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Semiotic Analysis of Sunsilk Media Campaign for Covered Hair Essay

This ad shows a beautiful woman in a colourful Hijab (a Muslim headscarf) next to a bottle of what seems to be shampoo with limes, water and a lotus flower surrounding it. There is a paragraph in Arabic with the only English words being “Lively Clean and Fresh”. After some investigation I discovered that this ad was part of a campaign for “Covered Hair” by the Western Hair Care Company Sunsilk in Pakistan. It was aimed at young girls and women who cover their hair as part of religion, but are still aiming to be modern, fashionable, contemporary and elegant at the same time.

The advertiser has extensively utilised the colour green, with it being featured in the back ground, on the shampoo bottle and in various shades on the hijab of the woman. The use of the colour green symbolises nature which is reflected in the use of the fruit, flowers and water surrounding the shampoo bottle. It is also reflected in the English words “Lively Clean and Fresh”. This advert uses Ferdinand de Saussure’s concept that ‘a sign consisted of a signifier and a signified’. (Fiske, 1990, p. 44).

In this instance the colour green is the signifier and nature is the signified. The ad wants to express that this shampoo will keep your hair as clean and fresh as nature is. The use of these symbols also appeal to the Muslim consumer’s attraction towards natural products as the limes surrounding the bottle are presumed to be within the product recipe. The colour green is also a symbol. A symbol is said to have a ‘connection or resemblance between sign and object: a symbol communicates only because people agree that it shall stand for what it does’ (Fiske, 1990, p. 6).

Throughout the world the colour green has been used to signify nature. Many companies have used the colour green on their products in order to emphasise that these products are natural and are not full of chemicals or other man-made things because they know that green is universally known to symbolise nature. Sunsilk has done the same. The purpose of this ad is for the Western hair care company Sunsilk to break into the Eastern market, breaking cultural boundaries. They use cultural appropriate symbols to ensure that they appeal to the target demographic.

Charles Sanders Pierce refers to a symbol as ‘a sign whose connection with its object is a matter of convention, agreement, or rule’ (Fiske, 1990, p. 49). In this ad, the hijab is a symbol of the Muslim religion. This symbol ensures that the target demographic, Muslim women that wear a Hijab, know that this is a product that is designed especially for them. Even though these women have their hair covered 99% of the day, they try to appeal to the market not through the appearance of the hair but through the feeling the shampoo will give to your hair through the words ‘Fresh and clean’.

Sunsilk has realised that these women have specific needs and have used specific symbols and signs to ensure that these women will want to buy their product. I discovered that the model in this picture is a notable model in Pakistan. She is wearing visible eye makeup and a brooch on her Hijab. The make-up and brooch connotes that this woman, who would be using this product, is style conscious. It creates the illusion that if you use this product you will also be as stylish as the model.

The use of these symbols shows the respondent what type of woman would use this product and could even make the respondent feel that she could be as stylish as the model if she used this product. Many of the Sunsilk ads for western cultures feature women with their hair in view and place great emphasis on improving the aesthetic aspect of hair. These typical shampoo adverts focus on the outward benefits like ‘shine’ and ‘vibrant” rather than addressing concerns which are specific to women who cover their hair.

This ad for Muslim women emphasises this shampoo as being great for the health of the hair as the company knows that these women would place greater value on the health of their hair rather more so than the aesthetics due their hair being constantly covered by a Hijab. They choose to use the words ‘clean and fresh’ to emphasise this value on health. The words are also written in green which connotes nature, growth and prosperity. This ad does not work internationally for a number of reasons.

The language of this ad is Arabic the language used in the majority of Middle Eastern and Muslim dominated nations, in this case Pakistan. Unless someone understood this language, they would not be able to understand what the ad was for, which is a shampoo for covered hair. As such the ad only has a narrow niche; women in Arabic speaking countries, who are also hijab wearing Muslims and would not be effective as an international campaign. Women that are not Muslims might not understand why a woman wearing a hijab would need to care about her hair because it is always covered.

It was only until I saw a translated version of the ad, that the true message of the ad was revealed which was that this product is specifically designed for women whose hair is covered by a hijab. Although this ad does not work internationally due to the fact that it is specifically targeted at a certain country and race, the other symbols of the ad are easy to understand. The fruit and flowers surrounding the bottle are clearly alluding to the contents of the product.

The colour green is also internationally recognised as being a symbol of nature as I stated earlier. The purpose of the ad may not be clear to someone who is not from Pakistan but the symbols it uses are quite recognisable around the world. Through the analysis of this ad we can see how semiotics affects the way in which advertising campaigns are constructed and viewed by the public. The use of colour and cultural symbols has been used to effectively advertise a product for a specific target market.

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