Semiotic analysis of a Heinz Ketchup advertisement

We’ve talked before about the study of semantics (meaning in language) versus semiotics (how things have meanings). We’ve also been talking recently about specific ways that language can be used to manipulate opinion. The article that I’m “reblogging” here is a nice example of using not so much language and its semantics, but rather the broader field of semiotics, to manipulate opinion, courtesy of the Advertising and Society blog.

This ad from 1900 is a good example of a common strategy for getting people to buy a commodity from you: the ad tells you nothing about Coca-Cola, but plays on your desire to want to be like the lady in the picture–young, wealthy (note the elaborate clothing), and loved (note the flowers). Picture source: public domain,

The post is about an advertisement for ketchup. Ketchup is a good example of what’s called a commodity–a product with the property that it generally doesn’t really matter who you buy it from, because it’s mostly all the same. Other classic examples of commodities are wheat, sugar, toothpaste, and razors. If you are, as they say, in “commodities hell”–trying to out-compete other people when all of your products are pretty much the same–then you have to convince people to buy the product from you on the basis of something other than the product itself. Typically, that involves painting a picture in which your product is associated with something that your customers value other than the product itself–family, love, or in this case, health.  Portwood-Stacer’s post is an extended analysis of a very simple-looking advertisement that makes use of semiotics in a pretty sophisticated way, and in particular the interplay between symbols (Porter-Stacer refers to them using a technical term, sign) and the way that symbols can take meaning from their societal context.  Enjoy, and thanks, Dr. Portwood-Stacer!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Curative Power of Medical Data

JCDL 2020 Workshop on Biomedical Natural Language Processing


Criminal Curiosities


Biomedical natural language processing

Mostly Mammoths

but other things that fascinate me, too


Adventures in natural history collections

Our French Oasis


ACL 2017

PC Chairs Blog

Abby Mullen

A site about history and life

EFL Notes

Random commentary on teaching English as a foreign language

Natural Language Processing

Université Paris-Centrale, Spring 2017

Speak Out in Spanish!

living and loving language




Exploring and venting about quantitative issues

%d bloggers like this: