Advertising is a very important and prominent tool that exists in our world today. Advertising takes products and turns them from something normal and ordinary into something desirable, something that people associate with being trendy, popular and fashionable. This results in ordinary products turning into “name brands'” as people feel that they cannot be successful or happy unless they own these products. To get these brands to change from being ordinary to being called “name brands” is hard work on the side of the advertisers, but with the use of semiotics we are able to see the coded messages that the advertisers are sending, making us want to have that brand.
Semiotics began as a method for analysing language but now it is used for analysing how all sign systems work. Semiotics is concerned with meaning and with the ways in which meanings are produced. Semiology is defined as the science of signs, it suggests that all communication is based on sign systems , which work through certain rules and structures (O’Shaughnessy & Stadler, 2002:80).
The advert that I will be ‘decoding’ is for the new fragrance of Donna Karan New York (DKNY). Before understanding the advert you need to understand the context of where it came. This particular advert came from the UK April 2005 edition of Cosmopolitan. It is a generally known that Cosmopolitan sells sex, so it is no wonder to see this advert inside the magazine. Cosmopolitan’s target market is usually women from the age of about 18-30. At this age, women are generally involved in relationships that are more serious. They are interested in topics like sex, fashion and trends, all of which appear in the advert. This shows that the ideology of this advert is particularly reaching out to those types of women. The term ideology means a set of values, beliefs and feelings that, together, offer a view of the world (O’Shaughnessy & Stadler, 2002:96).
Once one realises the type of environment in which the advert can be found, one may begin to look a bit closer at the advert itself. When analysing a still image one must refer to the “Codes of Content”, this includes setting, clothing body language, body position and colours. All of these elements contribute to the meaning of the image (O’Shaughnessy & Stadler, 2002:85). The first thing that one notices about the advert is the woman.
She is looking directly at the viewer. Her head is tip slightly downwards in a submissive way. Her index finger is pointing to her slightly parted mouth. This is called an indexical sign. An indexical sign indicates or points to something else, for example a knock at the door is an indexical sign that there is someone outside wanting to come in (O’Shaughnessy & Stadler, 2002:84). This woman’s finger pointing to her mouth is indicating that she wants us to look there.
She wants people to desire her, to want to touch her lips. The deep submissive gaze and touch of the lip is subconsciously sending us message of sex as we associate the touch of lips to sexual things such as kissing. Because of her looking directly into our eyes, one gets the feeling that she only wants you, the viewer. She is not concentrating on anything but you. So much attention emanating from a beautiful woman makes the viewer feel desired and special, thus sending a message that if you own the fragrance you could too could be beautiful and have the power to make other men feel desired and special.
The woman appears to be very sexy. Her hair appears to be messy and is blowing in her face in what could be described as an “out of bed look”. Generally, women find it hard to relate to women in magazines as they do not appear to be real, for example, their hair and make up are always perfect. By this model having messier hair and not wearing obvious amounts of make up allows her to become more identifiable as women can relate to her. Her jersey has fallen of her shoulders suggestively revealing more of her chest and arms. Again this is full of sexual connotations. She is offering herself to the viewer. The combination of her submissive look, messy hair, finger touching her parted lips and her clothing fallen from her shoulders all work together to give her a sense of availability which make you, the viewer, think that you can have what she has.
It is also important to realise that the woman in the picture is holding an apple that has been bitten into. The apple in her hand is what is known as a symbolic sign. Symbolic signs stand in for, but have no resemblance to their signified (O’Shaughnessy & Stadler, 2002:84). In this case the signified is temptation. Women and forbidden fruit go back to the Bible and the story of Adam and Eve who were thrown out of paradise after Eve was tempted into eating the forbidden fruit. Unconsciously when we see this woman biting into the apple we get the message that what she is doing is illicit, but she is so tempting that it is almost impossible to refuse her. It appears that she knows what she is doing is wrong, but she is still trying to tempt you.