Denotation, Connotation and Bandwagoning in Advertising

Denotation, Connotation and
Bandwagoning in Advertising
Terry Hong & Michael Wong
Describe or draw attention to (a product, service, or event) in a public
medium in order to promote sales or attendance
Advertising is designed to:
1. Establish Product Superiority
2. Create a distinctive image for the product
Ultimately to persuade the consumer to
purchase the product.
What is it?
• “Literal, explicit meaning”
• “Factual”
• “Dictionary Definition”
• Denotation of a word/image conveys
Types of Denotation (Images)
According to philosopher C.S. Peirce (1839-1914):
- Icon: Direct representation (e.g. Image of the car
in car ad)
- Index: representation by association (e.g. Group
of friends laughing in disposable camera ad)
- Symbol: representation by convention, (e.g.
“Golden Arches” logo of McDonald’s) –
Advertisers want their symbol to become indexical
Use in advertisements, consider:
Portraying/presenting the ad to the audience
- How is the denotation of the images in the ad
helping to achieve the aims of the advertisers?
- What is the image of? Multiple? Pack shot?
- What type of representation?
- Camera angle?
- Image type/effects?
- Non-verbal messages? (Body language of the
Camera Effect:
Sepia-Tone, Icon
representation of band
members but as babies
(possible messages and
Also Font:
Antique cursive fonts –
attracts attention but not
so much so to detract from
Sepia and cursive perhaps
normal for the time, or
perhaps suggesting
Camera Angle:
Here the audience is put
into a low viewpoint,
looking up at the ad.
Authority and Power given
to Batman over audience.
“The Dark Knight”, could
denote colour or the
nature. Juxtaposition of
dark and knight (traditional
connotations). Slight wordplay conveying info about
the movie themes
Black and Orange/Red
Nighttime, contrast, helps
it stand out
What is it?
• “Figurative, implicit meaning”
• “Emotional & Imaginative Associations”
• “Additional suggestive meanings”
• Connotations of a word/image create
• May depend on personal & cultural context,
social mindsets of the time
Use in Advertisements:
- Transferring/Creating connotations for the
- Diverting/replacing connotations
- “Short-circuiting” unwanted connotations
Advertisers want to make their product evoke
desirable connotations. A product may become
associated with a life-style or a quality.
Denotation: Jessica Alba using this skin make-up
Also consider, angle? Looking side-on, seductive? Index
Connotation: J. A. associated with beauty, glamour
and sex appeal, transfers connotations to product
Image of a waterfall next to
pack shot of KOOL cigarettes
Trying to make the waterfall
image indexical
Cigarettes -> hot, dry,
cancer, disease
Waterfalls + Green ->
Natural, Clean, Refreshing
“short circuit” – Cigarettes
instead become associated
with nature and cleanness
Linking Denotation and Connotation
e.g.: Cosmetics ad featuring a female model
Signifier – Image of female model
Signified – Female model
Signifier – the signification of the female model
Signified – Beauty, glamour, sex appeal
Denotation and Connotation
Exist Together
Hollywood – A location in
LA, center of American
- Glitz, Glamour,
Celebrity, Dreams of
Cigarette – Rolled up dry
tobacco leaves
- Death, Cancer, Dry, Sick,
Same Denotation, Different
• Home
– Both denote: “Dwelling
• House
But Real Estate Ads like to
use “Home” instead of
Because “Home” carries
connotations of family,
security, warmth, comfort
& love
What is “bandwagoning”?
A wagon used for carrying a band?
Political jargon?
Is it positive or negative?
The Bandwagon Effect
• It is when people tend to do what others do, without
considering what their actions entail.
• This effect becomes more pronounced as more
people adopt the same idea (also known as
• For example, PSY’s Gangnam Style was affected;
people danced to it because lots of others did as
Bandwagoning in Advertising
• Advertisers often “jump on a bandwagon” to appeal
to social values, improving the product’s image.
• These social values are often emerging or resurgent,
because most people like being unique.
• Statistics and superlatives are usually used to jump
on a bandwagon.
Example 1: Toothpaste
• #1 toothpaste brand
• Recommended by doctors
• Use of superlatives such as
• Weasel words are used to
impress without facing legal
• “Triclosan” is a widely used
and controversial substance
Example 2: Guitar Hero
• This advertisement appeals
to the fans of the thenemerging musical video
game genre
• As it piggybacks on the
massively successful Guitar
Hero franchise, it has a huge
audience and causes
Analysis Activity

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