The April 2002 issue of Maxim begins with a three-page, fold-out ad for a running shoe. On each page, there is an image with a letter. The first page depicts the shirtless torso of a sweaty man, running and wearing a "Just do it" face, and a large "a". The second page shows the shoe hitting the pavement and a "+ b". And finally, on the third page, a gorgeous blond in a leopard bikini, highlights and all with an "=c" completing the equation.

a + b = c

Okay. I failed high school algebra twice, but this one is simple enough. Let's assume, because it's the most obvious choice, that these variables are substitutions for the images on their respective pages. In this case, the equation becomes:

sweaty man + sports shoe = babe in leopard bikini

From this, you could garner a wealth of meaning. Since the most obvious answer, in this case, is the most boring, let's first take a look at the alternatives:

Alchemy: Take a sweaty man, add a neat sports shoe, mix well, and you can make a hot woman.

Metamorphosis: If you are a sweaty man and you get those shoes, you will become a hot babe in a leopard bikini.

The obvious intent: Okay. The designers of this ad are trying to say, "Wear these shoes, and the girl is yours."

Everyone knows that sex sells. The people who made this advertisement know it, and they want you to know they know it. The designers wanted the man viewing this ad to feel a sort of tacit comradery with them. "Yeah. That's right. We're selling shoes with sex, and you know it, so we're not gonna kid around with you. Here's the shoe. Here's the babe." (Maxim is a men's magazine, thus we can expect the ads to be targeted at men, of course.)

This sort of unspoken "something-in-common" feeling is very prevalent in modern men's magazines, as well as in women's. They basically say, "People of the opposite sex are nuts, aren't they? Yeah. We know how you feel." Although it seems innocent, it is destructive in that it reinforces a gap between two different peoples, in this case men and women, in the interest of selling a product. (Making money.)

There are many other interesting aspects of this ad. Let's go from left to right. The sweaty man is set in a composition intended to make him look powerful. The shot is taken from a lower angle, so we, the viewers, are looking up at him, he is dominating us. He is slender and muscular, with airbrushed highlights for emphasis. The advertisers have opened by creating a subconscious feeling of insecurity, a need, in vulnerable readers, they've opened up a hole, created a conflict.

On the next page comes the shoe. The Product. The product bridges the gap between the insecurities created by the first image and the solution on the final page. The second image is composed of the shoe, a sea of pavement and a flexed calf muscle. The shoe is the only thing in focus, our eyes are immediately drawn to it. The man wearing the shoe has no socks on, which reinforces the perception of him as wild and free. Thus our subconscious perceives liberation from the everyday annoyance of restrictive garb like socks. Now the advertiser has invoked a sense of freedom from day-to-day tedium and tied it directly to the product.

There is another image on the third page, to the right of the shoe and smaller. A couple of tree trunks run up the page vertically, shutting it off from the final page. Tree trunks are hard wood, the advertisers have created the illusion of a barrier. Scratched into the tree trunks are jagged lines, making it seem all the more fearsome.

Across the bottom half of the first two pages is a plain blue field, with the "a + b" printed on them, another barrier. The blue field terminates at the same point the trees do.

So far we have the insecurity, and the shoe. The shoe takes us through a barrier, and we have the woman. We've now made it all the way through with the shoe. All along, subversive imagery has reinforced the simple algebra, "a + b = c".

So then we have what is portrayed by this ad as the prize, the woman. She's kneeling on a bed in what looks like an RV. Her lips are parted in a look of subtle fascination. The final image is tinted more on the blue side, creating a feeling of calm, and it matches the blue field which led up to it, and the color of the pavement engulfing the shoe in the second image.

Something else which I didn't notice until looking at the ad for the third time...The girl seems to be looking somewhere off the frame in the final pic. What's she looking at you say? She's looking right at the shoe. (!) The shoe is important to her.

They make no secret of what they're trying to say. Man has shoe, man gets sexy leopard bikini woman, man lives happily ever after. They show it directly, but the image is a lot stronger and less honest when you examine the persuasive imagery behind the "a+b=c".

To the shoe company, the variables stand for: sucker + shoe = MONEY MONEY MONEY

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