Free «Semiotic Analysis of Advertising» Essay Sample


 German-made vehicles such as BMW, Porsche, Volkswagen and Mercedes Benz are considered as upscale brands. Consumers purchase these types of vehicles due to the brands’ outstanding performance and credibility as well as the vehicles’ superior features combined with an excellent design. Advertisements for these German-made vehicles remain consistent with the message and impact that they want to send out to existing and potential customers.

Keep in mind that the products of these companies have identities and images that differentiate them from their competitors. Customers and prospects are influenced by a wide variety of messages that are sent by both tangible and intangible attributes of their brands.

Advertisements focusing on Performance and Style

Some of the tangible characteristics as seen in the aforementioned ads for BMW, Mercedes Benz and Porsche are performance and product’s design. These tangible attributes are imminent in the advertisements of BMW, Mercedes Benz and Porsche.

In recent years, automobile companies have been dividing their markets into smaller and smaller segments. Buyers of cars are categorized into segments based on several factors such as the size of the car, styling and handling, price tag, and engineering. Some customers are willing to pay more for engineering (BMW), others for styling (Corvette) and others for size and functionality (SUVs).

Premium car manufacturers such as BMW, Lexus and Mercedes Benz have extended their brands to SUVs, a product category long dominated by Ford, Chevrolet, Nissan and Toyota. They have extended their successful brands to other products. There are advantages and disadvantages of extending a successful brand to other products. The advantages are saving money and time when they introduced new products, because their brands are already well-known and instantly communicate a certain level of trust since their brands already have that perception. To be successful, brand extension should result in a compatible fit with the established brand. The disadvantage is that if a new product fails for whatever reason, that failure could reflect negatively on the brand’s original products if any strong association developed with the failed product.

An example is a print ad for BMW X5 which is the first SUV introduced by BMW as an extension of the types of products that they offer since the production of SUVs from other car manufacturers are at its peak. Ad Number 1 shows BMW leveraging on its well-known key feature, which is efficiency dynamics and the trust that customers have in their brand. There is transference of this key feature from their signature body type which is the sedan to the new SUV that they are launching. The two vehicles represent the existing body type and the newly introduced body type. The BMW logo is present for both vehicles representing the obvious similarity between the two. The text or narrative, “We put our money where our efficiency is”, implies that these vehicles may differ in physical characteristics but the quality of engine efficiency of a BMW car is still present. This transference is denoted by the tagline, which stated “We put money where our efficiency is” (Brewer, 2009).

The advertisement of Mercedes Benz, Ad Number 2, for their SUV line also focused on their brands top features, which are dynamic handling, quickening power and sport ("German car news," 2011). Although there are three features clearly stated in the ad, there is more emphasis given in the Sport feature. The text narrative clearly denotes sport as the most important key feature. The text “Bring Sport Back” has the word “Sport” accentuated by visually attracting the readers through changing the font color for the chosen word. The logo of Mercedes Benz is absent from the ad but people who are aware about Mercedes Benz’s key feature will automatically determine the brand of the vehicle in the ad because of the connotation associated with the “Sport feature” for cars. The sport feature is described as the engine efficiency and excellent transmission of their vehicles. The dessert background serves as an arbitrary sign that the vehicle is specifically made to sustain this type of terrain with the help of the three key features mentioned in the text.

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 Porsche also focuses on their top-of-the-line vehicle specifications. Ad Number 6 shows a Porsche car driving through a road covered in thick snow, which provides us with the idea that Porsche has the ability to keep its good performance even under extreme conditions ("Porsche ads"). The gestures of the two men digging snow at the side of the road can be considered as a bodily code to represent that the level of snow is really deep that it requires digging for the road to be passable to vehicles. The advertising code is indirect with a sense of irony. The code is contradictory to what the image is telling us. The objective of the advertisement is to show the audience that Porsche remains heavy-duty and functional amidst obstructions such as weather, but the code tells otherwise. Metonymy is present in the text for the word ‘passion’ is used instead of the word ‘fire’, which is considered as opposite of ‘ice’ or ’snow’.

Advertisements Focusing on Value, Brand and Image

The intangible attributes such as image, perceived value and impressions of those who used the brand are also evident in the ads of these companies. These intangibles are incorporated since these are difficult for competitors to copy and they involve consumers emotionally. The uniqueness in their attributes is exemplified in the advertisements discussed below.

In the James Bond movie The World is not Enough, the BMW sports car model Z28 was launched in a starring role. Several scenes had close-ups of Bond driving the car, leaving no questions as to the brand. Ad Number 7 has BMW Z3 roadster had a cameo appearance in the James bond movie film Golden Eye ("James bond 007" ). James Bond can be considered as a figure of myth for this icon exemplifies, style, sophistication, wealth and reputation.

The BMW ad (Ad Number 8) uses conceptual association between the text and the image. The reflection of the car can be closely linked with the word “reminder” in the text provided. The reflection symbolizes the image that you present to others when you drive a BMW vehicle. Everyone wants to project a perfect image and BMW aims to give the customer this pride.

Equipollent paradigmatic is observed by the usage of the words logo, symbol and reminder. These words can be used interchangeably since these are related.

The Mercedes Benz ad (Ad Number 9) clearly depicts superiority that is linked with the brand. The spatial syntagmatic as seen in the arrangement of the text and image provides visual representation to the narrative that is provided ("Mercedes Launches New," 2006). The words “A Hero” are written and bold and very visible text for emphasis. An association can be made between the buyer of the BMW and the car itself in the sense that the buyer could also be a hero or a stand out among other men once they purchase a car (Mercedes Benz) that is considered as the champion among all cars.

Ad Numbers 7, 8, 9 and 10 represent the image that these German-made cars are not for the faint-hearted. It implies that these cars are for the middle-aged consumers or consumers that are still young at heart; lovers of long-driving and those who appreciate great technology; sports-minded people, who live by speed and adrenaline rush; and, of course, these cars are for those who thrive and dwell in exclusivity and affluence.

Advertisements focusing on Leveraging on Limitations

The succeeding advertisements from BMW Mini and Volkswagen Beetle utilized almost similar advertising strategies with some analogous semiotic strategies. These companies maximized and enhanced the limitations of some of their well-known vehicles in order to capture customer’s attention, while relying mostly on the belief that the credibility and trustworthiness of their brand could still make a difference in customers’ decision to purchase their vehicles.

Unconventional, that’s the story of the revival of the popular British brand. Now owned by the BMW Group, the MINI Cooper has its roots in England of 1960s (Wong, 2012). Ad number 3 depicts that the tiny car is surprisingly roomy and fun to drive, while agile handling reflects its long history of Monte Carlo race victories. Conceptual syntagmatics is used for the image wherein the car as smalls a Mini Cooper can actually fit luggage from the airport. Its reemergence took the car market as well as the advertising industry for a ride, summed up in the campaign’s communication claim, “Let’s Motor.’

Volkswagen Beetle was originally presented as small and ugly but reliable and fun, using headlines such as “think Small,” “Ugly is Only Skin Deep” and “Lemon.” By recognizing the car’s limitations, while at the same time dramatizing its quality as shown in Ad Number 4 5 and 10, these ads drew attention.  Ad Number 4 utilizes syntagmatic spatial arrangement to highlight the size of a Volkswagen Beetle (Ferguson, 2011). Irony is also present because they meant the exact opposite of the text and the image that they presented. The next Volkswagen Beetle ad (Ad Number 5) has the presence of an iconic sign for large or giant which is a basketball player ("1966 beetle ad"). The NBA player aims to ride the small Beetle, which seemed to be unrealistic. Ad Number 10 describes the Volkswagen Beetle as a lemon.  The word “lemon” is a terminology used to describe vehicles that exhibits an inordinate number of mechanical, structural or functional flaws. Similar to Ad Number 4 and 5, rhetorical irony is an essential aspect of this ad since by branding the Beetle as a lemon actually means that the quality of a Volkswagen Beetle is far from being considered as a lemon.


The German-made vehicles have gained public acceptance as an outgrowth of corporate and brand reputation. People think positively about these companies that they are more likely to accept their claims and point of views – that is consumers tend to agree with the communication they hear from the company through their advertisements. More importantly, they agree that the brands of these companies are essentially good and trustworthy. Brand success depends on retaining customers, and good customer relationships lead to retention. The use of semiotics in advertising helps these companies communicate with the consumers by proving them with inputs on the tangible and intangible attributes that they may gain from purchasing the products. The cars made by BMW, Porsche, Volkswagen and Mercedes Benz are driven by the consumers’ belief and confidence in the brands’ promise of superior engineering, sophistication, exclusivity and, most importantly, how these brands give them an image of being part of the upper social strata.


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