Semiotics and the power of images

Semiotics is the science of symbols and signs and the way that these forge meaning in the human mind. We use semiotics as a way to make meaning out of pictures, and in this case, advertisements.

Upon searching for a controversial advertisement for this post, I found this image:


This image shown is an advertisement by WWF (the World Wide Fund for Nature), an international non-government organisation which focuses on global issues regarding the restoration of the environment. Initially, this advertisement presents a powerful image: A woman wheeling a suitcase through a barren airport, with a trail of blood following behind her. Through the denotations of this image, we link blood to something malevolent.

Upon noticing the WWF logo as well as the short and simple phrase ‘Don’t buy exotic animal souvenirs’, we notice its connotation: that you are basically killing an animal just for a souvenir. Is it worth it?

I find this method of advertising to be very clever. Through its use of imagery, symbolism and empathy, it makes the reader think. It uses the negative image of blood, especially linked to an oblivious holiday-goer, to add another, more menacing facet to its message and it use of advertising conventions. Although this image’s denotation may be familiar to many audiences, its connotations will vary and depend on the individual experience and ideology of a reader. Also, we should note that that power of this advertisement is amplified by its colour scheme. The vibrant red of the blood is the focus of the image and is both striking and confronting on the dull and bland greyscale background of the airport. This immediately directs the viewer’s attention to the most important feature of the ad, as well as to the message they want their audience to take.

Upon further research of WWF’s advertising messages I found another thought provoking image with a similar message:


It makes the viewer think. They question their thoughts about an issue. In this case, does an animal need to be cute for action to be taken for its future survival? The Blue Fin Tuna also need help. But tuna tastes good…


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