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Since my childhood days advertisements in television, newspaper, billboards and yes

radio jingles always fascinates me, I used to memorize them all from Amul’s radio jingle
‘piyo hamesha dhoodh’ to ICE bulb’s ‘ Meri chori pakadi jaate’. Still I can recall them
in same manner I used to do in my school days. Even today also I love to read road side
billboards and advertisements placed at different Metro Stations in Delhi they all give
some kind of satisfaction to recall all my childhood memories.

The art of advertising is as old as mankind. Our culture defined by the stories we are told
by our elders and the stories we pass on to our children. These stories serve as
indoctrination into system of our culture allowing us from early age to understand
morality: right and wrong, virtue and vice, good and evil, from the perspective of our
respective culture.

Why is advertising so successful in influencing our behavior? Why can it be so powerful?

Is it just peer pressure, the collective ego at work? Even then, something must spark a
new consensus within a peer group.

Perhaps its power lies in the way that character or event that creates the satisfying story
resolution is substituted with a brand. The brand changes the feeling of winter to summer,
shadow to light, problem to solution, incompletion to wholeness. Some advertisements
which still recall were the woman in the Surf Ad got a name - Lalitaji - and was brought
to life on television by Kavita Chaudhary in a TV commercial with the tag line “ SURF
ki Kharidari mai hi Samajdari hai. Lijjat Papad - "Kharram Khurram, Khurram Kharram
- Mazedar Lazedar Swaad Swaaad Mein Lijjat Lijjat Papad".

Images in Advertisements
Talbot (1995) argues that ads offer consumers membership in imaginary communities; to
belong we need only to buy products. In the cosmetic advertisements the woman flaunts
her hair to signal that owing to her physical attributes of velvety soft tresses she can
attract several men who are all shown striving to reach her , but she is unattainable and
desirable only because she uses a particular brand of shampoo. The images of fair skin
models abound in the advertisements of skin lightening products and cosmetics such as
Fair and Lovely, Olay cream etc. The images suggest that all women need to be happy is
to have a perfect body, fair skin and fashion accessories. These would make them
attractive to the opposite sex and increase their rating in terms of their desirability. There
is a glaring absence of images of older and middle-aged women, or professional women.
The pictures of young models not only emphasize youthful looks, fair skin and slimness
as desirable, they tend to establish them as the norm , thus making the middle-aged and
older women invisible in these popular discourses. Also, there are images in ads to
enhance or reduce or modify the body shape focusing on women’s primary identity as
objects of sexual pleasure. These images of physical desirability and attractiveness are
juxtaposed along with images of heterosexual couples in advertisements of family
planning, advertising contraceptive pills and injections, thus reinforcing the ideology of
patriarchal marriage and children.

Advertising fascinates people. It flirts momentarily with their lives, seduces them and
leaves them with wonderful images and dreams. Dreams that to be fulfilled, make people
work harder and harder, earn more and more to spend more and more. Advertising is an
integral part of our social and economic systems.

In our complex society, advertising has evolved into a vital communication system for
both consumers and businesses. The interpretation of visual images is very subjective and
thus cannot be conclusive as images are open to different renditions. In order to
understand the visual communication, it is expected from the audience or consumer to
have sound critical thinking ability. Our senses, instincts, cultural settings, and values
greatly affect the process of visual interpretation. Even our personal life, background,
moods, needs also contribute significantly to the interpretation process. I find the
semiotic analysis of ads interesting and challenging as no single image has a fixed
meaning and it depends how the signs function and organize its value within the ad and in
context of its audience and product.
Fair Skin culture
The cosmetic sector has often been accused of using advertising to impose particular
standards of beauty and thereby contributing to problem of self-esteem among women
and girls. Fair and Lovely launched its campaign for ‘fair complexion’ to appeal women
whose appearance did not match traditional standards of beauty. The concept of ‘Magic
Skin’ is not restricted to the female domain and even the male species is also being

The present ad ‘NIVEA for MEN’ shows a sports stadium where a football match is
being played. It features a group of footballers, who are in the ground and defending the
shot from the opposition. The players standing in the particular position are the major
signifiers of the problem posed in the print ad. It’s a rare scene in the football match,
where the players are covering their faces instead of protecting the groin, the most
sensitive part of the body.

The ad further hints as if the match was played in sunny day in which the players did not
take chance with their facial skin. It is also apparent in the visual image that there is not a
single stain or spot on the clothes of players. It also further determines their concern to
the cleanliness and better facial complexion. Their dressing reveals that they are equally
protective about their facial skin. In the ad, the signifier is the bunch of players with face
covered and the signified being ‘Nivea for Men’. The signified object is ‘Nivea for Men’
that appears tall in white colour rightly providing the solution for the skin sensitive
sportsperson. The one sign in the entire ad is invisible remarkably, but its presence is
being felt in absence. We don’t find in the ad that the opponent striker is ready to take the
shot or kick the football but the audiences associate the underlying meaning with the
understanding of other visible signs.

Case study: Incredible India

As India develops its tourism industry, it has begun doing more and more

advertising, to attract foreign tourists. The present campaign, “Incredible India,” with an

exclamation mark instead of an “I” in “incredible,” generally features beautiful Indian

women in Saris or other costumes against dramatic backgrounds. The advertisements

mostly consist of iconic monuments and sweeping vistas, India has long appealed to

travelers seeking culture, natural beauty, and spirituality. Yet these days the subcontinent

also entices visitors with more worldly pleasures. Treasure-filled bazaars and boutiques

make the country a shopper’s heaven, while mouth watering regional cuisines lures

epicureans from around the globe. World-class golf and a hip nightlife add to India’s

allure, helping to reveal the modern side of this ancient land.

In some print ads Taj Mahal flaunts its beauty to the tourists and attract them to visit

India. The ad also shows a religious icon, a photo of a snow-capped mountain peak, a

Caucasian woman in a yoga position, a canoe on an idyllic beach, a red turbaned man

with a camel, and a tiger. All these images suggest the diversity of experiences one can

have in India.

Barthes Roland, 1972, Mythologies, The Noonday Press, New York.

Barthes Roland, 1997, Text Music Text, Fontana Press, London.

Baudrillard, Jean (1988). Selected Writings (Ed. Mark Poster). Sanford: Stanford
University Press.

Chandler, Daniel (2002). Semiotics: the Basics. London: Routledge

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