Sunday, February 5, 2012

Semiotic Representations of Sexuality in Advertisements

The way that I best understand semiotics and the signifier-signified-sign model is described in Roland Barthes' book Mythologies.  It includes the example of a rose: the word 'rose' is the signifier, the actual object of a rose is the signified, and the word 'rose' representing the actual object is the sign.  According to Barthes, the myth is the second layer of the signifier-signified-sign model: the first sign (the rose) is now the signifier, passion is the signified, and the 'passionified' rose is the myth.  The myth ads meaning to something that is not directly exposed by looking at the physical aspects of the sign.  

A good example of semiotic representations of sexuality in advertisements can be seen in Asa Berger's analysis of a Fidji perfume advertisement from his book Ads Fads and Consumer Culture.  Berger brings up elements of the advertisement such as the woman's darker skin and hair, representing sexual passion, and the fact that she is presumably Polynesian, which makes her a representation of exoticism.  The use of the French language symbolizes sophistication and the stereotype that the French are sexy. (Berger, p. 156)

These are just a few of the examples of the semiotic analysis of the advertisement; clearly the use of semiology in advertisements can imply many different things about a product, even if they are not directly related to the actual product itself.  One ad that really stood out to me that used sexual signs and symbols to represent a product was the Fiat 500 Abarth ad that played tonight during the Super Bowl.  The advertisement uses a woman, who is a sexy Italian model that is clearly very enticing to the man in the ad, to represent a car.  The woman had darker skin and hair, just as the woman in the Fidji ad, and was speaking in Italian, which is a romance language, which could represent exoticism as well as sex appeal.  The slogan at the end is 'You'll never forget the first time you see one' and is meant to be talking about the car, but it could clearly also be attached to the man seeing the Italian model for the first time.

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