Lauren's Blog

Semiotics In An “Absolut” World

Posted on: June 14, 2011

Every day we observe millions of signs. Signs often signify us to do something. There are signs everywhere we look. For example, some signs are television, billboards, banners, and commercial ads etc. How we disseminate this information around us is called encoding and decoding.

Encoding/Decoding Model:

Stuart Hall developed the encoding/decoding model. “The basic premise of Hall’s encoding/decoding model of communication is that the media apparatus has an interest in production, circulation, distribution/consumption, and reproduction rather than conveying a message.”  Hall’s encoding/decoding model focuses on the ideological dimensions of message production and reception in a capitalist world.

A major industry who’s main focus is production, distribution, and consumption is the fashion industry. Media and advertising in the fashion industry is highly influenced by signs and images.  The study of signs and images and how social production of meaning is constructed is called semiotics.

Semiotics and Identity:

Semiotics in the fashion industry describes a sense of identity. Consumers identify themselves with images and often replicate what they see through various ads. General types of signifiers in fashion are high status, sexuality, and young beautiful woman.

There are plenty of signifiers in fashion advertising. Some can have varying degrees of importance- hair color, hairstyle, eye color, body type, makeup, color, age, and race.

Texts are constructed from signs using codes commonly interpreted in a society:

There are multiplicities of codes embedded in texts. The fashion industry for example uses print ads to advertise their products to sophisticated consumers.

Glow by J.LO:

A print ad that displays several codes is the Glow by J.Lo ad. Glow by J.Lo is a women’s fragrance and is the first perfume to be endorsed by Jennifer Lopez. The tagline “Fresh. Sexy. Clean.” all have different scents to them: Fresh – Orange Flower Pink Grapefruit; Sexy – Rose, Sandalwood, and Soft Amber. Clean – Jasmine, Vanilla, Musk. Together, they create Glow by J.Lo.

This print ad can be encoded in a certain way, while the reader decodes it differently according to his or her personal background. This ad can be decoded to give meaning to the product and target a specific demographic audience.

The formal design of the ad shows simplicity and spaciousness of the white space around the images and associated with wealth and sophistication. Oftentimes, advertisements for expensive products are full of white space.

The fragrance bottle is tall, slim and translucent with a necklace around it saying J.Lo. The necklace is also made to look high-class because of the diamonds in the name. The bottle itself shows sophistication with the translucent color and diamond necklace around it. These light colors signify purity and sexiness, which make the product more appealing.

Also, J.Lo herself is displaying her body form in a sexy way. She looks like she is holding the sun in her right hand while her hair flows freely. She wants to show that her product can give you a “sunkissed glow” if you wear it, and because she is not wearing any clothes the product shows you need nothing more than a “glow” to feel beautiful.

J.Lo is wearing minimal makeup in this image with a subtle shade of glowing lip-gloss. This product is demonstrating that wearing less with a spray of “glow” will make you feel sophisticated and sexy.

While they have shared common meanings, signs in texts can be interpreted in multiple ways:

This next print ad is for Absolut vodka. Absolut vodka is a Swedish brand of vodka and unrefined containing some of the world’s finest raw ingredients: pure Swedish water and rich Swedish wheat.  The bottle is clear with blue bold font for the logo and a description of the vodka in cursive font below it.

On May 1, 2007, Absolut vodka announced its next groundbreaking global advertising campaign titled “In an ABSOLUT World.” The advertising challenges the status quo by presenting a bold and optimistic worldview. The global launch is supported by a fully integrated marketing campaign, including print, broadcast, out-of-home, public relations, on-premise promotions and viral activity.

“In An Absolut World”- Leaders can’t be trusted but the Absolut Brand can be!

This is an oppositional reading of the text. Meaning that it is decoded with opposite meaning.

There are several signifiers in this product ad such as two suited men and the speaker has a long nose. Washington DC is the background of this ad with the Absolut bottle in the right hand corner.

Absolut wants to show that “in an Absolut world” political figures extend the truth and therefore their noses grow. This is a parody of if you lie, your nose will grow and we all know that politicians will do anything to get elected and even lie to do so.

“Our consumers are intelligent, and we hope they have a gut reaction that sparks conversations and challenges them to think about their vision of an “ABSOLUT World,” says Tim Murphy, Senior Brand Director, The Absolut Spirits Company, Inc.

Meanings vary according to person, time, place, and content:

To clarify ambiguous nature of how we make meaning from texts, structuralism offers two basic approaches- syntagmatic and paradigmatic.

Syntagmatic is an understanding of the combination of signs and their meaning to make a whole. For example, we make meaning from the signs we see in order to identify with the image.

Another Absolut image is shown with a flat Absolut bottle that’s been smashed up against the pavement. A car is wrecked into a tree in the background of the ad. This shows that Absolut is trying to convey that drinking and driving can end up in a “absolute tragedy”.  As consumers we can make meaning from this image as “don’t drink and drive.”

The second approach to structuralism is paradigmatic.  Paradigmatic is an understanding of a set of associated signs that are, even though different, all members of a defining category.

For example, a group of signs that represent ideas that can be exchanged for each other can be a cap and gown. There are several different cap and gowns that students wear when graduating depending on their level of degree earned.

So why is it important to critically examine media texts?

It is important to understand media criticism and their various texts because it’s the basis of how our world around us influences our culture. The media through semiotics and the signs we see everyday determines our social construction of reality.

When we examine these texts, we are constructing our own meaning of signs through encoding and decoding. It is the consumer’s decision on how to construct the signification of these codes and signs to relate to the world around us.


2 Responses to "Semiotics In An “Absolut” World"

Hey Lauren!

That is an excellent post. Stuart Hall’s model is by far one of the most critical aspects of media symbolism there is, I’ve often sided his analysis with Carl Jung’s theory of archetypes. So much of society remains unspoken and codified in a strange blur of complex symbols and the attitude those symbols convey that we forget they are just symbols and may easily interpret them wrong.

Texts are very polysemic (Fiske) and, I believe, are primarily governed by the ideologies that encompass those texts. In any other society, our symbols maybe easily become offensive or strange, it is quite clear that texts do have boundaries of meaning and some do not export so well, haha.

Excellent writing and an excellent post! I look forward to reading more. I get A LOT of traffic to my website so I’ll link to your site so that, maybe, the traffic will flow. I cover similar topics as you do and would love to be on your blogroll too 🙂

I look forward to your next post, good luck!

Reblogged this on Delightful UX and commented:
I was looking to post some thoughts and examples of semiotics as it applies to the modern world of advertising and I found this great read that sums up many of my own thoughts. One of my favorite classes in college was Media Criticism, and while we spent most of our time unpacking the signifiers throughout various texts, we also had an application assignment, where we set out to analyze, interpret, and create media pieces that connected with a particular group or culture.

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