Williamson’s describes the interpretive work we perform on ads as simultaneously work on the self.
Nothing [in the ad] even ‘says’ that Catherine Deneuve is ‘like’ Chanel no. 5, or that they have a similar aura. We are given two signifiers, and required to make a ‘signified’ by exchanging them. The fact that we have to make that exchange, to do the linking work which is not done in the ad, but which is only made possible by its form, draws us into the transformational space between the units of the ad. Its meaning only exists in this space: the field of transaction; and it is here that we operate — we are this space.
Even when we aren’t convinced by a particular ad to buy anything, the work changes us. And we are nevertheless tempted to assume that other people are convinced and that from the totality of ads we can deduce social norms and salient lifestyle distinctions that are operating generally, even as we hold ourselves above them. Ads lift us above the other people who are duped by them. That is part of how they persuade us.