Semiotic Ad Analysis

Semiotic Ad Analysis

Signs and symbols are often used to help convey and reinforce the message that the advertiser is trying to convey to their audience, the study of these signs and symbols are referred to as semiotics.  These signs and symbols can include everything from colors, shapes, text, people, objects and/or places.  In 2004 Donna Karan New York (DKNY) launched a new line of fragrance, Be Delicious, for women.  The ads that launched their campaign were filled with symbolic meanings to appeal to their audience and convey their message of a new, fresh, young, sexy and provocative line of fragrance.  The following is an analysis of the advertiser’s choice and usage of symbols in the ad for their Red Delicious fragrance in their print advertising campaign.

Semiotic Ad Analysis of DKNY

The advertisement is a two page high gloss print ad.  The page on the left introduces the new line of perfume by saying; “Introducing Red Delicious.  A new temptation in fragrance.  For women.”  Down at the bottom of the page is the DKNY logo.  On the right hand page is the sentence; “take another bite!”  The page on the left is a close up of six bright red apples that appear to be in a cardboard case used for shipping apples.  The apples have small droplets of water on them.  A perfume bottle in the shape of an apple is positioned front and center on the page in the case with the other apples.  The fragrance bottle has a silver (chrome) top with an image of the Empire State Building being pronounced in the reflection as well as a sticker similar to ones you see on produce with the name of the product on it.  On the right hand page is a man and woman most likely in their 20’s sitting straddled on a black and silver motorcycle with a silhouette of the Empire State Building in the background.  The woman is wearing a red dress and holding a red apple up towards her mouth.  She is looking right at us.  The man is wearing jeans and a grey t-shirt.  He is sitting behind her and we see his profile.  He is sitting very close to her and appears to be looking at the apple.

The name of the fragrance, Red Delicious, is reinforced in a number of ways throughout the ad.  First, the majority of the page is filled with actual Red Delicious Apples.  The fragrance bottle is in the shape of a Red Delicious Apple and the bottom half of the bottle is the same color of red as the real apples.  The fact that the bottle is inside the case of the Red Delicious Apples gives the impression that there is in no difference between the real apples and the fragrance – that the fragrance is naturally mistaken for an apple and ended up in a case of Red Delicious Apples.  There is a reflection of the Empire State Building in the top part of the fragrance bottle.  The Empire State Building is an iconic representation of New York City, which is also referred to as the Big Apple.  The case of apples is presented in the same way as in a super market suggesting that they are for sale and ready to be bought, resonating with the commerce of New York City.  There is a sticker on the fragrance bottle that says delicious in red.  The shape, color and size of the sticker looks just like a sticker that you would expect to see on an apple at the super market, adding to the suggestion that the fragrance is just as fresh as a real apple in the produce aisle.  The Red Delicious Apples have small droplets of water on them, bringing to our attention that they are fresh, clean and ready to eat. This helps us to imagine not only eating an apple but the texture of the water droplets help us envision the smells and satisfaction that comes along with eating an apple.  It is easily assumed then that the fragrance will offer us that same refreshing and satisfying experience.

Reinforcing the message

The connection between the real Red Delicious Apples and the Red Delicious perfume is reinforced with the woman who is wearing a red dress in the same color as the apples and the fragrance bottle.  She, herself, represents the ‘red delicious’ message that is being conveyed since she is wearing the same color red and looking very attractive and seductive.  She is also holding a Red Delicious Apple as if she is about to take a bite out of it.  This is anchored by the text ‘take another bite!’  The motor cycle either has silver gas tank or there is a reflection on the gas tank that makes it look silver right in front of the woman’s red dress.  Having the silver next to the woman’s red dress is very symbolic of the fragrance bottle itself – with its chrome top and red bottom.  This is shown again by having the man’s grey (silver) shirt pressed against her red dress just like the fragrance bottle.  The motorcycle also represents a free spirited nature and “taking a bite out of life” attitude and the fast paced environment of New York City.

The Red Delicious Apples and the shape of the fragrance bottle also give the tag line; ‘a new temptation in fragrance.  for women.’ more meaning since the word temptation is often associated with the story of Adam and Eve.  This texts anchors the photo of the woman on the motor cycle with the man since you can easily see the parallels of their postures with that of the story of Adam and Eve.  The apple that she is holding represents the forbidden fruit and the primordial creation of man and woman.  Her red dress represents temptation, sex appeal and seduction.  He is clearly tempted and seems to be entranced by the apple that she holding and by the woman herself.  She is looking right at us with a seductive look as if she is tempting us – that we are her next victim.  It could also be argued that the man is smelling her fragrance since he is close enough and is being drawn in and tempted by her.  It seems that he too is about to take a bite out of the apple and this is anchored again by the text ‘take another bite!’  The text says take another bite, suggesting that a bite has already been taken, leaving us to wonder by whom and what did they take a bite out of?  Is this a reference to the Adam and Eve story and this scene is a continuation of that story?  The text gives the photo more meaning and adds mystery.

In the image on the right, the silhouette of the Empire State Building in the background is mimicked by her slender left arm.  Her arm is nearly straight up and down, and the way her head is positioned facing us gives a subtle semblance of the Empire State Building behind her.  Her arm and the building run parallel and are balanced in the photo; suggesting she represents New York just as the Empire State Building.  This page of the ad reinforces the fact that DKNY is a very strong New York City brand.  The couple on the motorcycle represent an ideal culture and spirit of New York City.  They are both young and attractive, successful and fashionable.  Her red dress represents power and this is reinforced by the fact that she is setting up front on the motorcycle in the driver’s seat and he is holding on in the back.  Making the subtle statement that women who use this fragrance will be in control have more power – strong New York women.  There is also an air of ‘worldliness’ about them.  They could be Americans or just as easily from some another part of the world like so many people in New York City; adding to their mystic and sophistication.

Semiotic Ad with Mythologies

This ad captures the desires and appeal of New York City in many ways.  It touches on health, fashion, excitement, and sex appeal.  Many people in New York City are health conscious and the apple represents a healthy lifestyle.  The apple is shown to be fresh and clean suggesting that it is organic, perfectly ripe and ready to eat.  Something that you can grab quickly and enjoy on the go in the busy New York City lifestyle.  The man and the woman pictured in the ad are clearly health conscious, workout and take care of themselves.  Her skin, makeup and hair are all flawless.  The man’s five o’clock shadow looks to be intentional.  His messy hair style combined with his ripped jeans and t-shirt give him a rugged and tough appearance.  It would be a very different ad if either of them were overweight or not well groomed.  Both the man and the woman have a very fashionable and yet casual appearance to them.  Even though they probably put a lot of time into planning their looks they give the impression that they ‘just don’t care’.  This attitude gives the ad a sense of fun and playfulness, something that many people (especially in NYC) just simply don’t have the time to do.  The ad is saying in some ways that even though you might not have the time to hop on a motorcycle and cruise around with an attractive member of the opposite sex you can still buy our fragrance and it’s exactly the same as driving around town with a sexy person.

The image of the motorcycle associated with driving on the streets of New York City represents a certain amount of fearlessness and risk taking.  Especially since the woman doesn’t seem to even have a helmet with her and she is wearing a dress on a motorcycle.  This gives the brand and message a certain edginess to it, and suggests that you should take risks too if you want the type of lifestyle and success as the people in the ad.  This coupled with the sophisticated fashion choices of the man and women really capture what many people think about New York City and also what many people are striving for who live there or who want to live there.  The ad would have been very different if there was more focus on the motorcycle and that lifestyle for example.  The average person cannot tell exactly what type of motorcycle it is, they are not wearing leather jackets etc.  It’s hard to tell their social status but it’s certainly not blue collar.  Whether it was inherited or earned, they both give the impression that they have plenty of disposable money to do with whatever they like.  Which is a very attractive prospect in New York City when there seems to be unlimited recreation and temptation.

The deep red color sets a very seductive, bold and alluring tone for both pages of the ad.  In the left hand page the red in the apples is so ripe and fresh you cannot help but want to eat an apple.  The word ‘delicious’ seems to be popping out at you almost every inch of the ad, whether it be the words themselves or the images.  On the right hand page, the color red is used in a very seductive and sexual way with the woman’s red dress.  Seeing the man slightly leaning towards her makes it seem that he is physically being attracted and drawn in by her.  Both of these pages would have had a very different message and impact if the color red was not used or if was not as boldly used.  For example, if the woman were to have had a black dress on it would have changed the ad entirely.  There would have been an elegance to her, and although that could have had sex appeal, it most likely would not have suggested temptation and seduction the way this red dress does.  They also could have used Gold Delicious Apples that would not have sent the same reinforcing message at all.  A yellow golden color would not have been as striking as the red, which is a very powerful and intriguing color.  The sex appeal for both the man and woman are very clear in the ad and this is something that is definitely part of the New York City culture that the brand is appealing to in their audience and it is centered on her red dress.

When an advertiser uses symbolism, like in the DKNY ad discussed here, we are able to see how a page or two of images, with very little text, can draw upon several different aspects of our individual psyches with the hopes of getting us to make a decision to purchase their product.  In a very compact space the advertiser appeals to us in many different ways.  Everything from how much money we make, our social status, to what type of food choices we make.  And to what we do for recreation and even what type of people we would want to date.  All of these aspects are brought together in one place to entertain and inform us in a way that resonates with our cultural mythology about what is considered successful, exciting and sensual in various aspects of our lives.  Without a depth of meaning and symbolism being incorporated in the ads they become flat and lack the multi-dimensional aspect that our society has grown accustom to when seeing advertising.  When done correctly, this type of advertising is a selling an idea, a lifestyle or a myth to their targeted audience.  The focus of the advertisement is not necessarily on the product and how good it is, but on how their brand and brand image can fulfill the vision and meaning that their potential customers are looking for.