Understanding Visual Culture- Assignment 3- Decoding Advertisments

For this assignment we had to decode an advert of our choice and apply the principles of semiotics, structuralist analysis and Post- Structuralist analysis to discover how the advert derives and conveys meaning. We also had to use references from Barthes and others in our write up to illustrate our findings.

I chose one of the Diet Coke adverts I found in a magazine. I decided to use this advert as although on the surface it appears quite simple and seems to just work on the principle of “sex sells”. I feel that there is much more that can be taken from it, once you begin to delve deeper.

The Diet Coke Advert

photo (1)

The advert shows a shirtless man pouring a can of Diet Coke into a glass. With the soft focus and sunlit background, it creates quite a romantic image. This combined with the word love and the use of a heart adds to the impression. It also implies a carefree lifestyle. The advert below has courted a lot of media attention since it was released at the beginning of July this year due to an obvious Photoshopping “error” has meant that the model now has no nipple. I use “error” in this context as this may have been a deliberate ploy by Coca-Cola. It has certainly gained a lot of attention in the media and people are very much aware of it. This also leads on from the exercise in part 2- Barbarous Taste. In this exercise we had to consider a statement by Bourdieu;

 “In conferring upon photography a guarantee of realism, society is merely confirming itself in the tautological certainty that an image of the real which is true to its representation of objectivity is really objective”.

The tautological aspect is that photography is seen as realistic as the photographer is taking a photograph of something real. I found this to be a very cynical view as Bourdieu doesn’t consider the various ways that photographs can be manipulated, either before the image is taken or post production.

Deconstructing the Advert.

I began by looking at the more obvious aspects of the advert such as the fact that it is mainly aimed at women (this is also evident by the fact that it appeared in a women’s magazine), the impression that you can drink this and still have the perfect body and the implied parallel between it being a “good” body and a “good” drink.

Once I had looked at the more obvious aspects of the advert, I then moved onto breaking it down. Firstly I looked at the signified and signifier parts of the advert. The signifier is the can of Coke as it is the whole meaning for the advert and the signified is “100% love” and “0% calories” as these are the words the makers want people to associate with Diet Coke.

Following on from Barthes “The Rhetoric of the Image”, I started to look for the linguistic message. It was easy to narrow down as there is so little text within the advert. This text is then divided into anchoring and relay. For anchoring I feel that the advert had used good contrasting colours, by positioning the writing centrally it is one of the first things that the viewer notices and by using bold lettering it makes it clear and easy to understand. For the relay aspect, I feel that by the use of the word love and the heart symbol, they are showing that they have devoted themselves to making Diet Coke without calories whilst still retaining the same flavour.

Juxtaposition can be a powerful subconscious tool of an author, giving a sensation of depth to a piece without the viewer having to devote themselves to seeking a resolution. I find that the author has used this technique around the concept of “guilty pleasures”.  Normally having a Coca-Cola drink is seen as a guilty pleasure, much the same as looking at a topless male model. However, I feel that by saying it has no calories it removes the guilty pleasure aspect for the consumer and therefore they won’t feel as guilty about looking at the model and consuming the drink. The two concepts cancel each other out.

Now, we are left with the coded and non-coded iconic messages. The coded iconic message within this advert is one of a lovely summer’s day, having a refreshing drink and a carefree lifestyle. The non-coded iconic message here is that the consumer can drink Diet Coke and they will still have the perfect body and healthy lifestyle as the drink has no calories. This again leads into my point about guilty pleasures.

This particular theme has been a long standing one with the Diet Coke brand and is widely recognised and distinct from the Coca-Cola brand. The former is consistently directed at women, the latter seeks to be inclusive of everyone. However, having said that, this advert seems to be less sexualised then the usual Diet Coke adverts. I feel it has been toned down and seeks to be a more romanticised incarnation of the typical Diet Coke brand. This is evidenced by the use of the word “love”, the heart symbol, the summery, soft-focussed background and even the more “guy-next door”, less muscle-bound model. This links in with Michel Foucault’s “What is an Author?” where he discusses how an author gains credibility through creating a body of work.

“The author’s name serves to characterise a certain mode of being of discourse: the fact that the discourse has an author’s name, that one can say ‘this was written by so-and-so’ or ‘so-and-so is its author’, shows that this discourse is not ordinary everyday speech that merely comes and goes, not something that is immediately consumable. On the contrary, it is speech that must be received in a certain mode and that, in a given culture, must receive a certain status”.

From Michel Foucault’s article, the advert can also relate to Saint Jerome’s criteria for Author-Function. Although the campaign has been continually modernised it has always remained consistent to the previous incarnations, which helps with the credibility and people’s awareness of it. Also, Foucault discusses how the author is, in a way, idolised by the reader/viewer and because of that the reader is threatened by their work and not able to find the meaning due in part to the way it is written. This relates to the advertising in an opposing sense, in that where the paragraphs within an article and written in a complex manner, even though they are only to explain a simple point. They can sometimes alienate the reader and make them feel that it is very exclusive. This is similar to the advert as on the surface it is very simple but through deconstructing it, it reveals many layers. This process is also exclusive.

With that said, I also found that there were some similarities to the Roland Barthes article “The Death of the Author”. Due to the simplicity of the advert, it lends itself more to the reader or in this case the viewer to form their own opinion of it. However, due to the way the advert has been cleverly produced, all viewers draw similar conclusions.

On deconstructing the advert, I found that there were many things that were not discussed or mentioned.  For example, there is no suggestion of the  long term health problems associated with drinking too much diet coke. Nor any message such as “to be consumed as part of a healthy diet”.


As I have said previously, on the surface this appears to be a very simple advert, a half-naked man pouring a can of Diet Coke with the word love associated with the man and the no calories associated with the drink. However, once I began to look more into it with the help of Michel Foucault’s “What is an Author?”, Barthes “The Rhetoric of the Image” and “The Death of the Author” also by Barthes I found that there were many aspects to the advert and the more I delved into it, the more I discovered.

I found that this assignment really helped me to consolidate what I had learnt throughout Part 3 and helped me to understand it further. It has also encouraged me to look more into adverts that appear in magazines and on television.




“What is an Author?” by Michel Foucault from Art in Theory

“The Death of the Author” By Roland Barthes from Image Music Text

“The Rhetoric of the Image” By Roland Barthes from Visual Culture: A Reader




About kunsworthphotography

I am currently studying towards a BA (Hons) in Photography with OCA and I have 2 children, Evie(4 years old) and Connor(3 years old)
This entry was posted in Photography, Understanding Visual Culture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s