Semiotic analyses of advertisements reveal cultural norms and values associated with a particular society or group of people. In fact, in order for people to decode signs they must do it within their own sign system (dependent on language, historical context, and culture). Social Communication of Advertising, writes, “Semiotics highlights the way that we ourselves take part in the creation of meaning in messages, suggesting that we are not mere bystanders in the advertising process, but participants in creating a code that unites the designer and reader” (Leiss, Kline, Jhally, Botterill 164). Advertisers depend on these signs in order to communicate a point quickly and effectively to consumers.

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In the above print advertisement for Heinz ketchup, the signifiers include a vivid red backdrop, a classic bottle of Heinz ketchup horizontally sliced with a tomato on top, and white text reading “No one grows ketchup like Heinz.” While a seemingly simple advertisement, the combination of text and picture reveals insight into the values of the targeted consumer. Ketchup is generally loaded with sugar and preservatives, however the ketchup bottle, sliced like a ripe tomato, signifies freshness. The marketers behind this campaign attempt to redefine the ingredients in ketchup by transforming the bottle into a healthy fruit. Ketchup is made in a factory and by any means isn’t “grown,” however the text reads, “No one grows ketchup like Heinz.” Again, the marketers transform a sugary condiment into a wholesome, raw ingredient. In doing so, advertisers attempt to assign a “healthy” connotation to ketchup. Not only are advertisers attaching a nutritional aspect to ketchup, they are redefining ketchup– perhaps in an attempt to promote a healthier way of life.

By transforming the Heinz ketchup bottle into a garden-fresh tomato, it seems as if the marketing team is reacting to the somewhat recent push from the government to decrease preservatives, fat, and sugar in our food. Whether Heinz actually changed the ingredients in its ketchup while this campaign launched is unknown, but regardless this ad appeals to those looking to eat better quality foods. In fact, the advertisement depends on people looking to replace sugary foods with wholesome ingredients in order to follow a healthier lifestyle. Whether that is mothers’ looking for healthier ingredients for their children or young women looking to cut out preservatives, this ad appeals to those looking to make healthier eating choices It is interesting because the advertisement doesn’t speak to a specific age or gender. It’s universal in terms of its content, however it is dependent on the social context of today with pressure on large food corporations to make their products healthier. However, if the consumer doesn’t care about preservatives or a healthier diet, then this ad is completely irrelevant and doesn’t speak to that demographic.

Even an advertisement about a universally known brand has the potential to be interpreted in various ways. In the Heinz example, a consumer may see the sliced ketchup bottle as an abstract sculpture, and therefore associate Heinz ketchup with innovation and art. Or maybe people will think that Heinz is a ketchup company and a tomato farm. The interpretation is contingent upon the values and norms of a particular segment of society but by tapping into the vein of popular culture, marketers have the opportunity to appeal to consumers using a kind of short-hand that benefits their bottom line.

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