Social Media

The 3 levels of emotionality of a picture: An Instagram example

Today, we will discuss the 3 levels of emotionality of a perfectly branded Instagram photo. I mentioned the subject of this post, an Instagram photo of Leonardo Bonucci, already two years ago on my blog. However, I’d like to add the analysis of the 3 levels of emotionality by Müller (2003), as discussed in an academic article by Ortner (2010).

Why is this important?

  • Brands are always looking for clever and often subtle ways to activate sponsorships or partner brands
  • Increasing volume and quality of social media content
  • Social media is very visual in this day and age and having a good grasp of visual content is essential in marketing and communications

The overall context: Leonardo Bonucci plays for Italian Serie A side Juventus F.C., as well as for the Italian National Team. He is a popular athlete and has a wide reach through social media, as the metrics on the photo attest. Bonucci posted this photo on May 26, 2014, on his Instagram account.

Müller (2003; as cited in Ortner, 2010) states that there are 3 levels of emotionality of a picture:

  • Level 1: Production, which addresses the intended meaning of the picture
  • Level 2: Product, which refers to the inherent meaning, and
  • Level 3: Reception, addressing the subjective meaning of the picture.

Level 1: Production

In regard to the production, we ask ourselves questions such as ‘What is the picture for? Cartoon, documentary, or something else? What channels will it be transmitted with?’ and so on.

This particular picture documents a family-moment between Juventus defender Bonucci and his son. The picture is posted in a square-format on Instagram, which at the time was the only format available on that channel. The picture was edited with a filter that boosts warm colours, and it was taken with a lens that does not add depth. It is safe to assume that it was taken with a regular cell phone camera and posted directly on Instagram.

Given the positioning of the different brands, we might assume that the ‘intended meaning of the picture’ is subliminal advertising, even though, the photo might have been shot as an authentic family photo without any marketing or sponsorship thought in mind. However, it is a great example of how companies could use sports celebrities and social media to market their products and their brand through sports.

Level 2: Product

This step answers questions such as, ‘What is shown in the picture’ and ‘What emotive features does the picture bring forward’?

The picture shows Bonucci wearing sports clothes from Nike – running shoes, short pants, and a sweater. Nike was at the time the technical gear supplier of Bonucci’s club, Juventus F.C. The positioning of the Nike swoosh on the pants and the way the logo faces the camera is very adequate for an actual marketing campaign.

In addition, Bonucci’s son sits in a toy car from FIAT. The toy car is a FIAT Cinquecento (500), an iconic model in the car-maker’s catalog that has been enjoying a renaissance period. Juventus, Bonucci’s employer, is sponsored by Jeep, which is owned by FIAT. FIAT has a strong connection with Juventus because the president of Juventus, Andrea Agnelli, is also on the board of FIAT. Here we have another potential sponsorship connection with the picture.

Level 3: Reception

The third level of emotionality of this photo is concerned with the reception of the emotion, or, the subjective meaning of the picture. Put in a question, we ask: ‘What emotional effect does the picture have on its recipients?’

The picture evokes positive emotions, which is validated by the chosen hashtags (see photo). It can be assumed that the branded objects such as the Nike pats, Nike shoes and the toy car by FIAT, were carefully positioned. If that’s not the case, the picture certainly adds positive emotions to the mentioned brands carried forward by the arguably positive and emotional situation depicted by Bonucci and his son.

The 3 levels of emotionality of a picture: An example of Bonucci's Instagram

In closing

Even though Müller’s model seems rudimentary and obvious, an objective and informal analysis of social media footage shows that various brands and companies do not consider these simple three levels when publishing visuals online. Paying attention to these can strengthen the quality of the visuals, which potentially benefits the overall communication efforts on Instagram or social media in general.

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