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A semiotic analysis of an advertisement Report (Assessment)

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Updated: Jun 15th, 2020


The chosen piece is a ‘No 5 Chanel’ perfume advertisement. It is a relatively recent poster that offers a great platform for semiotic analysis. Questions such as “How does body language convey the intended meaning of the advertisement?”, “Is facial expression an important part of the sign system?”, “What concept is signified by the clothes worn in this advert?”, and many more must be examined in order to know how meaning is created.

Semiotic Analysis

Meaning making in semiotics occurs through a combination of signs and codes. Signs include signifiers and the signified; that is, forms shown and concepts represented respectively.

However, since codes are derived from particular societies, then social and cultural patterns must be well understood before creating a certain message (Danesi, 2002). Advertisements in general tend to reflect societal values, and this particular ad is no exception. The advertiser who was responsible for its creation clearly knew the predominant cultural codes in his or her target audience.

He or she was acting as a transmitter of these sign systems to consumers. The poster depicts particular values that operate in society today. In this perfume ad, the manufacturer needs to reach out to consumers regardless of the competition out there. The image in the poster has been created so that the concerned product can act as signifier. At first glance, one is instantly struck by the beauty and the elegance of the female model.

If one has a western background, then one immediately recognises that this is the face and body of a famous actress – Nicole Kidman. The advertisers wanted to convey the message that their product represents those same values of beauty and elegance. It can be said that the No 5 Chanel is a signifier of these ideals. Elegance and beauty now become ‘the signified’ concepts (Metz, 2005). Customers are supposed to buy the product in the hope that they will acquire those characteristics.

The primary signifier in this advertisement is a chic woman. The clothes she has on are intended on conveying a particular message about her social status and class. One can deduce that she is an upper class lady merely from the dress she is wearing. This is something such women wear to corporate functions or elegant dinners. Her jewellery is subtle; yet another status symbol. She is wearing a bracelet, earrings and a necklace with “No 5” engravings placed on it.

The necklace acts as a link between this model and the product she is endorsing. Nonetheless, the woman’s clothing also has a sexual element in it. It is a low cut dress that exposes a significant portion of her back. People who may be looking at the ad will instantly be drawn to her body’s flawlessness as revealed through the dress. Indeed most advertisers tend to use sexuality as an audience captivator, and this piece’s creator was one of them.

She exudes confidence through her facial expression, but has not overdone this. It is likely that the advertisers wanted to portray a strong feminine figure. Societies tend to be more accepting of women who convey subtle strength rather than outright aggression (McDonald, 1995). Members of the intended audience are likely to admire this woman and many may actually want to ‘be her’.

Creators of the piece have solidified that message even more by using a celebrity. Nicole Kidman is an award winning actress; western audiences associate her with wealth and prosperity. Consequently, if someone as affluent as she is can endorse the product, then she is illustrating that the product is for people just like her. Targeted audiences are likely to think of themselves as being special because a celebrity has approved the perfume that they have chosen.

The manner in which the model has posed in the photograph can also be viewed as another signifier. She has given the audience a profile of herself and tilted her head in order to look into the camera. It is almost as if she wants to seduce onlookers without being too direct about it. This body language is symptomatic of the product’s qualities. Perhaps the manufacturers wanted to tell consumers that their perfume is seductive but not too ‘loud’.

Generally speaking, this advertisement has international appeal. The image of a rich, attractive and classy lady is not intended to reach audiences who possess these same qualities; it is meant to create a fantasy for consumers to look up to (McDonald, 1995). In other words, there is a contradiction in the piece because the regular consumer can never really look like or be Nicole Kidman, but through the use of No 5 Chanel, one can escape into a fantasy that will allow one to coexist with one’s imagined self.

Owing to globalisation, many people are likely to identify with the clothing, body language and expressions worn by this model. However, not all international audiences will immediately recognise that the photographed woman is a celebrity. This may take away the intended effect of such an endorsement. Nonetheless, women around the world are likely to recognise and appreciate intended meanings in the advertisement through other attributes.


The ad under analysis constructs meaning through the images portrayed (i.e. the woman and a bottle of perfume) and the conventions put across. Essentially the message being promoted is classy femininity, which many women desire. It has made use of a stereotypical woman (in terms of gender expectations) in a non stereotypical role (that of a celebrity or a person living a glamorous lifestyle) to show audiences that they also deserve to be treated like celebrities.


Danesi, M. (2002). Understanding media semiotics. London: Arnold

Metz, C. (2005). The Imaginary signifier. Apparatus theory, 3,408-439

McDonald, M. (1995). Representing women. London: Hodder

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Further Study: FAQ

📌 How to write a semiotic analysis?

To write a semiotic analysis, you should ask yourself what the particular sign is trying to say. You then need to identify the signifier and the signified. Afterward, you determine an initial constellation: several common themes of the sign.
After that, start writing your introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

📌 What is semiotics in advertising?

In marketing materials, semiotics plays a very important role. In a campaign, signs and symbols are used to deliver an idea. Through a successful one, an advertiser is in full control of what images and associations the consumer has about the product.

📌 What is a semiotic analysis?

Broadly speaking, semiotic analysis is the study of signs and symbols. It provides a deeper look into the unconscious patterns that influence consumer behavior and response to textual messages.

📌 How do you write an analysis of an advertisement?

To analyze an advertisement, first, give a brief description. Tell a bit about the history of an ad and the intended target audience. Then, think about what is the logical, emotional, and ethical appeal of a specific ad. Finish the analysis with a strong conclusion.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "A semiotic analysis of an advertisement." June 15, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-semiotic-analysis-of-an-advertisement/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'A semiotic analysis of an advertisement'. 15 June.

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