Semiotic Analysis of the Rolex

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This semiotic analysis will examine the various sign systems embodied within an advertisement for Rolex (2011). It will also seek to comprehend the paradigmatic value, possible readings, the function of the gaze and mythic ideology present within the primary and secondary signifiers. Consequently, it will be determined how these functions systematically work together to represent an ideology of timelessness and success that the advertisement is intentionally constructing.

Signs and Sign Systems

In this advertisement, the main signifiers are the woman, the Rolex watch and the descriptive text in the left top hand corner. The mode of address specifically targets an addressee who responds to connotations of class, wealth and history.

The sole woman is the dominant signifier represented in the advertisement. As a sign, she is made up of a collection of secondary signifiers: her tight fitted costume, swimming attire (goggles and cap) and the Rolex watch she is wearing. These physical items are strategically placed to address a particular target market. The colouring of the woman’s costume and cap match that of the watch she is wearing. The co-ordination of silver is important as it signifies affluence, prosperity and timelessness. These representations accompany the positional signifiers in the advertisement. The women’s stance suggests that she is above us; her eye level is clearly looking down at the addressee. This particular stance suggests power, accomplishment, and superiority. Through these sign systems, the reader is forced to associate the woman with a syntagm that represents other important, independent and successful womanly figures.

‘This advertisement states: “Rolex. For life’s defining moments.” This statement draws upon the word ‘defining,’ which is a significant representation of the watch’s capabilities both physically and visually. In one sense, the quote is referring to the notion of the Rolex being present during the swimming of the English Channel, arguably one of the 20th Centuries great achievements and it’s involvement with record keeping. In another sense, the use of the word defining suggests that the inference of power, wealth and accomplishment are amplified by the fact the woman is wearing a Rolex. In essence, the Rolex defines her.

Paradigmatic Value

A paradigm is the set of signs from which any given sign is drawn to produce meaning (Study Guide CMM19, p.24). Mercedes Gleitze was the first British woman to swim the English Channel on 7 October 1927. The advertisement is a clear representation of this woman and her achievements. The relationship between the woman and the watch stems back to a Rolex that Gleitze wore during an attempt of the English Channel, which saw her perceived as a heroine for defying doctor’s and critic’s predictions that she would not last the swim. The Signified woman stands to re-create and draw upon this moment in history. Therefore, the paradigmatic value she encompasses is that the same of: champions, feministic figures, workingwomen, historical people etc. If this woman were substituted for a modern famous female, the overall meaning of the text would change as a result. The use of the attractive model that is virtually unrecognizable, allows the addressee to imagine that the women is indeed Mercedes Gleitze in 1927. If it were a known model, actress or alternative figure in society; we would associate modern connotations with the Rolex and possibly relate the values of that watch to that of the substituted woman. As we do not know the woman in the advertisement, the addressee is not distracted by anything else other than what is signified to us by the sign systems.

The Gaze

The gaze is the way someone or something looks at you, and precedes the individual who looks or received the look (Study Guide CMM19, p. 12). In the advertisement the woman is maintaining eye contact whilst looking down at the viewer, as if to signify her superior...
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