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Volkswagen Precision Parking Advertisement – Semiotic Analysis

April 25, 2018
Szymon Zurek
5 minutes
studio photo with a white background showing three gold fish packed in a plastic see through bag with a hedgehog between them

Volkswagen Precision Parking Advertisement – Semiotic Analysis

According to O’Shaughnessy and Stadler semiology is, “the science of signs, or the study of signs and sign systems” (p131). In this assignment, I will use semiotic terms and point to signs, signifier and signified, denotation and connotation as well as anchorage towards a text. The text is an advertisement of “precision parking” made and advertised by the car company Volkswagen. In this text, Volkswagen uses many analogies, metaphors and signs which direct us to think a certain way about their product which ultimately has an effect on the wider world.

Analysis – Denotation

Often semiotic analysis is begun by describing the denotations in the text which according to O’Shaughnessy and Stadler means “the most obvious level on which a sign communicates” (p136). Another way of defining denotation could be: Communicates the meaning by transferring information which directs to ideas and concepts on the surface level of the text. This advertisement uses very simple and realistic (non-abstract) props to convey its message. This simply includes three see-through, plastic bags filled up with water with goldfish inside them. The plastic bags are tied up and form an imperfect sphere. Between the three of plastic bags, there is a porcupine with sharp quills. All the props are lined up in an important order and all of that happens on a simple white background. On the bottom right corner, there is text: “Precision parking. Parking assist by Volkswagen” and further right of the text there is the Volkswagen logo. On the top right of the advertisement, there is a link to the Volkswagen website: www.volkswagen.de which leads to the Volkswagen website so that there can be further communication between the audience and the organisation.

Connotation

O’Shaughnessy and Stadler see a signifier as a “visible, tangible, or audible aspect of a sign that carries the meaning” (p132) also known as the physical state of a sign. The signified is defined as “the thing or idea a sign refers to” by O’Shaughnessy and Stadler (p132). In almost all text a signifier can be communicated both on a denotative and connotative level. O’Shaughnessy and Stadler define a connotation as “the emotions, values, and associations that a sign gives rise to” (p136). The plastic bags filled up with water may connote the idea of being fragile. This idea, depending on perspective, experiences and culture, can be communicated in two ways:

  • One of the reasons we may think it’s fragile is because of the context of the scene. As there is a sharp object (porcupine’s quills) in-between the bags there is an automatic association with the bags being fragile as we know that contact with the quills may cause destruction.
  • Another reason for us to think this way is the manner in which western society may have shaped many of our childhood lives. Many children play with water balloons in hot summer days. There are also many advertisements on television advertising the water balloons product and ‘fun experience’ that comes with it because of water balloon fights. Because of this reason, society may associate these plastic bags filled with water as fragile.

The orange colour of the fish symbolises warning or a hazard. This grabs our attention and suggests to us that we should be concerned about the fish in the plastic bags. Since we associate the bags as fragile, our fear for the fish survival is increased. We understand that the bags are fragile because there is a contrast to the bags which is the porcupine. Since the porcupine is the object that is more durable and exposed less to danger, we can see it as superior.

Anchorage

According to Kelly Ludwig anchorage is when “The reader is ‘remote-controlled’ to pre-determined meaning. It narrows the possibilities for interpretation of the image” (p9). The anchorage in this text would be: “Precision parking. Parking assist by Volkswagen” as well as the Volkswagen logo itself (at the bottom right corner of the text). Because of the Volkswagen logo, we associate the advertisement with cars and because of the text “Precision Parking” we can see straight away how the analogy of a porcupine in-between fish is applied in real life. As the fish and porcupine are aligned in a line, using anchorage we can understand the signified which is parallel parking. The signifier of the signified (the idea of parallel parking) are the three fish aligned with the porcupine. A technique which the designers used in this advertisement which is the use of a plain white background, not only is a sign of elegance and cleanness but also helps us to focus on the signified (analogy). Since there is a use of white colour as a background to symbolise elegance, we may associate the Volkswagen Company with elegance and class.

Effects on the Wider View

As stated before, because of the contrast between the porcupine and the fragile plastic bags, we may see the porcupine as more durable therefore more superior. When applying this idea of ‘durability’ into the context of parallel parking in the car world we may associate the Volkswagen car as more superior to others. This suggestion of durability of the Volkswagen cars not only guarantees us that the car will stay in good condition in a ‘crash’ (relative to other cars) but at the same time suggests that the durability doesn’t exclude precise and gentle use. This is where the “precision parking. Parking assist by Volkswagen” text is used to ensure us that the technology of automatic parking is trustworthy. In this text, there are three fish and only one porcupine. Looking at this from a denotation perspective, there is less porcupine than the fish. This could mean that the porcupine (the Volkswagen car) is rarer. All these factors: advanced technology, durability, elegance and rarity factor in on the opinions the society makes on the company. In most cases in the western culture, these factors are seen as superior and owning items with such factors can give us supposed social status. This text forms a desire for such automated parking assists technologies in cars, therefore the technology advances as there are more requests for it. Another factor is simply the convenience of automatic parking. The effect this could have on the views of society is how people would become lazy with parking but on the other hand, this could also be seen, as a convenience so that the busy people waste less time. This could also create controversy within the topic of passing driving license test by using an automated parking system and therefore divide the society into three sides (or more) one of which would be for permitting automated parking when taking the driver’s license test while the other would be against. The third group is usually the one which does not hold a stance.

Conclusion

As we see in this particular text, in this case, the signified (idea) could not be explained without explaining the anchorage first. This is just one of the examples of how all the semiotic terms need to be used together to explain the text as a whole. Because of that, we need to understand how important the target audience is when it comes to making sure they are understanding references and analogies. Both demographics and psychographics research is important when making decisions on what denotations and connotations, signifiers and signified as well as anchorage will work. The importance of knowledge about the target audience lets us use semiotics more efficiently.

REFERENCE LIST

O’Shaughnessy, M and Stadler, J. (2012). Pictures: Semiotic Analysis’ in Media and Society (pp. 131-136), South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Ludwig, K. (n.d.). Semiotics: convention, anchor & relay. Retrieved from http://kellyludwig.com/kcai-embeds/act-semioticslecture-intro3.pdf

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