Introduction to Media Studies
The theory of semiotics states that the process of making meaning of the text is complex and involves signification and address. Signification is a term used to describe the process of reading signs. In semiotics, ‘signs’ is the term used to denote the elements of language, i.e. words. Any language is a complex sign system. At the same time, there are sign systems that are simpler. These are colours, for example. Through the use of colours, a message can well be conveyed, based on the meanings of these colours in specific cultures. For example, red is used to signify a warning or passion in Western cultures, while green is definitely a colour of nature and harmony. Clothes and personal possessions can act as one more language to convey things about people. Thus, meaning is created not just by linguistic signifiers, e.g. written words, but also by images or various non-linguistic sounds. In respect to this, images function as similar means to language (Marshall & Werndly 2002: 36).
Signification as the process of reading signs includes denotation and connotation. (Marshall & Werndly 2002: 16). Denotation refers to text comprehension and interpretation through decoders while referring to pertinent codes. In decoding, it is suggested that a reader is involved in active construction of the meaning rather than just taking it out from the text. Connotation refers to a variety of socio-cultural associations that emerge in the process of a reader’s decoding of the text (Chandler 2002).
Address is a term used to describe the modes of address or “explicit and implicit ways in which aspects of the style, structure, and/or content of a text function to position readers as subjects (‘ideal readers’) (for example, with regard to ethnicity, age, class, gender, and ethnicity) (Chandler 2002). The concept of address includes degrees of directness, degrees of formality, as well as narrative perspective and markedness that are characteristic of one form of address, which is compared with some other (Chandler 2002). ‘Addresser’ and ‘addressee’ are terms that describe the sender and receiver of any message. Within the text, addresser and addressee may also be understood as “an authorial persona” and “an ideal reader” respectively. As for the ideal reader, this is typically “a model reader” whose way of reading can well be justified in relation to the text (Chandler 2002).
Having reading the signs of the given advertisement, one may come to the following conclusions. The advertisement relies heavily on the photographic imagery effect. It makes use of numerous signifiers that publicise the brand’s identity and creates the image according to the text message. Key signifiers are the iconic image of the advertised product on the bottom left and beside the couple, as well as the blue and grey colour theme. In the centre, one may find a couple: a man and a woman. They are photographed in a sexually attractive stance. The woman is wearing a mini skirt and a top; the man is wearing a grey shirt and trousers. Possible representations: the background represents a resort at night. The subjects’ positions represent an evident heterosexual relationship. The woman’s clothes represent casual clothes that may be worn during summer heat, and her outfit is very open. The man looks more sophisticated, with his trendy shirt and trousers. Connotations: both subjects and the background in the image connotate that the man and the woman are about to have a sexual activity after having walked by the seaside.
Naturalized meaning: background as well as outfit and the sea theme signify the significance of sexuality and passion.
The text has its own meaning (pleasant start of a sexual activity). The sea theme enforces the sensuality subject. Although the concept of “beginning” in the text may be interpreted in various ways, one created here is the beginning of a heterosexual relationship between the representatives of two sexes. Thus, the word beginning gets a particular meaning in the advertisement. Both subjects’ appearance and positioning serve further signifiers of the theme of the advertisement and hence of the product. The text does not say at whom the advertisement is directed, but the position and the status of the man and the woman add one more layer of meaning. The product is not for anyone, but for those males and females that are at the peak of sexual activity and are heterosexual. So the construction here is rather social than natural. Importantly, the advertisement’s text does not have its own meaning. The difference of the text’s font at the top from the product’s name at the bottom signifies that the advertisement represents not just the name of the brand, but its logo, too. To add, the iconic image of the chewing gum aligns with the rest of the advertisement’s signs and with the advertisement’s colour theme. This helps to avoid distraction from the advertised product.
As for the authorial choices, metonymy is used: the young couple in intimate relationship on a beach is a metonymy for a range of people that fall into the same social categories (Marshall & Werndly 2002: 34). The author has also used metaphor here. While metaphors are thought to merge two seemingly divergent images or concepts attempting to create symbolism, this advertisement’s metaphor deliberately dramatizes the advertising effect through personalization of the product (Joseph n.d.). Stating that the chewing gum is as fresh as arctic chill, the advertisement makes us believe that this fresh arctic chill in our breath is a guarantee of our successful sexual relationship. Anchorage, which is defined as the text (for example, a caption), which creates the link between the image itself and its context to provide relevance to the audience, is used here as well (Sells & Gonzalez n.d.). Specifically, anchorage in the given advertisement (“ice at its coldest” or “arctic chill”) directs us to the intended meaning of the advertisement. However, for the anchorage, the meaning of the advertisement would not have been clear (the advertisement has a clear sexual connotation).
From the analysis of the given advertisement in terms of address, it becomes clear that “an ideal reader” or addressee, in this case, is a Caucasian male, in his early or mid-twenties, not married, representative of middle-class and engaged in white collar work. Just because the advertised product does not state directly that it is aimed at men, one may also suppose that it is aimed at women, too, in particular those in their early to middle twenties, Caucasian, and middle-class. So women are also the addressees of the advertisement. Hence, the male-female audience seems to be the overall addressee here.
In terms of directness of address, the advertisement does not address the addressee directly since there is no direct gaze at the potential consumer; besides, the advertisement’s language does not address the receiver directly by the use of “you” (Chandler 2002). Just as all advertisements differ in terms of their formality and implied social distance, this one may be characterized as a medium two-shot (in contrast to a long shot and a close-up). This shot size signifies a social mode (Chandler 2002). Just as modes of address vary in terms of their narrative perspective, this advertisement’s mode of address employs the third-person omniscient point of view. In terms of the advertisement’s markedness, it is unmarked (this is a conventional image that follows a fairly predictable formula) (Chandler 2002).
Lastly, in terms of the advertisement’s contribution of the public sphere, it manipulates the public opinion. It promotes the hegemonic discourse of the modern capitalistic society, with its values and practices. By hegemony one means “the process in which a ruling class-or, more likely, an alliance of class fractions-dominates subordinate classes and groups through the elaboration and penetration of ideology into their common sense and everyday practice” (Anderson n.d.). The hegemonic discourse stands in opposition to the pluralistic discourse, which promotes pluralism of beliefs in a society (if it were pluralistic, it would not have been based on a clear man-women sexual relationship or race).
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