Monday, March 7, 2011

How to analyse an advert semiotically - case study of Zazoo condoms advert

Semiology is concerned with anything that can stand for something else or as Umberto Eco says “anything that can be used to lie.” Semiotic analysis looks for signs and what they stand for in media text and as van Zoonen argues, “Semiotic Analysis is a powerful tool to understand how sign system in mass media can evoke emotions, associations, fears, hopes, fantasises and acquiescence” (quoted in Taylor and Willis, 1999:26). This paper will thus attempt to semiotically analyse an advert for Zazoo condoms and come up with an academic review.

In the advert, (available at:, attached) a boy and his guardian are on a shopping spree and the kid sees a pack of sweets that he finds irresistible. When the boy tries to smuggle the pack into the shopping cart his guardian refuses to buy it, the boy then causes an embarrassing scene forcing the guardian into buying the sweets.

The advert is not explicitly connected to condoms and it is why it makes a good text to semiotically analyse because most of the signifiers are connotatively linked to the signifieds in line with Taylor and Willis (1999) who assert that language, signs and their meaning are historically, culturally and socially produced.

The mood of the advert is normal, balmed by the slow music playing in the background, the lighting is also not manipulated in a big way, and then the trouble begins.

The first thing that can be spoken of a sign is the packet of sweets; its’ yellow colour serves to attract customers and to stand out, that is on a marketing side...a close look at the colour yellow will point to something that is promising, sweet, warm and exciting things. Some robot signs use yellow to indicate “go.” (

Yellow attracts the youth who are adventurous and ready to go for promising things; here is where teenage sex can be brought in. The youth are anxious to experiment with sex especially with puberty and peer talk that tends to make sex a must have.

The boy’s guardian in the advert stand for society in real life, it has rules laid out for youths, but just like in real life, the youth will not just listen.

The boy, who by now represents the youth, adopts a way to coax his father into buying the sweets for him; he burst into a loud crying session and makes a scene to embarrass the father.

The boy’s actions can be said to signify or represent what the youths of today’s society do, if society doesn’t want them to socialize or have sex freely, they will make a scene and do something bad such as getting pregnant or catching some disease.

The father tries to hush the boy as society labours to suppress the youth but they don’t usually listen and the dad bows to the kids demands and buys the pack of sweets. The message is the same, society doesn’t endorse premarital or extra-marital sex but since the youth seem too determined to have it, it is better to let them use condoms to avoid the negatives of unprotected sex.

The producer of this advert or text has used several tactics to carry across his or her message to readers as Alexander Clare argues “analysis of all of the adverts will strongly focus upon the advertisements' photographic imagery, and the ways in which this imagery generates the appropriate signified concepts (or emotional overtones) which promote the image of the product.”(Chandler, 1997)

Camera shots have been manipulated and the manipulation itself is a sign. The biggest close up shot in the advert is shot where the kid is at his angriest, like in the Chinese Kung Fu movies, Extreme close ups are used to show the anger or anguish on the faces of can thus be said that the mere fact of using an extreme close up signifies anger.

The anger described above will make the readers of the text to side with the child and once this happens the producer will have begun achieving his goal of selling the condoms although the audience does not yet know this fact.

The capitalized subtitles “I WANT THOSE SWEETIES” are also worth exploring in the text. In the world over whenever one writes in upper case, they are either angry or illiterate and because it is obvious that the producers of this text cannot come up with such an intelligent ad and still be illiterate they are probably trying to show the kids anger.

Gestures and expressions of the cast in the advert are also sign that can be of importance in talking about the text, semiotically. The gestures represent what Saussure termed codes or the language sign users use. (Taylor and Willis, 1999)

Saussure asserted that languages and their codes are constructed the paradigmatic and syntagmatic axial dimensions and that while some signs serve to scaffold a point some pull the meaning/ expectation in the opposite direction(Taylor and Willis, 1999:21)

The father puts a finger to his lips (as if to say “keep quiet”), puffs out air (to show resignation), avoids eye contact from other shoppers by casting his glance on the floor(to show embarrassment) and shrugs(again, resigning).

The boy, after smuggling the candy pack into the cart, ties his arms across the chest and gazes unblinkingly (to challenge his superior), shouts his cries despite his interlocutor being about a metre away, throws items from the shelf and lies on his back and cycles the air using his legs.

While the audience paradigmatically sides with the boy, the message “use condoms” at the end of the advert syntagmatically shatters the sympathy and throws the reader into some kind of dissonance which may or may not be balanced by accepting condom usage.

The other shoppers represent the critics in society. They ignore the child’s deliquence and focus their gazes on the parent. Their gaze is a sign signifying disappointment and disapproval.

The advert ends with a still shot of a red packet of condoms with the inscriptions “one for 2.” The portrayal of the box is as pregnant with signs as the squealing child.

The red carton speaks of the importance of the box’s contents especially after the bad things that can happen to those ignoring have already been beamed.

The phrase “one for 2” stands or signifies what is contained in the carton and it is not easy to know that it mean that the box has two usable condoms.

The whole packet and message stands for the real product in a shop somewhere and the portrayal stands to instil the image of the real products in the viewer or reader of the text. The bigger picture, however, is that the packet is the solution to the problems of child bearing (as denotatively shown by the ad) and solution to the unabstaining and passion seeking minds.

It has already been asserted that signs are contextual and as Taylor and Willis (1999) put it, signs are also polysemic that is they have the potential to be interpreted variously by different readers. The advert can thus be seen from another perspective as well.

The advert was aired at a time (2004) when global condom usage among youths was slumping; the advert can thus be seen as a warning to careless couples of what awaits them. (

The looks on the faces of the other customers in the mall are an indication of the disapproval that awaits the rashly parent.

The discussion has, in a nutshell, picked out the semiotic signs in the Zazoo advert and expounded them by unpacking them into signifiers and codes and laying bare the signifieds. It has also looked at why the signs were used and the way semiotics plays a role in advert design.


Bhbfriendsfan, (2006) (video) available accessed 19/02/11

Chalres, K. (2010) (www document) available at: accessed 19/02/11

Chandler, Daniel (1997): Semiotics for Beginners [WWW document] URL accessed on 20th February, 2011.

No author, (www document) available at: accessed 21/02/11

Taylor, Lisa and Willis, Andrew (1999) Media Studies: text, institutions and audiences, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

No comments:

Post a Comment