in a similar grip to how one would hold a gun.

The statement “7 odours surrender/to Febreze Freshness” is written as a mathematical formula. In his discourse “Myth as stolen Language” Roland Barthes makes the argument that language is always open to interpretation, however ‘when the meaning is too full for myth to be able to invade it, myth goes around it and carries it away bodily. This is what happens to mathematical language. In itself, it cannot be distorted, it has taken all possible precautions against interpretation‘ (p. 132) (2). By writing the statement as a mathematical formula, the advertisers have removed any possible connotation that the reader could have. It is an absolute fact. This connotes that Febreze is the only possible solution to household odours. Again we see the use of military theme is reinforced in the use of the word ‘surrender’.

The number 7 in the Bible is the number of completeness and perfection. We read in the book of Genesis that the heavens and earth, sky, sea and land, vegetation, day and night, animal kingdoms and mankind and a day of rest were created in seven days. Likewise in the book of Revelations  at the end times we see the seven angels with the seven bowls of wrath in Revelations 15:1 I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed’ (3). Whichever connotation we choose to use on the seven odours, the idea that their surrender is totally complete when subjected to a spray of Febreze, is very clear.

The seven types of odours encircle the large blue gradient letter 7 below the mathematical formula. Circles are symbols that represent unity. They are also often seen as protective symbols. In the Boer Wars in South Africa farmers would circle their wagons when making camp or when under attack to ensure the safety of women and children and also to provide cover from which to fire their weapons. A circle can also be seen as a symbol of containment, keeping that which is inside from being released. The enlarging concentric circles behind the letter 7 signify the aerosol’s nozzle head and the powerful spray that is ejected, simultaneously aimed at all seven odours. The alliteration and end rhyme of the words reinforce the name ‘Febreze Freshness‘ . Febreze Freshness connotes a cool spring breeze, while ‘sofa stink’, ‘rover odour’, ‘foot funk’, ‘pillow pew’, ‘mildew ew’ connote a variety of bad smells.

The colour palettes that are used in this advert all support the theme of war and peace. The dominant colour blue speaks of calmness; violet suggests future and harmony. The colour orange reminds us of courage (fitting in with the military theme), while green represents balance and renewal.

On the aerosol’s label, we see the wavy line repeated in the logo. This time the line connotes a fresh spring breeze flowing through an open window and this is confirmed with the statement ‘it’s a breath of fresh air’ written alongside the word Febreze.

Although this advert was featured in a magazine in 2011, it still follows the post-war advertisers’ strategy of aiming the ads at the women. During the war years, women were exposed to propaganda telling them how useful they were, encouraging them to work in munitions factories, and join the Women’s Royal Army Corps, and other important war effort employment to fill the gaps where their men used to work. When women were demobbed at the end of World War II and sent back to domesticity, they lost this feeling of being useful. A new propaganda campaign was needed to make women feel useful again and this is where the advertisers stepped in to fill this gap.

Women were now expected to wage war on germs and dirt, instead of the German army. Even though World War II ended sixty eight years ago,  attitude has not changed much towards manipulating advertising messages aimed at women.

Reference List

Washes Whiter | She’s Not a Moron – She’s Your Wife. BBC 2. Proboy tracker. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frTjLvKITN4 10 Mins, 3 secs.  (Accessed 21 December, 2015)

(1) White flag [online]. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_flag [Accessed 6 January, 2016]

(2) Barthes, Roland (1972). ‘Myth as stolen language’. in Mythologies. New York: The Noonday Press, p 131 – 136.

(3) Seven Angels With Seven Plagues, Revelations 15 – 16 [online] Available from: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+15-16 [Accessed 1 January, 2016]


The Biblical Meaning of the Number Seven [online] The Bible Wheel. Available from: http://www.biblewheel.com/Topics/Seven_Meaning.php [Accessed 1 January, 2016]

Understanding the Meaning of Colors in Color Psychology [online]. Empower-Yourself-with-Color-Psychology.com. Available from: http://www.empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com/meaning-of-colors.html [Accessed 1 January, 2016]

The Secret Language of Symbols [online]. Available from: http://symboldictionary.net/?p=1914 [Accessed 9 January, 2016]


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