Human communication is a dynamic and complex conglomeration of meaning that is signified through the used of mutual agreed upon symbols as well as the context in which those symbols are used. Chandler (2002) indicates that many theorists argue that even our own perceptions of the everyday world around us involves codes, therefore in order for the communication process to be as absolute as it can possibly be, there needs to be a commonality in the signs systems used by both the sender and the receiver. However, when messages are sent through mass media (e.g. radio, television, newspapers, etc.) the degree of ambiguity between the signified and signifier is further diminished in order to facilitate understanding and information transfer. It is in this vein that television advertisements must construct their desired message in such a way as to ensure that the desired target audience receives, internalizes and understands the communicated message. This essay will examine the use of symbols, codes and signs in the Cell-C advertisement “Snapshot” in order to illustrate how visual codes can be constructed and embedded within the society from which it is produced (South Africa). In addition, this semiotic analysis will indicate how, in the given example, the array of visual and audio signs are use within Cell-C’s advertising campaign in order to create a positive correlation between the series of symbols (the advertisement itself) and the brands message and image. 2. SYNOPSIS: ‘SNAPSHOT’ The Cell-C advertisement revolves around a young black boy as he travels from a bus stop to his desired location. Along the way he takes photographs of various signs, people, places, etc. that would allow his friend to follow, ultimately guiding him on the same path the boy had initially traveled. The pictures that are meant to act as a guide to the second boy are governed by the context in which he travels, that is his pictures are culturally important and relatively recognizable within the South African (S.A.) culture (e.g. the photo of the finger in S.A. has a specific reference to the area to which you want to travel to, this same finger positioning may have significantly different meaning when examined outside a S.A. context). After the first boy has reached his destination, he systematically sends the pictures he has taken to the second boy in an attempt to guide him to his current location. The ‘tag line’ of the commercial is ‘Clever’, suggesting that through Cell-C’s affordable service one is able to use visual texts as a means of communicating in a new and unique way.
3. SEMIOLOGY AND ITS CULTURE IMPLICATIONS The process through which ones acquires the meaning of the sign system, in one’s culture, is largely learned through one’s interaction with members of that that culture (Fourie, 2002:10). Therefore the degree to which the ambiguity between the signified and the signifier is reduced is directly proportionate to the level of ‘sameness’ between the communicators (i.e. the style of advert designed used to promote support of local product in the U.S.A. would differ from one in South Africa). The recognition of the signs, produced within any given society, can be divided into three basic types: iconic. indexical and symbolic. Iconic signs are signs that are the easiest because “it most closely resembles the ‘thing’ that it represents” (Fourie, 2002: 11), an example would included an Identification photo used in passports or, in the ‘Snapshot’ advertisement, the chicken outline most closely resembles a actual chicken. In the advertisement the iconic signs are strategically designed and placed in order to reinforce the link forged between the target audience (young South Africans) and the visual codes, in other words the cognitive dissonance the viewer experiences, as a result of the fast-paced bombardment of images, is subdued when these (easily recognizable) iconic signs are displayed. Hence, the role of iconic signs in the ‘Snapshot’ advertisement acts as a base level which allows the viewer to internalize and understand the abstract nature of other, more ambiguous, codes and signs. It is through indexical signs that form the foundation behind the advertisements theme of direction; these are signs that do not have a direct resemblance to the object or idea being represented (Fourie, 2002:11). A good example of this is the first image taken by the boy, that of the red stairs, this sign indicates direction, an inclination and a possible pathway – all of which can not be know without previous exposure to. Without the use of such signs in the early stages of the advertisement the viewer would become disoriented, a tactic used only later on in the advertisement through a series of short shots of symbols and signs that are juxtapositioned in such a way that a sense of time and distance is created. This process exemplifies syntagmatic-paradigmatic nature of semiotic structures in that the sequential nature of the signs portrayed (i.e. African dancer in the street) and the required conceptual notion of urban life in S.A.
As previously mentioned, signifiers and the signified are culturally embedded; signs that are of this nature are labeled ‘symbolic signs’ (Fourie, 2002:10). These signs are rooted in our social and cultural past (e.g. the picture taken of the taxi sign just before the boy boards the taxi) and they represent the heritage of the culture in which they are used. 4. STRUCTUAL SEMIOTICS AND MATERIAL SIGNIFIERS Although when studied in isolation signs identification can be a relatively easy task, however signs and codes exists within a system of cultural understanding as well as the intertextuality that exists within all semiotic structures (Chandler, 2002). Through the used of pictorial depth cues and viewer relativity, the given Cell-C advertisement makes used of common daily symbolic encounters and draws the viewer to their relative significance (i.e. they are being used as important ‘landmarks’ to guide the second boy). This reinforces the tag line of the commercial in that it seeks to transcend the conventional use of signs and symbols, or at least reinvent the manner in which we make associations to them, in other words the extent to which the “signifier is constrained by the signified, the more ‘motivated’ the sign is” (Afronord, 2001). Language, as a complex sign system, tends to isolate any person who is aware of all the denotative (as well as connotative) meanings attached to those signifiers. In this vein we can reiterate that Cell-C has attempted to narrow that gap between South African’s because as one of the most diverse countries in the world there are many language spoken by the population, therefore the use of visual symbols in the advertisement can be interpreted as an attempt to avoid homogenizing the population but instead creating a new sense of commonality and understanding. If, hypothetically, the boy was sending verbal descriptions of his progress through cell-phone technology in an African language the objective meaning of the advertisement would have been compromised and the essence of the advert lost. Interestingly though, one of the only audio material signifiers used in the commercial is in the latter stages when the second boy receives a message, despite the fact that he is holding a Erikson phone the message alert sound is that of a Nokia, this is because the sound of a Nokia SMS alert notification is more commonly associated with receiving a message than other audio tones, hence Cell-C made use of yet another symbol that is aimed at mass reception.
5. CONCLUSION Semiotics encompasses a large array of signs, symbols and codes that derive meaning when examined within the social structures in which they are created and used. The Given Cell-C advertisement makes uses of this structural intertextuality in an attempt to create an advertisement that acknowledges the diversity of individuals that it wishes to target, whilst at the same time it serves as a testament to the advance communication technology available through their company, as well as its flexible and adaptable nature. Just as the Cell-C logo itself is a ‘C’ symbol create through perceptual proxemics (i.e. as a series of disconnected dots), similarly the advert itself seeks to create meaning through gestaltic principles. (i.e. the notion that the idea behind the advert is ‘clever’ is only so if it is examined as a whole, or sign system). Hence the Advertisement derives meaning from the sequencing of symbols as a eclectic mix of culturally signified messages that induce a common understanding of both the Cell-C brand and the advert itself.
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