When the receivers want to interfere

The interpretation is an important part of the pleasure of being a receiver. And it is neither fun nor flattering to be addressed as if you cannot or do not want to think.

A shot of the good, old needle theory and all the post modernistic nonsense concerning the receivers co-creation and the consumers as the producer cease – and the communication becomes a simple technique, which can be explained in two shakes.


If you have just learned the right tricks, you can shot your message directly into the consumer’s buyer-brains. The straight up tips have for example the slightly euphoric AIDA model been able to deliver in: first of all, find something wild or funny (or wildly funny), which can create attention. Then, when the firm takes on the consumer’s collar, it is about creating Interest, which you with a little solemn poetry allow to grow into a crescendo of Desire – then, you have a hold of the wallet and your advertising will release wild action around the registers (do remember to tell where to be it – or else, all the creative, great efforts will be wasted). To AIDA and her pusher friends, the consumer is a puppet, as the cunning advertisement-man m/f can get to do whatever. In the present ear, this sounds dreadfully plebeian but it was probably not that far from the truth in the consumer society’s childhood. The big hordes of consumers were new in the subject and had never before seen that many products on the shelves – as they, to top it all of, also had been able to afford to buy. Mentally, they were very far from our day’s critically consumer culture – and they almost used the advertisements as guidance in how to behave as a real consumer. The advertisements presented the (consumption’) ideals as the modern consumer society was based on. Today, the consumers are experienced and doubtful – both opposite the products and the advertisements. To the advertising industry, they are no longer just a poodle, but actually often quite stubborn and irritating to deal with. Therefore, there is an increased focus on them as co-producers of the advertising message – and the receivers’ interpretations have become more interesting to the agencies and the companies.


Fortunately there is something called the reception theory

The reception theory is already an oldish discipline within comparative literature where you have never been as cocksure as AIDA on a universal automatic control in the mechanisms of interpretation. Altogether, the reception theory settles with the notion of communication as a completely frictionless transportation of meaning from sender to receiver. On the contrary, it sees the receiver as a somewhat powerful authority in the circumstances of communication. Of course, the message does something to the receiver but the receiver also does a great deal to the message – according to who he or she is. The meaning appears with others through dialectics between the message and the receiver:





Different receivers decode the messages differently, and since the messages in principle do not exist before someone interpret them, there are neither two interpretations that are completely alike. What the messages and the receivers do to each other is the reception-theorists research area. Some of them are wild and extremely facinated by how the receivers can bang up a sender’s message completely – either because they think it is funny to “deconstruct” a text or simply because they do not know how to decode it in the right way and instead they create meaning in their own way. The more reasonable reception-theorists are mostly preoccupied with the fact that a message always offers many different update possibilities, which are not definite misunderstandings, and within those, the individual receiver then implements his or her own version, his or her own reading. This does not mean that the receiver’s reception cannot be controlled in certain directions. But it means that it is more about making the receiver interested in a cooperation concerning the interpretation-project than to try to force a certain understanding of the message. You can forget about the old authoritative sender – because both the consumers and the advertisings have lost their innocence and today, there is nobody who will allow oneself to be dictated anything or be a victim for marketing.


The recipe of (un)interesting communication

Umberto Eco is one of the reception theorists who does not have much for the advertising industry’s notion of the fact that you can organize communication so that it precisely affects an, in advance, defined target group. This way of thinking is suitable for creating downright uninteresting communication products but it does not lead to anything, which moves anywhere, he says: “a target only cooperates very slightly – it just waits to be hit!” When you are very target group fixated and tries to acquire every single expression and every single reference in the message to completely match what you in the basis of all sorts of analysis count on the reader to understand, it is, according to Eco, both an underestimation of the readers and the joy of the interpretation-work – and therefore, it is extremely bad communication. The interpretation is namely a significant part of the pleasure of being the receiver. And it is neither fun nor flattering to be spoken to as if you either can’t or do not want to think. Besides, the conceptions of striking the receivers right in solar plexus are, according to Eco, a gigantic delusion! Because not even the most closed, controlling message can hedge against being “mis”interpreted or abused. In a closed text where the sender with all one’s might endeavors towards there only being one possible reading, the receiver has nothing to do. Therefore, it often happens that the receiver, of pure boredom, begins to contradict the text’s too evident intention and yet “teases” it in order to get some fun out of it. Thus, the interpretation can end with a total destruction of the text’s original meaning. “Nothing is more open than a closed text!” – says Eco straightforward! In an open text, the writer does not try to control the reader in every respect, but instead decides to where and to what extent he wants to seek to have control. What needs to be awakened in the reader is where it is guided towards – and where it should be a totally free interpretation-tale? Instead of trying to control every single detail, the sender will develop a text-strategy, which secures that no matter how many possible interpretations there are, one is consistent with the other. One does not preclude the other but mutually strengthens and supplements each other – and one is not more correct than the other. The interpretation of such texts happens as dialectic between the writer’s text-strategy and answer from the model-reader – and here you maintain the interpretations’ joy. It is this experience you often have when for example you discuss a novel or movie with others. There can easily be different perceptions without it ruining the work – quite the contrary it becomes more vivid and meaningful. The more a text moves away from the instructive function and towards an aesthetic function, the more it will assign the interpretation-initiative to the reader, that is, the more open it will be.

An artwork depends on its receiver to become a full and “complete” text. On the other hand, a manual or a religious lampoon is (hopefully) “complete” from the sender’s hand – they do not depend on any co-creation. Since there is nothing for the readers to do – this type of text neither has fascination-power. As a marketer, you might want to know how you then can guarantee that the interpretation-work does not end up as totally wild interpretations? The answer of Umberto Eco is that you cannot guarantee that. The interpretation is a semiological (that is, interpretative and meaning-creative) activity where more sign-systems always interact and complement each other. And you stitch together a text or a picture by using a strategy, which also reckons with the others (receivers) move. A bit like a game of chess. The author organizes his text-strategy by referring to a row of competences and preferences (like language, knowledge, style etc.), which can give substance to the expressions he uses. In this way, a kind of model-reader is installed in the message. But to presuppose your model-reader is, according to Eco, exactly not the same as segmenting on the basis of market analyses – it is also about building up this model-reader through the text. It happens with all the messages, which you as a receiver believe have been interesting to deal with, because they extended ones horizon. So, if you want to involve your receiver, you cannot only base your message upon the qualifications, which before hand can be identified with the reader. The funny thing about being the receiver is namely that you also get the opportunity to develop new proficiencies. Advertisements rarely take this completely basic joy of being the receiver into account – here they have a lot to learn from art and literature.


Remember to keep a few seats open!

Literary texts differentiate themselves from other texts by a textual-structure, where the reader always is included: “The unwritten parts of a novel are the true interesting” (Thackerey). Of course the meaning is determined by the settings the text gives the interpretation. But the fictitious text usually does not express its intention explicitly. It is composed in the reader’s own imagination – and therefore, it is fun to read novels but not very fun to read manuals. According to one of the reception-theory’s fathers, Wolfgang Iser, the fascinating about the fictional text is that it is characterized by “indefiniteness”. Contrary to the non-fiction text it does not relate to the real world outside it self. So, it is not really anything – than text – and this “indefiniteness” the reader will try to “decide” by getting the text to look like something he knows. This he does by identifying himself with the fictitious universe as the text states and replaces its indefiniteness with definiteness. Beyond the basic “indefiniteness”, which the reader fills in against a background of his own experiencing world, there will during the reading of the fictional text – which exactly does not tell EVERYTHING – also arise what Iser calls “empty spaces”. Empty spaces are the interpretation rooms, which the reader him- or herself has to fill out in order to gain a meaning of the message. (Therefore, a 2. time reading, where you have filled out all the empty spaces once, is always different than 1. time’s readings). With this structure, work of art and fictional texts, give their receivers an offer to be co-creating. To fill in the empty spaces the reader has to mobilize his or hers interpretation competences – if it is poems, often a great deal is needed – and it is them, who can make it really fun to be the receiver. The more open the text is, the more the reader necessarily has to contribute with. The reader-involvement has some clear strengths; the co-creating activity is a big part of the fascination of being the receiver, it is this that makes it fun or exciting or entertaining. In addition, a receiver will look at a message in the right way and defend it at any time when he himself have been profoundly involved in the creation of it. However, if the threshold of tolerance for definiteness is crossed, it can of course cause the reader to opt out because he simply does not get a thing. Is there, on the other hand, to few spaces and is the message too “definite” from the senders side, the risk of boredom is evident – and possible irritation – of the receivers. It is a sin, which many advertising copywriters commit and have committed over the years because they themselves remove all the empty spaces in preparation for securing a unity understanding of the text. By this, they strip the message for all the fascination power and the receiver has not done anything else than “contradicting” the advertisement’s bombastic statements.