Posted in Contextual Studies

Semiotics + Advertising

Semiotics is the study of signs, symbols and signification. It is a study of visual culture which communicates imagery. It is traced back to the likes of Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Pierce. Image analysis is understanding the meaning of art behind the aesthetic feature.

Semiotics uses two major aspects – the signifier and the signified. The signifier is traditionally the word or image being studied, whilst the signified is the meaning behind it. For example, take the word OPEN on a door sign. The signifier is the word, the signified is that the shop is open for business, meaning you would walk into the shop. You could however have the same signifier, OPEN, on the door of a train, but a different signified, being that you would push the button. This shows that the signified is sometimes different based on the context and environment surrounding the signifier, based on particular existing knowledge that you have about it.

Sean Hall is an author who published the book “This Means This, This Means That”, to describe semiotics and the way it is used to communicate ideas. One of his interpretations in this book gives evidence to how knowledge affects the signified meaning. His theory was about the painting of Adam and Eve, painted by Lucas Cranach. The image suggests that the apple in the tree (the signifier), stands as a refkection of temptation (the signified). However, in the bible, there is never any mention of an apple, only the word fruit so that maybe false information. It’s only due to the already well-established connection that we have in our minds between the appearance of an apple and the idea of temptation, making the painting successful at communicating this concept. (Hall S., (2012), This Means This, This Means That, pp. 23-24, Second edition, London, Laurence King Publishing). The Nina Ricci advert for the fragrance “Nina” shows an apple on the tree, similar to the Adam and Eve story, showing again temptation but in terms of advertising to make the audience buy the product. b13db2dc78474ae2b774907535477441The apple is the only apple left on the tree, implying that it is a special apple. The catch line for the advert is “the new magical fragrance”. This shows connotations of fairy tales and magic, particularly stories like Snow White, where the apple is magic but, in contrast, is evil. The colour pallet of the image also backs up the idea of fairy tale and princess, using colour that could insinuate themes of lust, beauty, purity and innocence. The colour of the dress of the model in particular helps to bring out the colour of the product and the set up of the image gives it a luxurious atmosphere, making the audience feel as though this is a luxury product.
DKNY also uses the signifier apples, the signified also temptation but it is reflected in a slightly different visual manner. The colours show themes of lust and passion, and shows a provocative storyline which also reflects this. The model positioning shows connotations of sex and attraction between the characters as she is straddling him. This is also a very masculineDKNY Red Delicious pose which shows dominance and sexual tension. The apples could also represent New York as it is commonly nick-named “the big apple”. The water droplets on the apples also replicate ideas of lust, passion and also temptation, which is again picked up by the strap line “take another bite”.

In the J’adore Dior advert, the image uses a gold colour pallet which has connotations of elegance and richness. The model is at the top of the visual hierarchy, even though the product being advertised is perfume. This is because women will aspire to be like the model and it gives the perfume a link to the luxurious lifestyle of which the model is portraying. The model’s face is emphasised, giving particular focus to the eyes, making it look as though the model is looking at the audience to engage with them and almost intimidate them into buying the product. The advert, I believe is meant to appeal to women as they would aspire to be like the model and would see this as an “idealic” way to live, twisting the ways women wish to look at lifestyles and the way they are perceived. JADOREDIORSaying that, some men may feel attracted to the women as she is the stereotypical “beautiful blonde”, so could be attracted to the product also. Another example of how semiotics is used in the image – the signifier being the model and the signified being buy the product.

There are many methods and techniques of persuasion used in advertising. Another method is using history within advertising to give the product connotations of wealth, upscale leisure and cultural value. For example, the Grey Goose vodka advert suggests cultural value through it’s association with fine art, particularly french cultures which suits the product as it is produced in France. (Sturken M. and Cartwright L., (2009), Practices of Looking, An Introduction to Visual Culture, pp 275, Second edition, New York, Oxford University Press) We know this based on existing knowledge, evidencing what was stated near the start of this write up. However, the connotations of the pear can mean different things to different cultures. In Greek and Roman mythology, pears are sacred to three goddesses which gives it a sense of being precious and blessed by God. The ancient 1ba2893f77ef5e7d359b2695e5ff8fc5Chinese believed that the pear was a symbol of immortality as pear trees live for a long time. In Chinese the word li means both “pear” and “separation,” giving the product a sense of ever-lasting and could give connotations of how the pear vodka can seperate you from reality. (Unknown. (2013). Fruit In Mythology. Available: Last accessed 12th October 2015) The pears in the image could be seen to symbolise themes of affection, inner peace and wealth, giving it a warm, comforting feeling that you would then associate with the product. The set up of props in the image give an overall feel of luxury and upper class to the product, giving it a certain lifestyle that would appeal to the audience which would be of an adult range as it is alcohol. French is quite an elegant language that is associate with romance which also adds the sense of luxury to the product.


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