In order to understand the influence and meaning an ad holds, one must analyze the image and message through semiotics, or the study of signs. Within each culture, various objects, words, and images hold their own assigned meaning that allows humans to make sense of what they are interacting with. Essentially, through a process known as “abduction”, humans are able to see an image, process its cultural code or meaning, and ultimately understand the overall message the image conveys. It is through this process that a culturally relevant audience can understand advertisements and their significance. One interesting ad that can be analyzed through semiotics is Tom Ford’s recent campaign for his Spring collection footwear:

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For a thorough semiotic analysis of an ad, there are six questions one must consider:

1) What are the signifiers in the ad?
In the ad, we see a half naked, attractive young man smiling; we see black wedges with gold chains; we see two legs and feet with red nail polish; and we see the large “Tom Ford” logo at the bottom. It is also important to note that the ad is in color.

2) What do they signify?
Perhaps the most obvious meaning that the half-naked young man conveys is sex and beauty. With the red-nail polish feet and black wedge heels (cultural indicators of a female), the audience can assume that the two legs belong to a young, fashionable woman about to engage in flirtatious physical activity. With just her polished toes and fancy shoes, these pairs of legs signify femininity, style, and sex as well. The vibrancy of the gold chains on the shoes also signifies glamour and luxury.

3) What meaning does that assign to the product?
With such an advertisement, it is clear that Tom Ford hopes for his shoes to convey sex appeal, glamour, and luxury. In contemporary society, flirting and hooking up with attractive people is deemed as fun and seductive, and this ad definitely taps into this young adult mindset by associating such behavior with his shoes.

4) What social values/norms does this promote?
While this ad appears controversial in that it promotes the social norm of sex among young adults, it is important to remember that advertisements tend to preserve existing cultural values and power relationships. This ad maintains the value of heterosexuality as well as the social norm for female beauty; to be deemed attractive, women must fit a certain mold; being Caucasian, thin, and stylishly well groomed are all elements of this mold and can be seen by just the two legs of the woman.

5) Are there particular social groups that the ad speaks to? Not speak to?
This ad would speak to the young and most likely single women of society looking to be fashionable and attractive. Young adult men may also find the ad sexually appealing, and could possibly be consumers of the shoes for their girlfriends or wives hoping for the same sexual desire the ad conveys. The ad also speaks to heterosexuals. Thus, the advertisement does not speak to the very young and very older generations of society who are not at the point in their lives of seeking sexual rendezvous or prioritizing high fashion and style. In addition, this ad does not speak to homosexuals.

6) What are the possible alternate interpretations?
Given that we can only see a small portion of the female model’s legs, the advertisement plays on the audience’s imagination; that is, various interpretations can be taken in terms of what exactly is going on. Perhaps they are not about to engage in sexual activity. One could think of various reasons as to why a female would be in that position. However, given that the man is naked, it is hard to presume a situation without sex. Yet, because the advertisement doesn’t specify what Tom Ford is promoting, people may interpret the product differently. Some men may think that the ad could be promoting a men’s cologne or hair product given the prominent image of a man. Or, women may think this is an advertisement for nail polish.

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