The theory of semiotics, as proposed by Roland Barthes, has been used to analyze advertisements and the effectiveness of advertisements on viewers. In the articles that I researched that used semiotics to analyze particular advertisements, I found four common and related themes. First, the articles mentioned that the viewer determines the meaning of the advertisement or the viewer interprets the advertisement. Second, this meaning that the viewer assigns to the advertisement is largely determined by context, both social and cultural. Third, advertisers use culture and predominant cultural beliefs in their advertisements in efforts to reach their audience more effectively. Finally, these advertisements actually end up supporting the culturally dominant beliefs in the society and sometimes also create new values. In this paper I will give a summary of Roland Barthes’ theory of semiotics, and then I will go on to discuss the common themes I found in the articles and how they relate to semiotics.
The theory of semiotics by French theorist Roland Barthes analyzes signs and their meaning (Griffin, 2012). In semiotics, Barthes focused more on the nonverbal meanings of signs rather than on their verbal meanings (Griffin, 2012). One of the most important aspects of Barthes’ theory is his stance that there are two parts that make up a sign: the signifier, or level of expression, and the signified, or level of content (Barthes, 1985/1988)). The signified is the meaning that we attribute to the sign and the signifier is the actual object we perceive, and together they make the sign (Griffin, 2012). These signs can have two different meanings.
The first meaning they have is their denotative meaning, which is the original or historical meaning of the sign (Griffin, 2012). Any message may have a second ideological meaning, and this meaning is called its connoted meaning (Barthes, 1985/1988). Originally, Barthes termed connotation as myth because he believed that connotation is a product of society. Connotation is not the true meaning of the sign but a meaning that society has decided to give that sign and is a shared meaning (Griffin, 2012). Barthes wrote that connotation makes what is cultural seem natural (Barthes, 1985/1988). Connotation is what makes habit become ritual. To better understand these two aspects of signs, we have to understand how the system of what makes up a sign affects its meaning.
Connotative and denotative signs are formed in different ways. Denotative signs are simply the signified and signifier put together (Griffin, 2012). Connotative signs, however, are a bit more complex. Originally there is the physical signifier and the signified, which together make up the denotative system (Griffin, 2012). This denotative sign is what the signifier in the connotative system is made up of (Griffin, 2012). To this signifier is added a new signified, which is a shared meaning that has been created by society (Griffin, 2012). This...