My short semiotic analysis: IVORY SOAP ADVERTISEMENT

ivory soap

Author: Original: Strobridge Lith. Co., Cin’ti & New York, for The Procter & Gamble Co., Cin’ti, O., U.S.A.
Restoration and attribution: Adam Cuerden

The study of signs and symbols. 

SEMIOTIC NEWBIE ALERT! I had a bit of fun (I lied, I had a lot of fun), developing a short semiotic analysis for a Procter & Gamble Ivory Soap advertising poster from 1898. I love the vintage feel of old-fashioned advertisements and find the colours used visually appealing. And you know what? Exams are over, so I have decided to write about an area that I enjoy learning about.

Let us discuss semiotics. Semiology plays a huge role within public relations, marketing and advertising. I was introduced to the concept of semiotics back in grade eleven and this followed on to my first year at Deakin College. After studying my core unit called “Communication in Everyday Life”, I have become fascinated by semiotics and the endless research dedicated to the study of signs and symbols. Throughout my course, we have discussed semiotics, without the word semiotics coming into the mix. I suppose we do not walk around saying, “Oh look semiotics” or “Oh look, a semiotic over there!” – Okay, this did happen in my first year, but not after that and the name did pop up recently in my Marketing Communication unit.

Before I jump straight into my own semiotic analysis, I think it is best for me to share what I took away from Daniel Chandler’s book called Semiotics: The Basics. The study of semiotics is not simple, it is quite complex. I believe he accurately depicts how the conversation would most likely unfold when trying to explain what semiotics is to someone. The study of signs is the easiest and quickest way to explain semiotics. Perhaps everyday visual signs such as traffic lights, might come to their mind, but when you go on to further explain that semiotics can also be the study of objects, words, body language and sounds…it can be interesting. Check out Chandler’s e-book here.

A sign could be interpreted one way by someone, while it is interpreted differently by another person. This is where the concept called Polysemy appears. My personal interpretation of the advertising poster is influenced by my own values, attitudes, beliefs, social and cultural framework. Meaning is conveyed differently and this is why it is such an interesting field of study and is a practical concept applied to the communication process. The basic communication process consists of a sender, encoding (putting thoughts, ideas and information into a symbolic form), decoding (the way the receiver interprets the message) and a receiver (or consumer). It is easy to think sender and receiver, but how will the receiver interpret the message?

Author: Original: Strobridge Lith. Co., Cin’ti & New York, for The Procter & Gamble Co., Cin’ti, O., U.S.A.
Restoration and attribution: Adam Cuerden

Headline: You Need Only One Soap, IVORY SOAP

Denotation: The headline is placed right at the top of the page. A smaller font has been used for the “you need only one soap” while the brand name is stylised through capitals and is the largest text on the advertisement. The text is outlined in white and stands out from the yellow background. The text is black.

Connotation:  Readers can quickly identify whom this advertisement belongs to. The brand name is clear, bold and distinct. At a first glance, readers may look at the large brand name or eyes may be drawn to the poster image due to the colour of the man’s red shirt. As a first-time viewer, I was curious to know why the man was standing in the water but my eyes were quickly drawn to the brand name. “You only need one soap,” tells the readers that this particular brand can take care of all your cleaning needs.

TEXT: Pure- First Quality

                  Not Expensive

                  Will Wash Anything

                 No Chapping


               IT FLOATS

Denotation: A list of the product attributes are on the bottom-left of the advertisement and are all the same colour as the other text, but do not have a white outline. The text ‘It floats’ is displayed in larger, bold text with a white outline. The list of product attributes tells the reader key product information through simple words and communication.

Connotation: What makes the product unique and stand out from its competitors? This text provides the unique selling propositions about the soap. “Not Expensive” clearly signifies the fact that it is cost effective. “Will Wash Anything” reinforces and aligns with “You need only one soap”, telling the audience that ivory soap is the only soap you need to satisfy all your washing needs. “No Chapping”, communicating an extremely important attribute, the fact that the soap will not irritate or dry out the consumer’s skin. One could argue that “It Floats” is larger to ensure the audience know the brand’s key selling point. The ‘pure- first quality’ text also suggests to the consumer that the product is made from quality ingredients.

Display of Product:

Denotation: Adding this additional information allows the viewer to make the connection between the image and the unique attributes of the product. The illustration is the main focal point for the advertisement and covers the majority of the page. The scene is set outside in the wilderness with a white tent in the background. The man is standing in shallow water, leaning over and looks as if he is ringing out a washed clothing item or washing his hands. The white ivory soap is floating on the surface of the water beneath him. The soap has not sunk to the bottom of the river and can be easily found again in the water. The product is easy to distinguish, as it is a bright white colour.

Connotation: The scenery and display of the product communicates to the viewer that the product is robust and will be there for all your cleaning needs. Readers understand it is good quality soap which is affordable, claims that it can wash anything and unique because it is the soap bar that floats. The viewer can understand the ease of using the ivory floating soap; it will not sink no matter wherever the consumer may be. As a viewer, I can identify through the product demonstration and slice of life, how the soap bar could fit into my lifestyle. Going camping, or simply having a bath. The slice of life technique can be used to create a situation that the target audience can relate to. It is not a complicated or an expensive cleaning product.

So there you have it, Procter & Gamble’s advertising poster for Ivory Soap delivers the key information about the product with simplicity and a large image displaying the product through a ‘slice of life’ technique to communicate its purpose. Like me, the consumer might be curious to know what the man is doing and in the next moment realises that the Ivory Soap is the unique soap that floats. This advertisement highlights the fact that Ivory Soap is the number one soap for your household.

Thank you for reading.

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