Semiotics: A critical analysis of three advertisements

Seminar Paper, 2004

21 Pages, Grade: second upper degree


Table of Contents

List of Figures


1. The Saussurean model

2. The Peircean model

3. Roland Barthes and Erwin Panofsky

4. Advertising no 1

5. Advertising no2

6. Advertising no 3

7. Conclusion


List of figures

Figure 1: The Saussurean model (According to Chandler)

Figure 2: The semiotic triangle (According to Chandler)

Advertisement no 1

Advertisement no 2

Advertisement no 3


Semiotics is often easily described as the study of signs, though this definition does not foreshadow the dimension of this topic.

The reason for this is that the term ‘sign’ is a concept of broad comprehension; a sign is a meaningful unit, which is interpreted as ‘standing for’ something other than itself. Signs are found in the physical form of words, images, sounds, acts or objects (…) they have no intrinsic meaning and become signs only when sign-users invest them with meaning with reference to a recognized code (Chandler, 2002, p.241). The definition of a sign as a ’thing-plus-meaning’ was given by J. Williamson (Williamson, 2002, p.17).

The meaning, which is made out of signs, is of great importance for us, because it is a means to structure our life, thus the study of signs is important within advertising that is a part of our daily life.

The task of this paper is to show how signs create meaning by analysing three different advertisements for small cars of different brands.

With the help of semiotics, but also by the consideration of the external environment of the advertisement, their messages should be identified.

In the first chapter the model of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure is discussed. The second chapter includes the model of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce and in the third chapter the models of Roland Bathes and Erwin Panofsky are demonstrated.

Starting from these models the different advertisements are discussed in chapter four to seven.

Each advertisement is classified by one of the models mentioned above. The additional investigation of the target audience and the external environment will justify the different messages.

The conclusion in chapter eight represents a résumé of the role of semiotics within advertising.

1.The Saussurean model

According to this model a sign consists of two parts: the signifier and the signified. The signifier is the material form of the sign - it is something, which can be seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted (Chandler, 2002, p.19).

The signified is the mental concept to which the signifier refers (Arnason, Saussure and the sign (online), no date).

The term signification stands for the relationship between both which, can be described as an essential feature of the Saussurean model of a sign, because a sign must have both a signifier and a signified. You cannot have a totally meaningless signifier or a completely formless signified. A sign is a recognizable combination of a signifier with a particular signified (Chandler, 2002, p.19).

The Saussurean model is illustrated in the following figure.

The arrows in figure 1 show the relationship between the signifier and the signified, this relationship creates meaning, though, their link is arbitrary.

For example is the allocation of the word car to the object car arbitrary and this is why the same signifier could stand for a different signified (Chandler, 2002, p.19).

This arbitrariness can be explained, according to Saussure, by the different languages:

There is the word “car”, “voiture” or “auto” for the same signified.

Today, where the Saussurean model is not only used with linguistics, but also with signs in its different material forms there are many different examples for this arbitrariness.

The colour white as a signifier, for example, is allocated to a different signified according to different cultures and social conventions:

In China the colour white is associated with death, whereas in western countries the colour white stands for innocence, purity and cleanness


Especially in connection with advertising that communicates the aimed-at message to the target audience this arbitrariness is very important.

Because a sign that can be interpreted in different ways leads into different messages (which were made out of different signs) that might be wrong or not planed - the advertisement could therefore be misinterpreted.

2. The Peircean model

This model is triadic it has three different parts:

The first part is the representamen, which can be compared with the signifier of the Saussurean dyadic model.

The second part is the interpretant that is, according to Chandler, the sense made out of sign (Chandler, 2002, p.32).

The third part is the object, which can be compared with the signified of the Saussurean model.

The term semiosis describes the teamwork of the three parts out of which meaning is created.

This model is pictured in the semiotic triangle, which is shown in the following figure.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2: A semiotic triangle

(According to Chandler)

The sign vehicle corresponds to the representamen, the referent can be compared with the object and sense stands for the interpretant.

Even in this model the arbitrariness between the sign vehicle (signifier or representamen) and the referent (signified or object) is demonstrated.

Though the emphasis on process is the most important difference between the model of Saussure and the Peirean model.

In the figure the sign is made up of the process of semiosis.

This process depends on the sense, which requires a development of the idea and is therefore highly influenced by conventionality.

This is why Peirce classified the relationship between the representamen or sign vehicle and the object or referent

The classification depends on the degree of conventionality of the representamen, which influences the sign and thus its’ meaning which is therefore tangible according to different cultures, that is conventionality.


Excerpt out of 21 pages


Semiotics: A critical analysis of three advertisements
University of Lincoln
second upper degree
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
798 KB
Quote paper
Minea Linke (Author), 2004, Semiotics: A critical analysis of three advertisements, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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