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Ads and Socio-cultural Myths

INTRODUCTION Have you ever wondered why some adverts reinforce socio-cultural myths? Why some adverts evoke intense emotions compared to other adverts? Or why certain brands strike a deeper emotional cord compared to other brands?

The purpose of this essay is to analyse some myths that are shown in advertisements.

In “Mythologies” (1972), Roland Barthes wrote about the influence of incorporated myths in popular culture. To show this, I chose to analyse two perfume adverts of two famous brands: Chance Eau Tandre by Chanel, and Miss Dior by Christian Dior. Both brands are influential worldwide, being at the top of the most acclaimed fashion houses.

As a part of fashion, fragrances were always considered a key part of beauty, power and freedom.

“No elegance is possible without perfume. It is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory. (Coco Chanel)

Christian Dior, known creator of conceptual “absolute femininity”, radically shifted the 20th century fashion industry and culture. From that time, the Dior brand remained at the top of fashion houses, spreading the message of luxury and supremacy. While male designers ruled the field, Gabriel “Coco” Chanel (founder and head figure of Chanel) recreated the feminine wardrobe by adding freedom and power. Despite underestimating the classism that occurred at the time of women’s fashion (Baxter-Wright 2012), Chanel was able to become a global brand. She broke barriers by creating high-end accessories, clothes, and perfume.

CONTEXT Since childhood, I have had a deep passion for analysing advertisements. During university, I learned that this is called Media Analysis, and that it incorporates many techniques. In this essay I shall use semiotics.

In his work Semiotic Analysis of Myth: A Proposal for an Applied Methodology, Eliot Gaines states:

Semiotics offers specialized tools that address the need to understand the communicative qualities that distinguish various mass media and evolving media technologies (2002).

The first term used to define the study of sign is Semiology, explained by Swiss linguist Ferdinand the Saussure. Later, semiotics, another science of signs, was explicated by American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce. Nowadays, both systems are used to describe semiotics in general, focusing on analysing the meanings of the signs transmitted through movies, television, advertisements, and additional forms of media and art (Arthur Asa Berger 1982).

From a brand’s perspective, the purpose of semiotics is to communicate the impressions and ideas to the customer in a meaningful way. The most basic unit that refers to something is the sign, comprised of a theoretical relationship between the signifier as a word, sound or image, and the signified as the concept referred to by the signifier (Stam et al. 1992: 8).

Daniel Chandler (2022) explains that:

denotation and connotation are terms describing the relationship between the signifier and its signified, and an analytic distinction is made between two types of signified: a denotative signified and a connotative signified. Meaning includes both denotation and connotation.

Companies such as Chanel or Dior use their channels to express their personality as a brand. Every brand has a voice, tone and a style. All their messages are to be decoded unconsciously by the consumer. BODY

In their advert for Chance Eau Tandre by Chanel, the key message is the promise of pure joy, freedom, and falling in love with the fragrance from the perfume’s touch. A signifier identified is the colour pink, usually associated with little girls. This is a myth present in Europe. Pink is often considered the colour of love, as well as to describe something cute and soft. The flowers present in the advertisement, located on the white, soft body of the blonde model, are connected to this connotation of the colour pink. The model also has a pink bow on her head, and her soft touch on the bottle of perfume suggests a deep, secure sensation, and that the fragrance will soften your heart.

Another signifier is the song used, which is also playful, indicative of childlike innocence and fun. The words “taking a chance of love”, sung at the end, (when the model embraces the perfume bottle), hint at falling in love with the fragrance. The model’s nakedness transmits innocence. Only flowers cover her breasts and other intimate body parts, making us think of the paradise myth of Adam and Eve.

In most paintings, books and movies, Adam and Eve are described as naked, their intimate parts only covered by leaves. At the end of the ad, the model closes her eyes while hugging the bottle, again creating a safe sensation of using this perfume. The chosen voice of the video advert is a woman whispering with a French accent. This is often associated with romanticism, perpetuating the myth of France as the country of love and freedom.

Christian Dior creates a similar feeling in the advertisement for Miss Dior. The promise of the advert is similar. The person who tries the perfume will feel free, wild, and energetic, provoking the viewer to take action to feel “love”. The colour pink and the flowers also exist in this advert. But in this one, the model is Natalie Portman, a very famous actress. This denotes a strong alliance between a famous actress and of the most influent fashion house of all times. The connotation of this alliance promises the idea of exclusive escapism and luxury. Natalie Portman is dressed in colourful clothing, and the scarf on her head expresses freedom and wildness.

An example of a signifier seen on the photo advert can be the woman’s lips. which are partly open. Open lips often suggest sexual excitement and passion. In the video advert the chosen song is “Cry Baby” by Janis Joplin, who is considered one of the most successful rock stars of her time. The song transports the listener to a time when Janis Joplin was famous.

Both the song and the style of the ‘60s are about passion, dynamics of adventure, and optimism. The video advert starts with the model saying, “wake up”, catching the attention of the viewer, and ends with “And you? What do you for love?” creating an impulsive desire to act on the situation. At the beginning of the video advert, the model is in a house surrounded by white space. Usually, adverts for expensive and classy products include a design with relatively empty space (Arthur Asa Berger:1982). The word “Miss” from the name of the perfume is a signifier denoting the idea of young, unmarried women. This connotation is connected to the myth that young women are freer and more sexual. Also, her hair is dark brown, commonly associated with warmth, heat, and sexual passion.

While researching this essay, I observed that even if both brands are globally recognised, they still have a standardised narration. Minute details are changed in their marketing campaigns depending on the region of the website. Some similarities in the messages on both brands are used for their adverts designed, including luxury codes like backdrops, simplicity, and the spaciousness associated with wealth and sophistication. Another example is the dream-making and powerful sounds expressing the personality of the brands. These focus on female empowerment and freedom, subtly suggesting that women who wear these fragrances are better than others.

A key difference between Dior and Chanel is the focus. Dior focuses more on the product, highlighting how the fragrance makes the wearer feel when applied. In contrast, Chanel has a more complex focus, emphasising the gender equality and modern understanding of love. Every brand uses all possible marketing channels to stimulate a desire for their products in the consumer. Many people worldwide are affected by this phenomenon. People have the illusion of freedom of choice when purchasing goods. However, most of the time they are purchasing products based on the automatic responses to “stimuli” generated by advertisers (Wolfgang Fritz Haug:2006). CONCLUSION

In conclusion, companies assert the promotion of their products by pandering to the emotions of the consumer. Advertising is constructed on needs and desires creating anxiety and dissatisfaction. generating the alienation present in capitalist societies. As Arthur Asa Berger has written in his book Media Analysis Techniques:

“Advertising, as I have suggested, is an essential institution in advanced capitalist societies because it is necessary to motivate people to work hard so that they can accumulate money, which they can then use to buy things. But in addition, people must be driven to consume, must be made crazy to consume, for it is consumption that maintains the economic system. Thus, the alienation generated by a capitalist system is functional, for the anxieties and miseries generated by such a system tend to be assuaged by impulsive consumption.” (p. 50)

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a myth (in the socio-cultural context) as a widely held but false idea or belief. The brand represents the place a product occupies in a consumer’s mind relative to competing products and another brands.What the consumer beliefs is more important than the reality. Through the mind of the consumer, the brand becomes an identity, a trademark with a set of associations.

This resulted in Chanel and Dior using signifiers in their adverts to reinforce social-cultural myths associated with power, freedom and luxury. Overtime these brands have adapted to fit contemporary socio-cultural ideas. Nevertheless, old myths are still presented through adverts, despite being based on modern versions of love and freedom. Nowadays, brands have enormous influence over what people think. They are not just creating adverts based on what the consumer beliefs about life. A brand is so powerful that it can change people’s mentalities. A vicious circle will always be alive between the power of needs of a consumer and the power of identity of a brand. I am curious as to how this will evolve over time.


Barthes, R., 1972. Mythologies. 1st ed. London: Paladin

Baxter-wright, E 2012, Little Book of Chanel, Charlton Books Limited, London

Gaines, E., 2001. The Semiotic Analysis of Myth: A Proposal for an Applied Methodology. The American Journal of Semiotics, 17(2), pp.311-327

Chandler, D., 2022. Semiotics for Beginners: Denotation, Connotation and Myth. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 April 2022].

Berger, A., n.d. Media analysis techniques. 2nd ed. sage.

Haug, W., 2022. Commodity aesthetics revisited: Exchange relations as the source of antagonistic aesthetization. [online] Radical Philosophy. Available at: <> [Accessed 12 April 2022].

Links to the adverts:

Chanel Eau Tandre:

Miss Dior video advert:

Miss Dior photo advert:

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