Sebastien Connole – Semiotics




This is an advertisement was designed for the WWF by DDB&CO in 2010, it’s goal was to raise awareness for endangered marine species, in particular sharks.




In this image produced by the WWF there are many interesting elements to analyse using semiotic theory. To begin with the text has both the anchorage and relay functions for not only does it allow a parallel with the image, it also clearly expresses the meaning each side has (with and without the shark fin). For the describing signs, the shark fin is at the same time a direct representation (icon), an index (leading to a shark) and a symbol (signifying horror). The shark fin as a signifier represents, in this case, endangered marine species and ecosystems (signified).

Both sides of the image have a denotive meaning. Left, the presence of a shark (signalled by its fin) and right, the absence of a shark. As for their connotive meaning, a comparison between the two sides signifies the extinction of sharks. A synecdoche is found for the shark fin is an indication of a shark. There is also a metonymy attached to the shark fin, for it refers not only to the shark beneath the surface, but also to marine life in general.

By following the logic of focalisation it is possible to reveal the syntagmatic meaning this image contains. Once the sequence is viewed and processed, the viewer than understands it’s meaning leading to a short period of reflection. A paradigmatic meaning is also presented through the absence of a fin on the right-hand side. Normally calm water signifies peace. However in this case, the absence of a fin refers to the total extinction of sharks, which, in terms of nature is horrifying.


II – Crisis Relief



This advertisement designed in 2013 by Publicis for Crisis Relief appeals to the viewer’s sympathetic side encouraging them to become a volunteer.



For this second image, the text is used as anchorage for it pins down the meaning the thumbs-up surrounding the girl has. The young girl in a flooded area is an icon, the high water level in which the girl stands is an index to flooding, and the multiple thumbs up are to be understood as Facebook likes, there for acting as the symbol. By viewing the multiple thumbs-up as signifiers, the signified is the Western cultured population having access to social media. For this image, the referent is the result of a flood in a “non-wealthy” country.

The denotive meaning of this advertisement depicts a young girl in a flooded town. As for its connotive meaning, the thumbs-up represent Facebook likes and the young girl stands for Third World countries in need of support, both are examples of synecdoche.

By knowing the meaning behind the thumbs-up, linked to Facebook likes, it is then understandable who the target audience of this advertisement is. By defining the paradigmatic meaning of this image (a thumb’s up or a Facebook like is not actually helping the cause), the desired effect of this advertisement hits the viewer, if one really wants to help, then they must get involved.



Both images have an organisational cause. They appeal to the viewer’s sympathy by producing a shock-like effect. Charities count on the financial support of the Western Cultured population, therefor by presenting a clear message through a studied logic of focalisation, the viewer understands the visual narration and feels affected, leading to a period of reflection, and maybe even action. This method of image production is interesting when creating an image that demands the viewer’s empathy.



DDB&CO. 2010. “WWF: Shark”. Image. August 16, 2016.

Publicis. 2013. ” Liking Isn’t Helping: Be a volunteer”. Image. August 16, 2016.


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