Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Semiotic Analysis featuring Nike

After reading, Decoding the Meaning of a Perfect Christmas Meal by Susan Belle and Lynne Freeman, to me, I thought I couldn't possibly think of any other example. That’s when I realized the whole idea of a semiotic analysis is that it can be applied to almost anything. Most of this generation knows the famous brand, Nike. I chose to use a few of their magazine advertisements to do a semiotic analysis.

These two magazine ads are from the same company. You can tell that the one to the left is geared towards men and to the right is geared towards women. Right off the bat, you can see that they're going for a completely different outcome. The article used three ways to analyze; "textual, ideational and interpersonal" Most Nike ads such as the one on the left are men playing sports but when it's designed for women, sports aren't usually the main focus. The ads that are for women usually contain women with little to less clothing and the moral is about getting in shape. It focuses on the body (aka, her butt) because women should be staying in shape instead of playing sports. I'm not saying that Nike doesn't believe women should be playing extra curricular activities but their ads pin point women's physical looks. The men ads are usually famous sports players when the women's ads, you hardly recognize who the model is. That's where ideational and interpersonal came into play as well

These two ads from Nike almost explain themselves. The ad on the right says "One More Thing For Men to Rule" which means exactly what it says. Men are considered the superior sex and when it comes to Nike, they used that traditional stereotype to advertise.

A few quotes I want to point out from Belle and Freeman's article;

  • "Some things do not change. The discourse was almost always about perfection. The magazines' text informed readers each year that preparation and hard work were the key to perfection."
    • Although this is about a Christmas meal, I compared it to the Nike ads. Nike aims for perfection but using their products can help you prepare and participate in hard work. 
  • "Each year, the magazines also presented one or more alternative Christmas day menus, sometimes called the 'Australian' or the 'budget' or even 'cheats' version which was shown with much less food and virtually no Christmas symbolism"
    • I compared this example to Nike and how they're perceived as the best of the best. If you purchase products that Nike sells but it's from a different brand, it's considered to be the "cheaper" brand and the easy way out. How come it's considered less value worth if it's the same product such as running shoes but a different company?
Sorry for my scattered thoughts! I think I touched based with what I wanted to portray. I know I focused on two aspects but those are the aspects I learned from the article. I tried not to bring any theory into it.


  1. WOW! These ads juxtaposed against each other are REALLY compelling. And I like how you demonstrate that semiotic analysis can also be feminist analysis, which is an important thing to note. We tend to approach and learn about these theories as if they can't overlap, but you really show how semiotics, like structuralism, is more of a neutral set of mechanical processes, and how you can easily overlay a more politicized theory (Marxism, feminism) over the a semiotic analysis to give it meaning. Nicely done!

  2. The only thing is....what does it mean that you "tried not to bring any theory into it?" This IS theory! Theory is just looking through a lens to talk about a text, and then naming and understanding that lens. Your lenses here (semiotics, feminism) are well-deployed, and you are conscious of how you use them... THEORY!

  3. Okay, full disclosure, I am a Nike ADDICT. Not kidding, I have nine pairs of Nike sneakers and still counting. But I never noticed the sexism in their ads until you put them side by side. This is an eye-opening post!

    I found the analysis compelling as well and thought to show it to my class while teaching semiotics. I found this article that suggests the butt ad is fake. There is, of course, a lot that can still be drawn from it -- cultural appropriation, culture jamming for example. But from what I read it is not accurate to attribute the ad to Nike.
    Sorry to "butt" in ... (had to drop that line)