It must be a sign!

Before this week I had never even heard of the term ‘semiotics’, however now I feel like I’ll never be able to look at an advertisement or image in the media without identifying the ‘signifiers’ and the ‘signified’ and considering their effects. As defined by the oxford dictionary; Semiotics refers to ‘the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation.’ A sign’s overall effect is based upon two considerations, a signifier (or denotation); an image, sound or theme, and a signified (or connotation); the meaning placed, by the viewers, to that image, sound or theme. The signified can often vary depending on an individual viewer’s context and experiences.



To explore the effect of the relationship between the sign, signifier and signified I have decided to analyse an ‘E.N.P.A Society for Protection of Animals’ image, designed to create awareness about the cruelty of testing on animals.



The signifier

The image depicts a woman holding a small dog which appears to be coughing or exhaling a misty spray from its mouth, the spray is landing on the woman’s face and neck. Her eyes are closed and her facial expression depicts an amount of contentment and indulgence. The woman’s left hand is gently holding the dog, yet the positioning of her index finger appears awkward, it looks like she’s holding an object rather than a living creature. The dog is very small, possibly a puppy and there is a look of discomfort on its face. The background fades from green to black at the point where her hand is positioned, there is virtually only darkness on the right of her hand and the dog.

The signified

As the text in the top right corner ‘Help us fight the effects of cosmetic testing’ suggests, the image is intended to create awareness about the cruelty of animal testing. With this knowledge in mind I was able to interpret that the small dog or puppy is replacing a perfume bottle, and the mist coming from its mouth is perfume. By doing this, the advertisement creates a direct relationship between the product the consumer is using and the cruelty animal testing creates. The deliberate choice of a small puppy immediately creates a sense of innocence for most viewers, suggesting that these animals don’t have a choice in what happens to them. The use of a dog also makes us sympathise as dogs are known by most for their loyalty and strong relationship with humans (plus they’re adorable!). The background colouring can also be seen as portraying the cruelty occurring in the image. The absence of light after the point where the woman’s hand and dog are positioned can subconsciously prompt us to view the act of using the perfume as harmful and negative. Her facial expression depicts a sense of luxury and elegance, suggesting that she is oblivious to the harm she is inflicting by using the perfume (or that she doesn’t care about the wellbeing of the puppy). I interpreted this as reflecting the innocence of consumers as they might not be aware of the harm they are inflicting by using certain cosmetics.

When first looking at the image I believe there may be a bit of room for interpretation depending on the viewer’s context, however after reading the text in the top right corner ‘Help us fight the effects of cosmetic testing’ I think the intended interpretation becomes clear and impossible to ignore. This week I have truly enjoyed learning and implementing the art of semiotics, to be honest it’s the first week I’ve felt genuinely interested in a topic, it must be a ‘sign’ I’m in the right course!



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