Images Can Sell Everything Cultural Studies Essay


Images can sell everything such as perfume, car, a shoe, a house, a politician or a plant.

Ads present us with images and then make them seem true (Quoted in Dyer, 1982: 82).

Images are the central medium of information and visuals are dominant images today. Advertising is what René König has termed ‘a restless image’ (Quoted in Myers 1983: 221). Advertisements holds an independent existence and a powerful effect, especially with the aid of visual narrative.

Human being is bombarded with symbols, images and signs and has always tried to signify them and to use them to communicate. The meaning is derived from interaction between the message and its reader). The components as well as the relation between the components, the ideas it has created and the techniques used in creating such ideas can be considered. The images urge us to react and we become aware of its effect upon us. This is the result of connotations embedded in the images. Visual semiotics lead to deconstruction of the communicative visuals to try to find the meaning and ideology.

Print advertising creates a medium for understanding how advertisers try to persuade potential receivers to go into action. According to van Leeuwen (2005, p.8), "A good starting point for studying aspects of visual communication is to consider that there is two verbal and visual modes of communication in print advertising with complex interaction between them".

The prominence about signs is that their significance can only be understood in relation to their arrangement and in their structural connections with other signs. A sign not only means in and for itself, but also through its ranking in other signifying systems such as the individual ad in advertisements. The signified does not happen except as a function of a specific signifying system. The main aim of this research is to show the ideological concepts hidden in ads and the role gender plays in it.

Analysis of Magazine Advertisements with Semiotics Approach

Picture 1


Sign: Absolut Vodka magazine advertisement


The figures and elements shown in the ad is a modern female opening a box with diverse bodily parts of a modern working man in an metropolitan room .The disposition is showing a distorted scene where the woman tries to construct a perfect man from the body parts she has ordered. The mood is positive by overlooking the frustrated expression on the women’s face while she is trying to put the man’s body parts together.

The roses, the formal clothes of the lower portion, the guitar and the tattoo on the man’s arm, the girl reading the instructions, the male mars symbol on the package, the metropolitan setting as well as the modern furniture and decor , the glasses, and the dog serves as signifiers in this advertisement. The male figure’s body parts are of different colour; the face seems white, the arms are white, but the upper body is a darker colour which could be that of a black man. Unlike previous perception, when "racial minorities were either ignored or stereotyped" they are now seen as part of an ideal world (Croteau & Hoynes 2003, 201). Perceiving the different body parts, the advertisement brilliantly conveys the Absolut definition of a perfect man. A perfect man buys roses for his lady, he is expected to work as a professional and must have other refined hobbies such as playing the guitar, and his body is in perfect shape. The woman’s ideal man is superficial and his intellectual and emotional features is not considered to be important as part of the ideal man. The heterosexuality of today’s major society is strengthened by the mars male symbol on the container. The dog seems to be watching the woman. It seems a bit frightened seeing the body parts which depicts the confusion of the animal.

We can choose and organise anything we want to own in today’s ‘do it yourself world’. In the real world, a perfect man probably does not exist so one has to assemble one yourself.

The semiotic of the ad is focused on the world and the people living in it. This is a universal language that portrays the world, its people and their identity and the one consistent desire of the enormous diversity existing today .This campaign definitely highlights very general issues in a sense of what Absolut vodka would be like in an Absolut world today.

The changes that are going on in the world are resembled in the ad. Women are shown as assertive and controlling rather than only sexual objects which are handsome and passively attractive. Homosexuality discreetly portrayed in ads is no longer taboo. The perception of coloured or racial deferent groups is perceived in a positive way when a black body was seen as part of ideal man in the Vodka ad.

(2012). Gender and Media Representation. (Key Concept of Media Studies). Retrieved from

Picture 2


Sign: Southern Comfort magazine advertisement

Most people know the phrase "ball-and-chain" which is associated with oppression, jail, convicts, hard labour and unfairness. We often hear it from the lips of a distressed, fatigued, overworked man in the company of his badgering wife. This is definitely the image the advertisers for Southern Comfort are trying to get across. They want the reader to sympathise with the man in the ad. The male is dragging his imaginary "ball-and-chain". In this ad there are many signifiers. There is a male figure and three females, bags, buildings, a chair, script on a window, a walkway, a bottle of Southern Comfort, white lines as well as two lines of copy. The first line of copy states, "Your free time may have changed. Your drink doesn't have to." The second line states, "Hang on to your spirit." The add is divided in two. The top two-thirds of the ad is the photo copy and the one third at the bottom features a black background.

The advertisers lure our thoughts from the image on the page to the thoughts that form in our head through the signs that have been shown to us. The man in the ad is casually dressed, wearing khakis and a blue, collared shirt. A box is tucked under his left arm and he is carrying a lot of shopping bags. The image of a ball-and-chain suggested by dashed white lines is connected to his right foot. A female dressed in a short black dress and black shoes is in the direction in which he is looking. The female is clutching the right arm of the man and holding a purse with her right hand. She is looking towards him and she is smiling at him. The reader’s reaction to this ad is drawn upon looking at these two characters, especially from the image of the man.

The bags in the man’s hands and the colour of his shirt is in contrast to the black of the woman's dress and therefore attracts our eyes toward him. By carrying so many bags, while the other characters in the ad have only one bag, makes him the centre of our attention. We see the bags that the man is carrying meaning that they have been doing a day of shopping. The relation between the man and woman, strengthened by our own rules of what the duties of the male and female are in a relationship, leads us to the assumption that he is carrying the bags for the woman walking next to him, holding onto his arm. The image of the ball and-chain as well as the woman grasping the man's arm, makes us believe that the man may not be there voluntarily. He is "captured" (ball-and-chain) by the woman and is then compelled to do things that he normally would not do such as spend the day shopping.

The ad supports the idea of lifestyle change that a man is compelled to undergo when he starts a relationship with a female. It unashamedly says, "Your free time may have changed", referring back to the archetype of masculinity, that a man would not normally prefer to be shopping (the notion that shopping is a female hobby is also strengthened by the fact that there is only one man as opposed to three women, and the man is fulfilling some requirement of a male in a relationship). "Your drink doesn't have to leads one to adopt the idea that Southern Comfort is the drink that the man used to enjoy before his life was controlled by the female, or is a shared drink of choice for unattached men. It associates the drink with the freedom of the man before he became "captured". This the freedom that men like to embrace. "Hang on to your spirit", is highlighted because it looks like words that was individually cut-out and pasted onto the contrasting black background. Our mind links these cut-outs with the print used in newspapers and magazines. By using this method of words the advertisers suggest the "ransom" myth as seen in movies where the villain of the film used cut-out letters to prevent being traced. The advertiser is cautioning the buyer not to let the fate of what happened to the man in the ad happen to them. The man must not let the bachelor spirit be captured by a demanding woman. They are urging the consumer to cling to their freedom in their previous life, which has been associated with Southern Comfort.

The advertiser is trying to get us to adopt the idea that the ball-and-chain could be substituted with the bottle of Southern Comfort signifying freedom. The advertisers are playing on the rules and archetypes that we have established in our culture which prescribe to us what bachelorhood is, what happens when a man engages in a relationship, committing to a woman, and what behaviours are normal for men and women.

The female next to the man carrying the bags for her, is clothed in black. This could signify two things: it could be used to show that the woman is "high class" or, it could be seen as suggesting that she is the demise of the man's freedom. Therefore two opposing social codes could be raised for interpretation. Is the code that signifies black to mean upper class and upper society, or is it the one that sees black as the colour of death? Semiotics is a multifaceted structure of interpretation and can be interpreted in different ways by different people. The main objective of the advertisers is to link Southern Comfort with the freedom that a man experiences as a bachelor. It is also to appeal to an age group of men who could be in committed relationships and who want to relive their young days, escaping the ball-and-chain (control) that they are presently experiencing. The advertisers try to make the connection in the consumer’s mind that Southern Comfort can make them relive the things that society associates with the myth of bachelorhood such as freedom and good times spent with friends. They are thus encouraging the public to buy Southern Comfort.


Advertisements today try to obliterate the line between ideals and reality. They attempt to show what we desire, what we often do not realy need and who we strive to be.