Hello everyone! This advertisement is an ad that I have come across a number of times online, and it has always makes me stop and wonder whether or not it was effective. The advertisement says, “You know you’re not the first.” And it was used to promote BMW’s Premium Selection Used Cars in Greece in 2008.
Today, I will be using a semiotic approach to this media text. This will be done so by identifying different signs (signifiers), and then discussing possible meanings (signifieds) embedded in it, syntagmatically and paradigmatically. As we examined in class, syntagmatics is understanding the combination of signs (signifers) and meaning (signifieds) to make a whole, while paradigmatics is understanding a set of associated signs that are, even though different, all members of a defining category.
Semiotics is the study of signs (signifiers) and their meaning (signified) and how they are signified. As we discussed in class, signs are embedded in all text, they are also a way to understand the meaning of a text, and a way understand how reality is socially constructed.
The initial assumption in semiotics is that all media texts are constructed from signs using codes that are commonly interpreted in society. While signs have shared common meanings, signs in texts can be interpreted in multiple ways, which is what we will examine by applying a semiotic approach to this advertisement.
The BMW ad I chose features a beautiful young woman, appearing as if she is lying down in bed. She has fair skin and blondish brown curled hair, with a catchphrase written across her bare shoulders saying, “You know you’re not the first.” As you scroll down and view the rest of the advertisement you notice that there is a BMW logo in the right hand corner across the left of her chest, under the BMW symbol it says “Sheer Driving Pleasure”, to the left of that symbol it says “BMW Premium Selection”, and then you learn that it is for used BMW’s, as under this it says “Used Cars”.
The controlling and dominating appearance of this young woman’s face instantaneously grabs the viewer’s attentiveness. As you slowly skim over the woman’s flawless facial features, it makes you stop and quickly think “what on earth the ad could be for?!”
The viewer would then scroll down and see the BMW logo located at the bottom right of the advertisement, “BMW Premium Selection” is written in a bold, black font making it stand out from the rest of the writing in the little box. The location of the BMW logo is placed right on the right side of the young woman’s chest, as if she is branded with the BMW logo, and it also says “Sheer Driving Pleasure” right under that logo.
This ad is not like any other ad BMW tends to use, such as the ones that BMW markets in the United States; in this ad they use the young woman as the focus in this advertisement to make it stand out to their audience, instead of one of their vehicles as they ordinarily tend to do.
The box in the lower right corner also has “Used Cars” written underneath the “BMW Premium Selection”, except it’s written in a light gray font and slightly smaller text size, making it almost unreadable so that the viewer cannot immediately notice that the advertisement is for “Used” premium vehicles, distracting potential buyers from the fact that these cars are “used” BMW’s.
After we recognize that this is in fact a BMW ad, we would go back to observing the young woman. You can’t help but notice the young woman’s hair color and skin tone standing out, especially if we take into consideration that it was an ad used in Greece. Women of Greek decent typically have darker features, such as tanned/olive skin tones and darker brown or black hair. This ad shows the woman with a fair skin tone and blonde hair, so it would likely stand out to people viewing it in Greece because the woman’s features in this ad aren’t “typical” of the women that are of Greek decent. BMW being a German car company chose this woman for the ad because of her typical German features (fair skin, blonde/light brown hair), and recognized that advertising it in Greece would turn more heads because the woman in their ad doesn’t resemble the classic image of Greek women.
The young woman’s flawless skin is emphasizing the societal view of how perfection is what is considered beautiful and ideal. Her skin doesn’t have a single blemish bruise, bump, or scar on it. Her makeup is very subtle and her cheeks have a slight rosy glow to them, giving her a very youthful appearance. The lack of jewelry is also making her look younger and more innocent and it is putting the focus solely on her bare flawless skin, this flawlessness is likely representing what one would get if they purchase one of their premium selection used BMW’s, spotlessness in paint and interior.
Although BMW engages this image of innocence and flawlessness, there also appears to be a significant sexual message in this ad because the initial “Innocent” image dissolves as you skim down the ad and see how the young woman’s eye contact is directly with the camera, and it looks as if she is looking right into your eyes with a seductive expression. Her mouth also get a lot of attention as it appears to be slightly open, drawing your attention right to her full lips, “open lips are used to suggest sexual excitement or passion”, as read in the case study for the Fidji Perfume advertisement in “The Maiden with the Snake”.
Her shoulders and chest are completely bare, drawing attention to the fact that she likely isn’t wearing any clothing, and the position of her head is slightly tilted to the side, drawing attention to her long and slender neck, which was another point made out in the “Maiden in the Snake”, suggesting sexual excitement or passion.
The overall formal design of the advertisement is another thing that attracts the eye, as it is very plain, showing a great deal of open, “empty” space, which is merely the woman’s flawless unblemished features. This design of an ad was another topic made in “The Maiden with the Snake”, as they stated that “advertisements for expensive and ‘classy’ products often are full of white space”, which is exactly what type of product BMW is trying to sell here.
All in all, the slogan “You know you’re not the first.” Is depicting this young women as a sex object, and it’s implying that like this young flawless woman, BMW premium cars are also beautiful, premium, and flawless, regardless of whether or not you’re the first owner of the car.
So what? So you might be thinking about why it is so important to critically examine media texts such as the one I just examined…
The answer is because each and every day we go anywhere or do anything, we are surrounded by advertisements, as it is pretty much impossible to avoid at least one form of advertising. This could be an ad seen while browsing through websites, on a trip to the grocery store, or even just sitting at home flipping through TV channels, either way it is difficult to avoid viewing some form of publicity. Yet, more often than not, we aren’t aware of the influence such ads have on an individual, which is why applying media criticism to such texts give us an opportunity to think seriously about the message the media is trying to convey to society and the impact it has on us.