Semiotic & Feminist Analysis

1. What is meant by Semiotics?Semiotics is the science of signs. It helps us better understand how messages are constructed through different media forms like still images, film, television and other works of art. It is the study of social production of meanings using sign systems which helps us understand how certain things come to have certain meanings. Semiotics was developed as a method of analysis by 20th century by linguistic theorists such as Saunders Peirce, Ferdinand de Saussure and Roland Barthes.

According to Saussure, the fundamental unit of meaning was the “sign”, which is anything that makes a meaning. There are two elements of a sign, the “signifier”, and the “signified”. The signified is the object, image, word etc. that signifies.

The signified then is the concept conjured up or suggested by the signifier. For example, seeing an image of a red rose (the signifier) might make one think of St Valentine’s Day (the signified). The most basic form of sign is “denotation”, the literal meaning of a sign, e.g.: the word “rose” signifies an actual flower. “Connotation” then is when a signifier is used for a second or third signified. Signs can link or “connote” something by association. A second signified for the red rose might be romance. If you changed the colour to white, then the signified could be marriage. Finally you have the “referent”, which is the actual physical object referred to by the signified and signifier together.

The American linguist CS Pierce later added to Saussure’s theories. He defined a sign as a “stimulus pattern that has a meaning” (L103, 2000) by identifying three Sign types: * Symbol: a signifier that doesn’t have any resemblance to the signified. This means that the relationship between the two is arbitrary and has to be learned before it can be understood: e.g. languages, numbers, national flags, road signs, etc.

* Icon: a signifier that’s perceived as being similar to or imitating the signified, as in looking, smelling, sounding, feeling or tasting like it: e.g. cartoons, paintings and portraits, metaphors, onomatopoetic words like “splash”, “pop”, or “bang” or sound effects. * Index: a signifier and a signifier which are directly connected to one another in some physical or casual way. For example, a red traffic light indicates that you need to stop your car, pain in your body means you are unwell, a clock will indicate what time it is, etc.

2. Semiotics in Print Advertising

Advertising uses semiotics to construct an image of a product and present it in a way that appeals to us, the consumer. The consumer world is a web of meanings among consumers and marketers woven from signs and symbols ensconced in their cultural space and time” (Mick, 1986). Within any advert you have logos, brand names, packaging designs, etc., which all have layers of meaning and signs. Semiotics is what we use to study these signs ad meanings and interpret the message of the ad from them.

All adverts have a surface and an underlying level to them. Signs are used on the surface level of the ad to create a certain and easily recognisable image for the product in the ad. In the underlying level you have logos, colours, images, words and slogans all combining to create hidden meanings that we as the consumers must learn to interpret. An example of this is the Special K ad below. In all their advertising campaigns and in all their branding, Special K make use of the colour red, so they’ve constructed over time a certain and easily recognisable image for their product.

They achieve this also with the distinctive font for the letter K in their logo, and the red colour also serves to catch the audience’s eye and draw them in. The image in the ad shows a woman in a close-fitting formal red dress. She’s slim, young, attractive looking with loose hair. From her pose it seems like she’s in the middle of a twirl, looking down to admire herself in the dress. The colour of the dress is referred to in the tagline “Dare to wear red”. Special K is marketed towards women who want to lose weight while still getting a proper breakfast.

The message coming from the ad is that if you eat Special K, it makes you slimmer. When you’re slimmer you’re more confident, and ergo you have the confidence to “Dare to wear red”. So not only does this product make you look better, it makes you feel better too. This idea, that the product advertised makes your life better, is used in all types of ads for all types of products. It’s a standard of the advertising industry. Semiotics is the building blocks used to get this idea across to the consumer.

Semiotic Analysis of Ad1. IntroductionThe ad I must analysis for this project is an ad by Volkswagen for the Volkswagen Polo. In the foreground of the image you can see a laptop that has a drink spilled across the keyboard. This has damaged the laptop, indicated by the warning symbol on the screen. In the background is a Volkswagen Polo with a small girl in the back seat who appears to be hiding there. It seems she was the one who spilt the drink over the laptop, and she is now hiding in the back of the Polo from the owner of the laptop, possibly her mother or father. Below the image on the left is the tagline of the ad, “The safest place to be. Polo.” and on the bottom right corner of the ad is Volkswagens icon and tagline.

2. AnalysisThe most obvious sign in this ad is the warning symbol on the laptop screen, and there are a number of connotations signified by it in the ad. The first is an indication of the damage to the laptop from the drink being split on it: the laptop has crashed and the damage may be irreparable.

The second indicates the trouble the little girl in the car will be in when the owner of the laptop (her mother or father no doubt) sees the damage she has inadvertently caused. It’s a warning of trouble, both the trouble the laptop is already in and the trouble the girl will be in soon. It also could be referring to possible danger when driving. The car is another sign in this ad. Its main meaning is safety: the little girl is safe in the car after damaging the laptop, her parents can’t get at her to give out and/or punish her for it.

This gives rise to another meaning, that the VW Polo is a safe car in any situation, and that if it can keep the girl safe in this situation, it’s a safe car on the road too. The car also signifes the kind of people being represented in the ad. It’s a small car, not very fast and conservative looking, but still with a bit of class, the kind of car driven by middle class/ upper-middle class people.

The girl herself adds to this representation of the people in the ad. She’s young, between the ages of three and six possibly, indicating that her parents are probably young professionals just staring a family. The laptop as well is another sign of this, it’s new enough, and it could indicate that whoever owns it works from home. So we have our representation of an ideal family a Polo would be suited to: a young middle class/ upper-middle class professional couple with young kids, just starting out.

The background of the ad is in bright and neutral colours. The Polo is also a neutral silver colour. The outdoors part appears to be sunny and brightly lit. It’s also out of focus, which focuses the viewers eye in on the rest of the ad. It’s a cheerful background, with trees and a neat lawn and driveway. In the mid ground of the image are what look like patio doors opening onto where the car is parked. The parts of the house we can see have white walls and pale coloured furniture. All this signifies affleunce, or an ideal house for our upper middle class family represented in this ad, the type of house that a Polo would go with.

3. Conclusion and EvaluationThe message of this ad is that the Polo is the safest place to be when driving. There is no mention or indication of driving in this ad at all but the suggestion of safety and protection is there by showing the girl hiding in the car from her angry parent. There’s also the suggestion almost that if it can protect you in a situation like the one in the ad, then in an accident it’s a doddle.

The target audience of this ad is the kind of family represented in the ad: a young middle class/ upper-middle class professional couple who are just starting out and who have young kids. Volkswagen has always typically advertised their cars as family cars, for ordinary people (even their name: Volkswagen translates to “people’s car”). This is the type of audience being targeted by this ad.

I like this ad, it portrays a funny situation which the viewer is drawn into and it makes one think of the product; it’s memorable and is made so by the humour in the image. I believe this is what makes it an effective ad, because if I had seen it on a billboard on magazine, it’s something I’d remember and describe to someone else, which is what any good advertisers aim to do.

As I said already, the target audience for this advert is young professionals. The obvious influence, and the main aim of the advertisers, would be that when these people go to buy a car for their young family, they will decide to buy a VW Polo because they will think of it as a safe car to drive.

Using Semiotics

Part 2: Feminist Analysis

* What is meant Feminist Analysis?

Feminism basically is a belief in the social, economic and political equality between men and women. It mainly focuses in women’s rights, and there are many different types of feminist ideal.

There have been three “waves” of feminist theory since the 19th century. The first wave of feminism was centred on women’s right to vote, or the suffragette movement, during the late 1800s to the early 1900s in the UK and US, along with improved property and marital rights for women. Second wave feminism began in the 1960s, with the infamous battle cry of “burn the bra”. These women focused on cultural, political and social issues, along with the discrimination of women. Third wave feminism then started in the early 1990s. Its central issues are that of race, social class and sexuality, along with gender violence, and “the glass ceiling” and other workplace issues for women.

Then there is post feminism, which can be classed as either a continuation of third wave feminism through a younger generation of women, or a belief “that feminism has achieved its goals and now it is time to distance ourselves from the movement.” (What is Post-feminism?, 2007) A feminist analysis of the media is basically looking at the media in a critical fashion and focusing on the portrayal of women by the media in general. Women are frequently objectified by media, portrayed simply as objects to be viewed and enjoyed by men.

Men are also objectified by the media, increasingly so in the last few years, but the objectification of women is much more common, in film, television and advertising. This stems from the “male gaze” theory: “more than just being an object of a gaze, the woman in the advertisement becomes what’s being bought and sold: “The message though was always the same: …“‘Buy’ the image, ‘get’ the woman” (Wykes, p. 41). In this way, the male gaze enables women to be a commodity that helps the products to get sold” (FAQ: What is the male gaze?, 2007). Examples of such representations would be: * Sexualized images of women in music videos

* Pinup posters of sexualized models* College girls in Girls Gone Wild videos* Women in pornography* Tabloid “Page 3” models posing topless or scantily-clad.

Women are represented in media as being either innocent, passive and domesticated creatures, known as the Madonna figure, or a seductive, predatory, temptress Eve figure who’s seen to subvert male authority, and both figures are more often than not sexually objectified. These figures are constructed, especially advertising, by using various signs, symbols, indexes, myths and other semiotic tools to create images of women that place the greatest emphasis on beauty, body shape and sexuality. Hair colour, eye colour, expressions, body shapes, etc, are all used in ads with women in them to create an image that fits the product and sells it.

This stems from, and at the same time reinforces, one of advertising’s oldest adages; Sex sells. In 2007, fashion moguls Dolce & Gabbana caused outrage with an ad campaign which showed a woman being held down (seemingly forcibly) by a shirtless man while several other men looked on. It was described as “beyond offensive . . . reeking of violence against women” by the National Organisation for Women. The ad was eventually pulled in several countries due to the controversy, but was defended by Dolce & Gabbana in a statement saying “if one had to give an interpretation of the picture, it could recall an erotic dream, a sexual game.” (Stefanson, 2010) But this is just one small example of how women are objectified.

The ad above was part of a campaign by D&G in spring 2007 with many similar images sexually objectifying women, and men to a degree. Another ad campaign by Dolce & Gabbana was of actress Scarlett Johansson in very beautiful, very sexy lingerie in various suggestive poses. Women are objectified ads for nearly everything; clothes, cars, perfume, jewellery, alcohol, household products, airline tickets and even cameras. Images of women with any kind of sexual connotations, and indeed sex in general have become some of the greatest advertising tools known to the advertising industry. By looking at these kinds of ads through a feminists lens it is easier to see just how wrong they can be, and how wrong the objectification of women is.

BibliographyFAQ: What is the male gaze? (2007, August 26). Retrieved February 29, 2012, from“male-gaze”/ L103, L. (2000, Sept 4). ICON, INDEX and SYMBOL (Short Version). Retrieved Feb 14, 2012, from Mick, D. G. (1986). Consumer Research and Semiotics: Exploring the Morphology of Signs, Symbols, and Significance. Journal of Consumer Research Vol. 3 No. 2 , 300. What is Post-feminism? (2007, August 25). Retrieved February 29, 2012, from