Sunday, February 5, 2012

Oh Lola! and the semiotics of perfume ads

After our discussions and observations concerning advertisements in Friday's class, I found it extremely interesting to see the amount, the messages, and the content of the advertisements in women's magazines compared to men's magazines.  After reading Gill and van Zoonen's pieces on semiotics, I flipped through my magazines and searched the internet to observe exactly what kind of messages were being portrayed in ad's targeting women.

One of the biggest issues I saw was in perfume ads.  First of all, there are dozens of perfume ads in women's magazines compared to the few cologne ads I saw in men's magazines.  Secondly, every perfume ad is extremely sexual and filled with naked women who have seductive expressions.  Lastly, almost all of these perfume ads have to do with pleasing a man.  As if smelling like this perfume will make you so incredibly desirable, men would not be able to resist! What about this ad.  A young woman (Dakota Fanning was 17 when this ad was shot) in a short white dress, legs exposed, and a perfume bottle (shaped like a flower, coincidence?) between her legs with the caption, "Oh, Lola!".   When we further examine the ad with van Zoonen's criteria for evaluating the semiotics' in an ad, we can see that the signifier's are medium shot (most of body) and pan down (camera looks down).  These signify a personal relationship when we consider the viewer seeing most of her body and that the camera is in control and holds the power because it is angled down (van Zoonen, 76). The caption of the ad along with the image instantly makes the caption extremely sexual.   As van Zoonen states, "advertising needs to present its message in an extremely short time span, and depends heavily on the successful exploitation of the connotative power of signs" (van Zoonen, 79).  Just two words make up the catch phrase of the ad, but with the picture, the message being portrayed is extremely powerful.

Why would this sexual ad of a woman and a perfume bottle appeal to another woman seeing the ad?  As Gill states, the 'exchange value' of an ad, commodity, or message, is "translated into statements about who we are and who we aspire to become" (Gill, 50).  Women want to be seen as sexual, desirable, innocent, feminine and this ad entails it all.   Is this why there are so many sexual perfume ads filling the pages of women's magazines? Do consumers want to be those women in the ads?  Is it a coincidence that men's magazines barely show any advertisements of men looking desirable or sexy?

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