Connotation and Convention

Connotation, or how an object is pictured, is an active process in which the reader applies their knowledge based on rules the reader has learned (Crow 57). Connotation cannot live without convention, or the agreement about how we should respond to a sign (Crow 58).


I recently drove past this billboard and I was immediately taken by the image. The extreme close-up of the red eye initially drew my attention to this billboard. The open black space consuming the other side begged the question of what should/would fill it. I assumed in future weeks, more information would follow this creepy image. I also assumed this being the fall season, it must be an advertisement for something Halloween-related.

Connotation is highly arbitrary in that there is not one defined meaning to a symbol. Yet in this billboard, the advertisers are certainly attempting to lead the viewer in a particular direction with convention, or agreed ideas about darkness/evil/etcetera. The red eye, the dark, almost dirty, skin of the man, the swamp-like covering on his face…we all know these signs lend themselves to something evil and scary. The designer of this billboard is obviously using conventions our culture shares of these symbols.  

This billboard is on the corner of a street I drive daily to get to my house, so the more I drove past and the black remained with no further information, the more I wanted to know what was coming. I totally fell for the hook and bait. Finally, one day the billboard changed, yet to my surprise, it only included a website address. Because I had spent weeks waiting for more information, the website piqued my interest and I had to check it out.


Because of the way this image was pictured (or its connotation) and because of our culture’s agreed ideas and symbols (or convention) of evil and darkness, my assumptions were correct. You can check out yourself.


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