Here, to my right, I have an interesting photo that the jeans clothing brand, Diesel, used to advertise its clothing. As you can see here the photo depicts a woman standing on a ladder and flashing her breasts to a camera. What’s interesting is that the caption beside her reading out, “Smart may have the brains but, stupid has the balls” seems to be the main focus of the advertisement. It’s also important to notice the captions in much smaller fonts below her. They read, “Shop at Diesel.com” and “Be Stupid. Diesel.”
Here are some of the questions that may be running through your brain? Is this ad effective in selling jeans? What does the ad mean? What is the photo in the ad really trying to say to us on a deeper, subconscious level?
These questions can be answered just by observing and analyzing the images through the “signs” shown in the ad. I’m going to do this through the process of semiotics, where I will analyze the signs (signifiers), their meaning (signifieds), and how they’re signified (signification) into codes (field of signifiers). I will also analyze the signifieds on different levels, syntagmatically and paradigmatically. The syntagmatic level will explain the combination of signifiers and the signifieds that make the advertising piece in its entirety and how they create the photo’s theme or meaning as a whole. On the paradigmatic level, the associations of the signifiers will be explained to understand the defining the category in which they are placed. To make it easier for you to understand this analytical process I’ve provided a short video providing a few examples of semiotic analysis.
On to the Analysis
Now for the fun part! Let’s start with the first and most obvious image in the ad, the woman. When I first glanced at the ad I thought it was a young girl, coincidence? Of course not! They have the woman wearing her hair down and it’s blonde. Both signs can be seen as innocence because, as Arthur Asa Berger says in “Media Analysis Techniques”. Other signs that make her look young are her shoes and the way her jeans are rolled up above them. The bright tennis shoes are usually something we associate with children as well as the pants. The pants rolled up can be interpreted as a garment that only a child doing lots of activities outside would wear.
We can also look at the woman’s body. Her ribs are showing. This can be noted as the advertisers trying to get the public to associate the brand with thin people. We can also see her skinny physique as a sign to make consumers believe that the jeans will make them look thinner. We can also observe the fact that the side of the woman’s breast is showing. This image brings up signifieds of sex and rebelliousness. Lastly, I want to look at the color of the woman’s skin. It is a golden tan color. This brings up the childhood aspect again being connected through the fact that children play outside and therefore can sometimes have sun-tanned skin. The tan can also be a signifier of provocative signifieds as well as a signifier of sex.
The setting of the Photo
The barb-wired fence in the background, the bricked building, and the camera attached to the wall of the bricked building all signify being enclosed into an institution. One could even argue that the background looks much like a prison. With this being said, the girl flashing the camera could be analyzed as rebelling against the system, the dominants in control. The color of the ladder is extremely important as well. The ladder happens to be the color red which is a color usually associated with anger. Within this particular ad one could conclude that the red ladder adds to the rebellious theme of the photo because the girl can be seen as angry at the system of which she is rebelling.
The first caption to the left of the woman reads, as said earlier, “Smart may have the brains but, stupid has the balls.” The diction of the caption is extremely important to look at here. For example, the use of the word “balls” is not only an inappropriate word in daily usage but it’s also a word full of shock value. The characteristic of shock value in this case associates itself largely, again, with rebellion. Many in American culture see young, angry teens using inappropriate wording to “make a statement.” The other captions seen at the bottom of the ad read out, “Shop at Diesel.com” and “Be Stupid. Diesel.” Again I’d like to point out the diction used here. The phrase “Be Stupid” can have a number of different meanings. The advertisers could be trying to be ironic by making a rebellious act look cool but then calling the person out for doing the inappropriate behavior. The advertisers could also be trying to associate the phrase with people that are cool. Ads like these make it a point to sell their products to a younger demographic. By making “stupid” acts look cool it therefore makes Diesel’s jeans look trendy, rebellious, and totally inappropriate. For younger teens looking to rebel against all things including their clothes it’s a genius ad.
What’s the Big Deal?
It’s important to understand what advertisers are trying to say or sell to its consumers. In this Diesel ad it has become quite clear that through my analysis the themes of the ad are rebellion and fighting the system. It’s also very clear that this ad is aimed at a younger demographic. We as a society associate teens with thoughts of progression and rebellion. Through the signifiers of the woman, the setting, and the captions consumers can view this ad and associate its images with characteristics of a wild teenager that I just described. Without breaking the photo down and analyzing each of its features one might miss the subliminal messages that associate the jeans with being against the system. It’s also important to see that not only is the brand Diesel advertising jeans but they are also advertising wild acts as cool and trendy. One could infer that the ad is telling young people to act out against the system. With this all being said, if you don’t pay attention to the details you’ll miss the whole point of the ad in its entirety as well as the themes being portrayed through the images.