* please note trigger warnings in the tags for this article
Ever wondered why some ad’s are more successful then others? Why some ad’s just stick in your head or some spark controversy because of it’s image? Well you’re in luck because there’s a whole area of study called semiotics that is dedicated towards signs and analysing the meaning they create. A lot of times what we initially see in an ad (known as the denotations or signifiers) are taken in by an individual and given context and meaning based on said individuals experiences, ideologies, beliefs etc. (known as connotations).
It is these connotations that decide the success of an ad, because a lot of time we do this subconsciously. No one looks at an ad or image and goes ‘hmmm i wonder what this ad says to me’ it’s almost always done on instinct. The problem with this then is that images will mean different things to different people because everyone has a different set of ideologies, beliefs, experiences that work to generate connotations. But before i ramble on further, let me show you an image to illustrate my point.
This was an ad put out by the Salvation Army right after a picture of “the dress” went viral on the internet having people all over debating if said dress was white and gold or blue and black. This ad that came about after it was a massive success in terms of promoting issues surrounding domestic violence.
The connotations that came from seeing this ad was very strong. For weeks people saw everyone debating over the dress being blue and black or white and gold and how some people just couldn’t see how anyone else would think that dress was any other colour then the one they saw. This was the connotation they get from the ad, that sometimes it’s so hard to see when someone is a victim of domestic abuse because people don’t see the ‘black and blue’ despite someone trying to convince them otherwise. This ad probably resonated strongly with anyone who was aware of the viral dress picture.
However, imagine showing this to someone unaware of the initial viral picture. To them while they get the same denotations, which is ‘why is it so hard to see black and blue’, their connotation of it is probably along the lines of bruises can be hidden easily so we are not aware of domestic abuse victims.
This idea of denotation and connotation shape a lot of the ads we see around us, because ads more often then not want to sell us products or ideas and the connotation we get from these ads must be one that will get us to buy into that idea or product. So maybe think twice when you look at image and buy into what it’s trying to get you to believe.
Turnbull, S. 2016. Lecture by Sue Turnbull at The University of Wollongong. (Accessed 16 March 2016).
Domestic Violence campaign screenshot taken from Salvation Army South Africa (Accessed 2 April 2016)