Semiotics:ALWAYS Judge an AD by its Cover

Hello everybody! I am back again with the second assignment for my Media criticism course at Towson University. This time we will take a deeper look at a popular print ad that has been displayed in numerous reputable magazines around the world. I will also introduce an approach of media criticism that will uncover the numerous interpretations that can be derived from an ad. Furthermore, this blog will show yet another reason why the skill of becoming media literate is so vitally imperative.


This image is an advertisement for Intimately Beckham: His and Hers fragrances. The ad features famous soccer player David Beckham and his wife Posh Beckham who are passionately embraced in an undeniable display of intimacy.


To the untrained eye, there may not be very much to see here. However, through a process known as semiotic analysis I will dissect this advertisement in tremendous detail.  We will then be able to understand why such an enormous variety of interpretations can be derived from such a “simple ad.”


Semiotics is defined as “a general philosophical theory of signs and symbols that deals especially with their function in both artificially constructed and natural languages and comprises semantics, and pragmatics.”


In other words, it is the study of how social production of meaning is constructed through a system of signs. Signs are embedded in all texts as a way to interpret the meaning of a text. They can be related to anything that is intended to communicate certain messages or ideas.


Examples of these signs, or signifiers, in a print ad couldinclude: hair color, hairstyle, eye color, facial structure, body type, age, gender, race, facial expression, body language, makeup, clothes, setting, relationship implied, spatiality, occupations, background, lighting, design, color, and many more.


Ferdinand de Saussure, considered by many one of the founders of semiotics, suggested that “our understanding and perception of reality is contrived and affected by the signs that we use in everyday social contexts.” This is implying that signs are not illustrating and reflecting what we already believe; however, they are in fact molding our perceptions of reality.


Now that you all have a general understanding of semiotics, I will apply these concepts while analyzing the print ad for Intimately Beckham fragrances that we took a look at earlier.


I will first start off by identifying different signs (signifiers) and interpreting their meanings.


As we have already discussed, the text I have chosen is a print advertisement for David Beckham’s fragrance line Intimately Beckham. The photograph was shot inside what appears to be a luxurious penthouse or hotel suite. The ad features just two people: a man and a woman. The two are embraced in a very intimate way with extremely seductive facial expressions. The spatiality and body language of the pair would imply that they are in a sexual relationship.


The woman in the photograph is thin, blonde, and white. This is because it is the image the media has engraved into the brains of society that represents beauty.  


She is dressed in a provocatively cut, long flowing light pink dress. The light color of her clothes, hair, and complexion represent women being characterized as innocent. This directly contrasts the dark attire of the male who is meant to be seen as powerful. She is also leaning on the man, which furthermore depicts the traditional view of male hierarchy in the household.


Through this advertisement it appears that the marketing professionals at Intimately Beckham are suggesting that their product is a symbol of beauty, power, and wealth. They want the people seeing the advertisements to think that in order to be in a relationship with “beautiful” people like the ones seen in the photo; they need to purchase this brand specifically.


How the audience interprets each and every different advertisement depends largely on its syntagmatic and paradigmatic structure. A paradigm can be defined as “anything which can be used as a substitute for the present signifiers; it relates to the choice and selection of particular signs.” However, syntagmatic analysis relates to the sequence that the signs are presented; the combination of signs.

 Each advertisement holds its own set of paradigms. In the case we are discussing; the medium is that of advertising in magazines, the genre of magazine is a teenager/young adult magazine and the theme is that of fashion and beauty. Any change of paradigm within this context would without a doubt change the meanings created in one way or another. Likewise, the signified meanings will differ when changes are made to signs within the same syntagmatic sequence.

As I reflected on earlier, there is a whole lot more to the interpretation and meaning of advertisements than many people in the world may have thought. Who would have known that something as minor as changing the facial expression of a model would change the entire signified meaning of an ad?

Advertisements contain so many signs and messages, both apparent and concealed, making their analysis extremely complex and, often, surprising to those that are new to the field (I certainly felt this way at first).

It is important to understand that advertisements do so much more than just sell products. They play a large part in molding the social construction of reality. This is why I am so adamant in my belief that it is essential for people to interpret media critically because if we don’t, we can easily lose track of how we see ourselves and the world we live in.