Semiotic Analysis Of 3 Commercials

This week, I have been set the task of semiotically analyzing 3 adverts – one standard commerical, one made before I was born, and one from a foreign country. Here are the three I chose:

To conduct a semiotic analysis, I need to analyse each advertisement on three levels. I will pick three shots from each commercial, and in those shots, I will delve into the three different layers of meaning – Identifying the ‘signs’ on a denotative level, then elaborating on what those signs mean on a connotative level. Finally, I will discuss how the signs relate to each other in order to give meaning to the artefact itself, in doing so hopefully finding the ‘myth’ of the commercial. The thre shots I will choose will be ones that seem to be the most relevant to the narrative of the artefact.

Commercial One

In the first commercial, we have an advertisement that is marketing a brand of beer. The commercial starts off misleading the audience into thinking that it is actually aimed at women, and is selling something along the lines of perfume or bath accessories. How do we know?

The opening shot is of an attractive woman. She is dressed in an expensive silk gown. The shot is in slow motion, and we get a clear shot of her face as she walks towards the camera, which is a typical convention of makeup adverts (supposedly to show what effect the makeup has on the model). Some slow, bluesy music starts playing in the background. Much like the advert we studied in our lecture – that of the famous Chanel No 5 advert starring Nicole Kidman – we can see that this advert is selling itself as sensual, romantic and passionate.

From this opening shot we can thus connote that this is an advert selling itself as something classy, being aimed at women, and probably selling something that women would want to buy. This is reinforced over the next twelve seconds, with the subsequent shots also playing on the joke. The first time you view, you will not be aware of what happens fifteen seconds in.

Fifteen seconds into the commercial, the woman has taken off her silk robe, and lies in a bath full of bubbles. The pace is still slow, and the slow, sensual music is still playing. The shots have told the audience that she is in bliss, using soft-focus shots and general slow pace. However, the joke needed to be applied fifteen seconds in at the latest – any later and the advert would probably risk losing a percentage of it’s target audience.

The whole advert changes in the shot where the man jumps into the bath. We see an unknown shadow appear from an elevated position and ‘cannonball’ into the bath, creating an explosion of water, which thus, metaphorically, explodes / destroys the fantasy of the first half. The shot is fairly long compared the ones that have gone before, as if allowing the viewers to take in what has happened, and understand the joke (much in the same way as it must be for the woman in the bath!). At the point of impact with the water, the blues suddenly stop, clearly differentiating the first half of the advert from the second half. Diegesis suddenly takes over, with the sounds of the water splashing suddenly tuning into focus sharply. This also that the fantasy is over – we are now back in the ‘real world’.

The man takes a drink of beer from a bottle, and the advert does it’s thing. The final shot of the man and the woman in the bath is quite important, as the man says ‘What?’ to the woman, adding somewhat a punch-line to the joke. The camera is positioned behind the woman, as if we are as an audience still seeing the events of the commercial from her point of view. The man sits in front of her with his beer, and a rather confused look on his face, as if he is unaware of what he has done. The two remain in the bath parallel to each other – neither character is in a position of power at this point, thus signaling that a ‘struggle for dominance’ (ie: an argument) is about to take place. That will not help to sell the product, so that is omitted from the commercial.

Ultimately, we have to think what the creators of this piece wanted that beer to be associated with. Beer keeps you in the real world? Beer destroys healthy relationships? Beer gives you a sense of fun at the same time as being selfish? Interestingly, there is somewhat an argument over the male gaze and feminism in this artefact. By the end, we have established that this is an advert aimed at men, trying to sell them beer. Why was the first half of the commercial shots of an attractive female taking a bath? Why was her happiness ruined by what is represented as a larger-lout? Why, as a man, do I find it funny?

In simple terms, the woman was used to sell the advertisement. The beer isn’t included until the final frames, but this advert is a joke, and viewers need to be kept watching until the punch-line can be delivered. Thus, the joke is on an attractive woman. ‘Battle of the sexes’ themes start to come through, especially given that the man ‘cannonballs’ into the bathtub – a rather heavy and dangerous dive, showing complete disregard for the well being of the woman in the bathtub. It could be suggested that the beer makes the man stereotypically masculine, which is perhaps what every man wants to be.

Commercial Two

The second commercial is a 2009 advert, paying homage to the classic ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’ advertisements from the 1980s. Despite being made recently, it is largely constructed of archive footage, and done in the same way the original adverts were (I can’t seem the find the originals, so this will be the nearest we can get for Heinz Beans).

The commercial in constructed of a poem spoken by one boy, which lasts for the duration of the advert. The poem is all about what the product means to be the boy, and how much he appreciates it, thus following the ideology that all other boys feel the same way about ‘Heinz Baked Beans’ (ie: they love it).

The opening shot again is very important. In the first shot, we see a black and white cartoon of a clock striking four o clock. Immediately, the cartoon denotes that this is perhaps an advert aimed at children, as children watch cartoons more than any other audience demographic. When the clock strikes four, the first thing we hear is the sound of a bell, but it is a school bell (differentiated by the recognizably unique ringing sound). Thus, within the first second, we have been placed in a cartoon schoolyard before the child has even started reciting the poem.

The use of the bell connotes happiness to all schoolchildren, as it signifies the end of the day. As the cartoon children run away from the school, the poem begins. It is a child narrator, who is obviously going to make a point or sell the product, further reinforcing that this advertisement is aimed at that age group. The fact that the cartoon is also black and white also connotes that the ideologies it represents have been around for a long time before the advert was made.

The following shot is also quite important for two reasons – first of all, it is a shot of real children walking home with their mum. Despite the narrator being a boy, the children in the shot are boys and girls, showing that the product appeals to both genders. The shot can be considered ‘reality’, as the cartoon was a fantasy world, and this is the real world. It could also be interpreted in that the school was a fantasy world / cartoon or ‘other’ world, and reality only kicks in once the children leave the schoolyard (though personally… I think not).

The other important thing about the second shot is that not only does it include little girls, but it also includes the parent. After all, they will ultimately be the ones buying the product, so they too have to be considered in the advertising. The inclusion of the ‘mum’ figure is reiterated several times throughout the commercial, as are the uses of cartoons, and the poem being narrated by the boy. The poem is in parts nonsensical, implying that the boy perhaps wrote the poem himself, and won the prize of having it used in the final cut (I don’t know whether that’s true or not, I’m just putting it out there!).

The advert generally remains the same, with the poem being spoken, and the shots following the words being spoken. Funnily enough, I have just read Chapter 1 of Analysing Media Texts, which states that meaning, in terms of Syntagms and Paradigms, are like sentences – words can be swapped and changed, but only if the audience an understand the sentence at the end. This advert uses shots of cartoons, children and mums in line with the poem, and it’s funny to wonder what the commercial would look like if some of the poem was swapped around a little, and whether it would have the same effect.

The third shot I chose to analyse was the one at 32 seconds in. At this point, the narrator starts complaining that he doesn’t like it when he sees his brother has more beans than he has (or something!). Anyway, there is a shot of the mother again 32 seconds in, immediately after the narrator has stated that he is feeling sad. There is a shot of the mother looking rather sad in a rather cold shot, where she’s looking down. Half a second later, and the following shot contrasts with this, showing a warm, vibrant, soft-focus shot of her being happy.

The importance of this part of the advert can be summed up in one word – ‘family’. When the children and the narrator are depressed, this affects the mother, which is quite true. When the mother gives her children baked beans, all of a sudden the children are happy again, which makes her happy again. What happens to the children affects the parent. Hence, the advertisement has now successfully targeted both the children and the mother alike.

It is strange that at no point in this commercial are the father figures represented, despite the fact that the narrator is a boy. Probably for the best really – cannonball dives onto the kitchen table might not work so well in this one. Still, please note this advertisement has played on the stereotype that men are out working all day, and thus neglect their family / have affairs etc. (just kiddiiiiing…)

Commercial Three

Commercial three is a foreign advert. It is aimed at a general audience, aiming to teach them English. Much like the first commercial, humour is used to make the audience laugh, and thus sell the product to them through the laughter. Since for the most part I can’t understand what is being said, the mise-en-scene is even more important here.

The opening shot establishes that we are in some sort of control room. To a western audience, it is unclear precisely where we are. We can tell that there are two men in uniform. One looks younger than the other one. The younger of the two has his hands behind his back, whereas the older man is pointing and directing. As shot after shot appears, we get the feeling that the young man is being given a vast array of instructions. Perhaps this is his first day at the job, and his manager is telling him what to do.

Ten seconds in, the older man leaves, leaving the younger man alone at the control desk. We are still unsure where exactly we are until we hear a distress call on the intercom calling ‘mayday’. Thus, we can deduce we are either in some form of sea or air-based monitoring station. Once the intercom states that a ship is sinking, we know it’s a coastguard, or equivalent.

The shot of the young man alone shows that he is far from help and isolated. We are positioned parallel to his head, showing that the audience is at more or less the same position of power that he is. As this advert targets non-English speaking audiences, we are ahead of the game here, and we know what is being said. We must assume that the target audience are not so familiar with what is being said, and are thus in the same position as the young man – isolated, and without help.

Two shots on, and we return to the same shot as before, but what makes this shot so important is what is said, as it is the delivery of the punch line to this advertisement. The man has told us he is part of the German Coastguard, thus informing us that the target audience is now German. The young man clearly does not understand the difference between ‘thinking’ and ‘sinking’, and doesn’t understand the seriousness of the problem out at sea. The moment the line is delivered, we cut to a white-backgrounded advertisement, with Beethoven’s 9th in the background, adding extra slapstick to the delivery.

Until the younger man mentions he is part of the German Coastguard at the end, western audiences are not aware of the context of the situation fully. This is sort of an accidental enigma code, as we may continue watching the advert just to see where it goes. Overall, the commercial is really just a joke using a play on words, which is a good idea since it is trying to market a company based around languages.

And Since I Was In The Area Anyway:


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