The Meaningfulness of Media and Meaning

This week, I was most moved by certain videos we were shown in lectures. The clip from the film ‘They Live’, shown in our lecture, had a significant impact on me. As someone who has always been extremely interested and passionate about the ‘behind the scenes’ of advertising and marketing, I found this rather sinister depiction of communication – advertising as its fundamental, essential ‘sign’ or symbolism (being consumerism) – particularly poignant. Studying the readings this week, I also thought of another video we watched in a previous lecture; children recognising signs and symbols of multinational corporations, such as McDonald’s Golden Arches and mascot Ronald McDonald, yet falling dumbfounded and unable to recognise the image of Jesus Christ. This was extremely moving, if not chilling, to behold.

Such videos exemplify the sheer power of semiotics in communication practices, supporting the thesis of Schirato and Yell, and their exploration of Saussure’s theory of semiotics and his specific distinctions and cyclical relationship of the signifier, the signified, and the emergent ‘sign’. Reading this article prompted me to consider some of the signs that infiltrate my own existence. Surprisingly, this was a hard task! Are there signs and symbols so ingrained into my subconsciousness that I am stumped to produce examples at an instant? Scary! I urge readers of this blog to try it – it is quite alarming. The obvious ones that come to mind are walk, don’t walk signs; ladies’, mens’ and disabled bathroom signs; and Australian road signs. However, the corporate world has cleverly utilised Saussre’s theory of semiotics far beyond the point of the graphic sign or logo to remind us of their brand.

In 2006 I underwent work experience with the creative department of a prominent major advertising agency in Australia. I was extremely lucky to score this gig, and for the sake of maintaining good relations with the business, I won’t give away too many details. One of their main clients was a particular multinational fast food chain. I remember being handed a booklet given to the agency by the brand’s marketing team, with specific information as to the specifications for advertising that brand. This included the exact colour shade that had to be used in all fonts, fills and formatting of the brand’s graphic design. This colour was named uniquely to the business. No other shade of this colour could be used in any campaign or graphic promotion of this brand. Then there was a font, again unique to the business. Just as the colour, this was the mandatory font for all advertising of this brand.

When making television advertisements, I was told to notice how all the actors would be wearing this particular colour, surrounded by similarly hued props. Obviously, semiotics extends far beyond the physical sign and delves into manipulation of our subconsciousness as consumers; the brand wants consumers to relate these colours and typography to their communicated brand experience, values and image; a practice alarmingly contrived to the ‘enth degree and almost scientific in nature.

I found media and meaning to be an extremely thought provoking topic this week; one that truly makes us – as both media audiences and practitioners – to stand up, rub our eyes and really take notice of what we are seeing… or consuming.

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