“Human intellectual and social life is based on the production, use, and exchange of signs” (Danesi, 2002) As Danesi (2002) states, signs are an integral part of society; from watching television, listening to music, reading, writing or talking, we are engaged in sign based behaviour. This engagement with signs is known as the study of semiotics. Dating back to 460-377BC, with the founder of Western medical science, Hippocrates, coining the term, then known as semeiotics, he described signs consisting of three dimensions; the physical dimension, known as the signifier, the referent, or signified, and the signification (Danesi, 2002). These dimensions only have meaning when “it has someone to mean to” (Williamson, 1978). In the 20th century, semiotic theory was developed by a group of semioticians, linguists, psychologists and cultural theorists, based on the saussurean-Piercean paradigm (Danesi, 2002). First introduced to the public in the 1950’s by Roland Barthes, to describe our mediated culture, semiotics is essential when creating an advertisement. Among other things, semiotics plays a significant role in engaging the intended audience- the buyer. Whether it is the elderly, teens, children, men or women, the placement of colours, text, images and other signs, play a key role in the success of the advertisement (Scott, 1994).
By taking a semiotic approach, this essay will demonstrate how meaning can be created in an audience, by the analysis of two advertisements, and discussing how codes and context are central in the ‘anchoring’ of meaning.
First introduced by Roland Barthes (1977), the notion of anchorage, discusses the linguistic essentials that can help anchor, or constrain, how a reader interprets an image: “to fix the floating chain of signifieds” (Barthes, 1977). The advertisements chosen are from differing and contrasting magazines; the first from iconic fashion magazine Vogue and the other from a men’s magazine, Men’s Health. These differing genres have been chosen to illustrate how contexts and codes within specific social relations, groups, classes, institutions, structures and things (Thwaites, Davis and Mules, 2002) play an integral role in creating meaning (Scribd, 2012). Much of what we have come to understand about society, is learnt from the texts that are presented around us; through Hollywood blockbusters, to novels and magazines. Chandler concludes that “life is thus lived through texts and framed by texts to a greater extent than we are normally aware of” (Chandler, 2001). This means that advertisements not only refer to ‘real world’ concepts that we deal with day to day, but they also make reference to other texts. The level of this ‘intertextuality’ (Fiske, 1987) is what influences social beliefs and ideals in the world we live in.
The advertisement from Vogue (See ad 1) features a sepia- colour scheme, with an alluring female to the right, and a bottle of ‘j’adore Dior’ perfume, to the left. Many signifiers are present in this advertisement; the female (Charlize Theron), is dressed in an elegant gold beaded dress, with a high beaded neckline, drawing the viewers eye to her strong jaw-line and bronzed face. Her pose is that of elegance and power, the background light shining around her slim figure. The colour of the clothing, and overall image, compliment the golden-sepia tone of the bottle of perfume on the left. Chandeliers are placed around the perfume bottle, and out of focus behind the woman. The signifieds present are; the gold dress giving an impression of the woman being a high profile member of society of, chandeliers are present in homes of the wealthy and the sepia tones represent warmth. By using a female of celebrity status, the advertisements appeal rises with the wider female audience, due to her known status. The key connotations featured in this advertisement are; the gold coloured dress connotes wealth,...