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Semiotic analysis of an advertisement

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    Semiotic analysis of an advertisement


    Communication when defined in a social context is a dynamic process that is required to share meaning. Thus from the viewpoint of one with something to share, the intertwined work of representation, projection and externalization is the essence of communication (Smith, 1995)[1] Mentalists define communication as a special type of social interaction whose distinctive features are intentionality and overtness.(Bara, Tirassa, 1999)[2].

    Successful advertising is usually equated with effective communication.

    The central idea behind an advert appears to be the factor of conscious intention behind the text, with the aim of benefiting the originator materially or through some other less tangible gain, such as enhancement of status or image. These intentional messages use significant symbols to convey meanings that reflect different factors which may directly or indirectly help to influence the consumer behaviour. These include symbols from culture, social life, language, religion and even ethnicity and race factors. Semiotics helps to effectively analyse and understand these symbols used by advertising.

    Analysis of the advertisement of Emirates airline in The Spectator


    Emirates, the Gulf Airline’s full page colour advertisement in The Spectator, investment special issue (Oct, 2006) speaks all about its new award-winning ice entertainment system that plays music according to the customer’s taste. The print advertisement shows a group of colourful singing birds in the branch of a tree. They seem sitting comfortable at the place. The headlines say ‘6000 songs’, and a brief text is also seen describing the peculiarities of the service advertised.


    Semiotics theory is used to interpret the codes used in this advertisement. Semiotics originates primarily in the work of two people, Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Peirce. Saussure showed that language is made up of signs (like words) which communicate meanings and he expected that all kinds of other things which communicate meanings could potentially be studied in the same way as linguistic signs, using same method of analysis. Saussure showed that there are two components to every sign. One is the vehicle which expresses the sign called the ‘signifier.’ The other part of the sign is called the ‘signified.’

    The signified is the concept which the signifier calls forth when we perceive it. The sign is the inseparable unity of the signifier with the signified, since in fact we never have one without the other.

    Although linguistic signs comes directly from Saussure, semiotic analysis of images and other non-verbal signs is made much more effective by some of Peirce’s distinctions. The relationship of signifier to signified and of sign to referent is entirely a matter of conventions established by langue in general, and English language in particular. Peirce calls this arbitrary sign as ‘symbolic’. The photograph of a cat faithfully records its colour and shape. This type of sign where the signifier resembles the referent is called ‘iconic’. Iconic signs have the property of merging the signifier, signified and referent together. When the cat is hungry it cries to gain our attention, the sounds points to its presence nearby asking to notice it; Pierce calls this kind of sign as ‘indexical’. Indexical signs have a concrete and often casual relationship to their signified. Certain signs have mixed symbolic, indexical and iconic features. (Cobley.P, 1996)

    Roland Barthes is the French critic who has contributed the other ideas in semiotics. His ideas take us closer to the semiotic analysis of contemporary media. We use signs to describe and interpret the world, it often seems that their function is simply to ‘denote’ something, to label it. Rolls-Royce denote a particular make of a car; but along with denotative or labelling function of this sign to communicate a fact, come some extra associations which are called ‘connotations’. As Rolls-Royce cars are expensive and luxurious, they can connote signifieds of wealth and luxury. When we consider advertising, news, and TV or film texts, it will become clear that linguistic visual and other kinds of signs are used not simply to denote something, but also to trigger a range of connotations attached to the sign. Barthes calls this social phenomenon, the bringing together of signs and their connotations to shape a particular message, the making of ‘myth’. The semiotic analysis of advertising assumes that meanings of ads are designed to move out from the page or screen on which they are carried to shape and lend significance to our experience of reality. Ads make use of signs, codes and social myths which are already in circulation and ask us to recognise and often to enjoy them. At the same time that we are reading and decoding the signs in the ads, we participate in the structures of meaning that ads use to represent us, the advertised product and society.

    The advertisement uses the metaphor of singing birds to give an impressive picture of the new facility. Birds not only sing but they also fly a long distance just like the aircraft.  Here a group of birds are portrayed, which implies that they fly together and sing together and every flight is an enjoyment singing their own songs.

    The connotation is that every flight in Emirates is an enjoyment with the music of your choice. The group of birds also acts as a metonymy and connotes that the few hours you fly in the aircraft makes you feel among your primary group. Thus every moment in the flight is a delight and conveys a security feel that an intimate group provides. It should be noticed that no reference to aircraft, unnecessary technical jargons, or photographs of the new equipment are used in the ad; the settings and the metaphors used are all living objects you see around, which also give a ‘mythic’ meaning  that just like birds every flight is natural for the airline.


    Every airline wants to project the services they provide to their passengers through advertisements. But most often the advertisements of airline companies also serve as their corporate ads. In this context, the use of metaphors, myth and metonymy in this ad is definitely intentional. The advertisement has portrayed a service that had specific messages to convey such as service, simplicity, performance and luxury. The analysis of advertisement have shown that the signifiers, icons, metaphors and metonymies as used as careful constructs making the communication act intentional. These signifiers are of course the soul of advertising, making it a different media where communication is not simply transfer of idea or meaning but it also demands an action on part of the receivers. Hence communication has to be intentional choosing or crafting every element that comes part of the communication act.


    1.      Barthes Roland, (1996), Denotation and Connotation in Cobley.P(Ed) Communication Theory Reader (pp.129-134),London, Routledge.

    2.      B.G.Bara& M.Tirassa,(1999) A mentalist framework for linguistic and extralinguistic communication, Siena,  Proceedings of the 3rd European Conference on Cognitive Science

    3.      Cobley Paul, (1996), The Communication Theory Reader, London, Routledge.

    4.      Ferdinand de Saussure, (1996), Linguistic Value in Cobley.P(Ed) Communication Theory Reader (pp.129-134),London, Routledge.

    5.      Goddard, Angela,(1998), Language of Advertising : Written Texts. Florence,  Routledge.


    1. The advertisement of Emirates in The Spectator 14 October 2006, p.87


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