The world is full of figures and images which possess a number of meanings and interpretations, depending on who perceives and looks and to what context those illustrations are applied. Those kinds of representations are forms of visual communication that are used in order to disseminate messages in the mode of signs and symbols. This kind of visual communication is very much prevalent in advertisements, may it be in the form of tangible (prints and posters) or intangible (television) materials. Certain ads exemplify meanings for consumers; and as such, they have become the subject of study in the manner of semiological or semiotic analysis.
Semiotic analysis, the study of signs and symbols underlying in a visual image, is a framework that is applied in the interpretation, examination and evaluation of one of the Calvin Klein adverts. When consumer culture have begun and emerged in the latter part of 20th century, several strategies have been done and conducted by manufacturers in order to attract more consumers. One of the techniques used is through ads wherein the manufacturer’s objectives are put on the ads, as well as the target consumer and what the company is trying to convey about the products.
The proliferation of such ad materials has become the interest of the study; thus, semiotic analysis has been utilized in order to understand the meanings and language behind those adverts. Semiotics, in its shortest definition, is the science or study of signs. It is not extensively and broadly institutionalized as an academic discipline but it is considered as a field of study which involves diverse theoretical stances and methodological tools (Chandler). According to Umberto Eco, “semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign.
Signs are not just restricted to everyday speech, rather they connote something else such as images, gestures, sounds and objects (Chandler). These signs are commonly referred to as language (Silva) and the utilization of such language and images is called representation. It is done to create meanings about the world and everything around the human race (Sturken and Cartwright 12). In semiotic analysis, the first things that should be identified in the signs are the signified and the signifier. The signified is said to be the meaning that is given to it in a culture.
It is the interpretation and implication that people think when being exposed in a signifier (Silva). On the other hand, the signifier is the material object which can be a written word, a drawing, a portrait, a sound of the spoken word, etc. (Silva). In analyzing signs, there are orders of signification. The first one is the denotation. It is the description of what is/are in the ads. It is characterized as the “definitional, ‘literal,’ obvious or ‘commonsense’ meaning of a sign” (Chandler). It is linked and interconnected with the signifier.
In contrast, the second order of signification is the connotation. It is the given meaning and interpretations that are connected to a broad cultural significance. It is utilized to pertain to the socio-cultural and ‘personal’ relationship and association, which can be ideological, emotional, etc. , of signs (Chandler). Calvin Klein, a fashion designer, is renowned for his denims and for his several challenging and provocative underwear advertisements. His name-brand, especially in the underwear industry, has become a hit during the 1980s (“Calvin Klein”).
The chosen Calvin Klein ad focuses neither on jeans nor underwear but rather on a kind of perfume. On the advertisement, the signifiers are both in the letters and the picture forms. The image reveals the bold letters ckIN2U. It is exemplified twice: the first one is bigger which is on the foreground of the ad. The second one is a relatively smaller which is delineated on the two bottles. Underneath the bigger ckIN2U are the words “2 new fragrances. one for him. one for her. Calvin Klein in 2 u. ” The ad denotes a picture form in a sense that it delineates a man and a woman on its left part.
On their background is an architectural entity–a wall with a window–and a somehow diminutive appearance of a street. Figure 1. The Calvin Klein Ad On the other hand, the signified message on the ad centers on what are being represented by those mentioned signifiers. The presence of a man and a woman implies the cultural connotation on heterosexuality. However, the appearance of a woman, being portrayed with half-open lips, exposing the lower part of her body and holding the man’s belt, connotes women as sex objects of men.
Furthermore, the portrayal of the man, leaning on the wall while grasping the woman’s hair exposing his well-built and muscular arm, shows the power of men towards women and their capacity to possess and to dominate them. The individual connotation on it revolves on its power to magnetize the spectator(s). The ad provides a feeling of attraction. It suggests to the spectator that when a man uses the product, it would give him the authority and influence to attract a woman. On the contrary, when a woman utilizes the product, it would provide her more sexual appeal which definitely entices a man.
Personally, the bottles symbolize a phallic symbol. The two bottles, being two and not one, imply the kind of society that the models are in. However, those bottles and the colors of liquid inside it, also attempt to provide the idea of equality between men and women. Intertextuality is another significant standard that is applied on semiotic analysis. It pertains to the texts that the spectators or readers have come across before. Chandler states that the texts provide the contexts within which other texts may have crafted and deduced from (“Intertextuality”).
Moreover, it is an advertising element which frequently refers to other advertising images in order to attain meanings. On the Calvin Klein ad, ckIN2U is the most dominant text in the advertising medium. “CK” is the utilized acronym of the trademark. Once a spectator sees a billboard, posters, or a magazine page with “ck” on it, he or she would interpret it as Calvin Klein because it is the sign that is used by the brand to make a distinction among other brands. The word “IN” is in bold letters. It provides an emphasis on the word itself even though the color of the font is not that appealing: a faded color grey.
The word “to” is represented by the number two (2) because the manufacturer wants to give an idea that the perfume is done for both men and women. So instead of “to,” the utilization of “2” is more engaging and attracting. Moreover, the word “you” is represented by a bold letter “U,” a way of expressing emphasis too. It pertains to “U”—anyone who is looking at the ad and can afford to buy the product. The texts below the major text “ckIN2U” present the clear meaning of the ad and the major text per se. The number “2” signifies the two new fragrances.
It also pertains to the “him” and “her” in the subtext. CK is stressed by the words Calvin Klein on the lower left part of the ad. The text “IN2U” has appeared thrice in the ad, two of which have bold “IN” and the other one is just depicted as “in. ” It offers a notion of more internal experience of the perfume. Once a person—“U”—buys and uses the product, ck would give internal satisfaction, making a person hooked in ck because of his or her inner experience which comes from the outside element—the perfume. Furthermore, the texts “one for him” and “one for her” is very much a cliche.
Nevertheless, it grants power to the ad, implying the heterosexuality behind it. It is an approach used by CK to portray sexual equality between men and women. The texts employed by media are relevant means through which ideologies are constructed and reproduced. Ideologies is defined as the “sets of social values, ideas, beliefs, feelings and representations by which people make sense of the world they live in, thus On the ad, it is not just the texts that create and re-produce ideologies but as well as the image presented within it.
The juxtaposition of the texts and figures are powerful manifestations of ideologies encompassing the advertisement. In the Calvin Klein ad, the heterosexual ideology is very much apparent and domineering. It is emphasized on the texts as well as on the picture. The mere presence of “him” and “her” and the representation of two models: a man and a woman, connote that ideology. On the other hand, the said dominant ideology on the ad has given birth to several discourses that can be found and can be interpreted within it.
Discourses are characterized as “ways of referring to or constructing knowledge about a particular topic of practice” (Hall 6). It can be a group, formation or cluster of ideas, images, figures and practices that give means of talking about and provide bodies of knowledge and behavior correlated with a specific topic, social activity of institutional location in society. They give definitions on what is appropriate or not in relation to practices (Hall 6). In the ckIN2U ad, the discourses are pulled on the signifiers.
The heterosexual ideology showcases gender-sensitive theme, however, even though it appeals like that, it can still be viewed that males dominate on females. That dominion is portrayed by the male figure and his entire appearance in the ad. However, the blending of the woman’s and male’s manifestations creates a sexual connotation. The manner, by which the models are portrayed as soon-to-kiss and somehow-demonstrating sexual moves like, grasping on the man’s belt and holding on the woman’s hair, exemplifies that fact.
Moreover, the color yellow and blue, which are also the liquid inside the bottles that is on the foreground, denote the representation of male and females. And their chemistry, which is depicted in their poses, is illustrated by the blending of the two colors, demonstrating the color purple or violet on the foreground amidst the color blue. The ad shows time and space. They are delineated by the architectural body and transparent curve-like shape in the background. It gives an implication that the product can be used anytime and anywhere, hence providing an inner satisfaction that is manifested in the form of sexual representations.
Furthermore, it portrays its target consumers: teenage males and females in the upper class or middle class of society because the models imply so. The models are fair-skinned and well-dressed; and as such, are most probably members of the upper or middle class society. Whoever can afford to purchase the ckIN2U perfume will certainly experience the same sensations presented in the ads. In one way or another, that is the message that is being revealed in the Calvin Klein ad through the utilization of semiotic analysis.
It is said that a successful advertisement materials employ semiotics in order to convey messages through signs and symbols. That rationale provides the advantage of semiotics especially in advertisement and the study of visual images. The proliferation of visual culture strengthens that reason in order to attract more consumers in the market. Semiotics is very much influential in cultural studies, in understanding mass culture, popular culture, consumer culture and subculture. It is a method used in interpreting and explaining the language behind visual communication materials (“Criticism of Semiotics”).
Its disadvantages lie on the reality that certain observations and interpretations on visual materials are based primarily on personal interpretations, judgment, comprehension and prejudices. It is not in a way objective because anyone who conducts semiotic analysis, his or her understanding on certain symbols are rooted on his acquired knowledge, belief and culture. Results on the examination and evaluation can somehow be referred as subjective-personal-and-cultural semiotic analysis of the advert.
In any case, semiotics, being the science of signs, is indeed a great help in understanding signs and symbols. It becomes the way, method and framework in pulling out the underlying and hidden messages behind advertisements. It allows the consumers, though very much limited to those who know and has a full comprehension of it such as academicians, researchers and theorists, to apprehend the language of the advert. Furthermore, different categories of products employ different languages in their adverts. The Calvin Klein has triumphantly utilized semiotics in their advertisement.