Look to your left. Now, back to this article. Look to your right. Now, back to this article again.
Did you see a sign?
What connotation did it have to you?
Sign Here Thanks
Definition of sign: Something that refers to something else.
The ambiguity in the definition is intended. Essentially anything can form a sign.
Signs show denotations (signifier) and connotations (signified). A denotation is what an image literally contains and connotations are what an image suggests.
The study of signs is known as; semiotics. This involves the science of signifiers and the signified and how they relate.
Let’s Take a Look at Some ‘Ads-amples’… Examples
The above image is a billboard commissioned by Sony as an ad campaign for their new product, the White Playstation Portable. The image is of two people in black and white. One Caucasian woman with white hair, dressed entirely in white, in a very dominating pose over the other person. The second person is a black man, dressed entirely in black, in a submissive pose to the other person.
Sony may very well have intended on emphasising the superiority of their white console over the black one but a lot of people too offence to this image due to it’s connotations. The body language of the two people of different races suggests a superiority of caucasian over black people.
It’s all about perspective.
The above is a road sign that shows the silhouette of a car followed by curved, black lines. The intended connotations of this sign is that the road ahead is slippery but the sign could just as well be telling motorists to do burnouts.
No Smiles For Controversy
While denotations are straightforward and controlled, connotations have an ambiguity about them that can easily be misinterpreted. Misinterpreted images aren’t all bad, as long as they don’t touch on ‘taboo’ topics such as drug use, inequality, murder, child abuse, nudity, frowned upon sexual practices (Just to name a few) or they are simply too disgusting for some people to be comfortable with.
Top left: An ad by Sisley showing two women using a dress as if it were cocain. The intention seems to be playing on the addiction to drugs being like the appeal to Sisley’s fashion brand. This ad was criticized for ‘glorifying’ drug use. Drug use is a sensitive topic in today’s society so linking it to everyday items such as clothes seems inconsiderate and vulgar.
Top right: The image contains what appears to be a chef about to shave a man with a terrified look ob his face, with a cleaver. Possibly intended to play on the supposed negatives of being in the ‘wrong job’, this ad terrifies people with it’s raw bluntness. The man in the chair is on the verge of being murdered, this makes most people uncomfortable.
Find these and more controversial advertisements here