Our assigned variable was public art, ads and signs. As the geographical core of Paris with more than 39 million anual visitors from various social and national backgrounds, Les Halles is the perfect place for such observations. We set out with the goal to answer three questions : how do brands use ads to address and attract a multicultural public? How do designers make signs clear and visible among multitudes of other information and people? And what kind of public art emerges from such a commercial environment?
For the research component, we chose to focus on advertisements, specifically the ways stores in Les Halles use advertisements to appeal to customers. We created two measures 1) how many of the ads were text-only, image-only, screens, and mixed; 2) how many of the ads featured men vs. women and whether they were fully clothed or not .
We chose the third floor of les Halles because it’s a high traffic area. It’s next to the metro entrance, a movie theatre, two libraries, and a gym. People who pass by this floor can have very different objectives, so we would be surveying a wide demographic of people.
Also, since there isn’t any daylight inside Les Halles, there are more screens and lit posters; advertisement seems to be particularly highlighted in this area of les Halles.
One of us focused on the number of posters with text only, image only, or both, because we thought it could show us whether stores chose to appeal to discount shoppers vs more affluent shoppers. We made the assumption that ads with text only appealed to the practicality of customers, since the text was used to inform customers of discounts or specific product names. We assumed that ads with image only appealed to customers with branding and realizing an image or concept. An example of a text-based ad is
from MOA, a mid-low range clothing store promoting a 50% discount off the second article. An example of an image-based ad is from L’Occitane, a high-range lotions and cosmetic store. Mixed (text and image ads) were assumed to be in-between.
We understand that this association isn’t completely reliable, but we thought it would give an overview of the general trend.
Another person from the group took pictures of the ads so that we could compare the men and women ratio, and later we looked at the difference in their representation, like whether they were clothed or unclothed. Swim suits, lingerie, and topless men counted as naked:
otherwise they were clothed:
We went to every store, but only counted the posters outside because we wanted to focus on what everyone sees, and not what only people already inside the shop see.
In our research we surveyed a total of 181 advertisements from 72 stores. In general, the stores used a well-distributed variety of appeals, suggesting a diversity of shoppers targeted. Mixed and image-only were slightly more popular than text-only.
In our analysis of men to women ratios, there were definitely more women than men represented, agreeing with the conception that women are primary shopping targets of stores. There were 48 ads featuring women and 17 ads featuring men. However, what was interesting was that the percentage of naked women to total women (19%) and the percentage of naked men to total men (12%) did not exhibit such a huge difference. We cannot objectively conclude that women are more often sexualized than men since our sample size is not large enough. Also, we noticed that there were only two advertisements that featured minorities in all the advertisements surveyed.
Another interesting observation that came up unintentionally was that women and men were portrayed differently. Women were more often portrayed as models wearing the clothes that the store was selling, while men were more often seen as representing an image, such as that of a father with his child. Here is an example of each.
Here you can see the female modeling the rings MOA is selling.
Here the man is representing a more abstract idea.
In our study we focused on advertisements for manageability reasons. Further research could be directed toward the role of public art in a commercial space.
We believe that there is potential to improve the racial and gender diversity of advertisements in Les Halles. One solution may be to encourage stores to use real-life people in their advertisements rather than models to relate better to consumers and represent a wider demographic. This would relate to the Smart City concept because it involves the citizens playing an active role in advertisement.