Semiotic analysis of an image of your choice

Categories: ChoiceSemiotics


The main focus of the text is the broken pot with one half of the handle in the foreground, the wood violently snapped and the metal bracket inside the handle twisted and broken. Because of its placement in the text it is clear to see in detail the violence of the handle breaking, signifying the quality of the soup (see above).

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If this handle were to appear in the background what is signified would be ambiguous. The viewer must decode all these elements in order to understand what is signified by the advert.

Signs: The sign is the relationship between:  “A ‘signifier’- the form which the sign takes; andThe ‘signified’- the concept it represents”. (Saussure: 1983) The sign is the result of these two elements accessed together. There are signs that have to be interpreted within this advert for it to be understood in the context it is meant. In order for the viewer to understand this image they would first have to be aware of the following facts:  Understanding what soup is.

  How it is typically prepared.  What soup preparation typically consists of.  What it would take to break the handle of the pot. Without this prior knowledge the advert would make no sense, the ‘joke’ would be lost.

It is assumed that, in general most viewers ‘are’ aware and will therefore understand the signs though they may be unspecified or invisible. Within this advert, as part of the sign interpretation, the signifier is the physical form of the broken pot, the signified being the quality of the soup (see above). With these two elements together the sign is of a quality product though the sign itself may not be based in reality. The viewer interprets these elements and mentally constructs what is signified by the advert. Representation of Reality-The strengths and weaknesses of semiotic analysis:

Many believe that semiotic analysis is a way of understanding reality, that analysis is a way of commenting on society and its value structure. It seems however that there is no definitive answer as to how effective this type of analysis is. As society and its values are constantly changing analysis of e. g. a magazine advert today may have no substance when assessed 50 years from now. Also as there is no set criterion to follow so it is open to the individual’s interpretation using their own social values as the building blocks for their findings. According to Daniel Chandler (2002):

“In practise, semiotic analysis invariably consists of individual readings… few semioticians seem to feel much need to provide empirical evidence for particular interpretations, and much analysis is impressionistic”. However, there are some valid points to be made about the positive side of semiotic analysis: (David Mick: 1986) “No discipline concerns itself with representation as strictly as semiotics does”. David Sless also states that to bring all the elements of language and history etc. together, a person with a semiotic point of view is needed to “survey our world” (Sless: 1986).

In conclusion, it is widely felt that semiotic analysis is not an exact science but it is ‘the best we have’. It is a way of making common sense of our own reality and a way of recording the way things have changed in society: (Schroeder: 1998) “… there is nothing natural about our values; they are social constructs that not only vary enormously in the course of time but differ radically from culture to culture”. Conclusion: This advertisement signifies big, chunky soup that in reality would not break the handle of a cooking pot; this is just reinforced in the advert as it is assumed that in this case it has.

Consumers are aware that the sign is exaggerated in this case; however the mental concept remains clear. Other adverts for this product have revolved around a similar principle, one in particular denoted the back of a lorry, empty apart from a can of ‘Big Soup’ signifying the same element s again and using the same codes, a whole lorry is not needed to transport one can of soup. This advert seems to be aimed at both men and women, it was collected from a men’s ‘motoring’ magazine, however sociological ideals dictate that women would undoubtedly be interested also.

The advert is affective, humorous which make it memorable, conveys its message without become complicated or even offering a gender identity. The only comment it makes regarding society is that soup has little or no gender identity and consumers are hungry so they need ‘Heinz Big Soup’ providing they have a cooking pot that is up to the job of preparing it.

References:  Mick, David Glen (1986): ‘Consumer Research and Semiotics: Exploring the Morphology of Signs, Symbols and Significance’, Journal of Consumer Research. Saussure, Ferdinand de ([1916] 1983): Course in General Linguistics (Trans. Roy Harris). London: Duckworth Schroeder, Jonathan E (1998): ‘Consuming Representation: A Visual Approach to Consumer Research’. In Stern op.  Sless, David (1986): In Search of Semiotics. London: Croom Helm. Bibliography: (as above) Stevenson, N. (2002) Understanding Media Cultures. 2nd ed. Sage. Web sites:  Chandler, Daniel. (1995) Semiotics for Beginners: http://www. aber. ac. uk/media/Documents/S4B/semiotic. html.

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