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Apply the ideological analysis of Roland Barthes to a single advertisement.  Choose an ad and describe the denotations and connotations of the ad.  Then critically evaluate the dominant ideology that is conveyed.  Point out, if any, counterarguments to the ideologies that are in the ad


Ideological Analysis of Roland Barthes


Roland Barthes developed a way of exploring photographic images using connotation and denotation as a system of a variety of signs. Barthes asserts that an image is made up of two layers, the first one indicating what is represented and the second layer showing how it is represented (Bouzida, 2014). While the application of connotation in an image takes the shape of a complex or abstract concept, denotation is rather concrete. Advertising images primarily try to persuade the consumer to purchase a product. They apply both denotations and connotations in order to achieve this. This paper will examine a single advertisement while drawing on Roland Barthes’ ideological analysis.


Barthes analyzes signs in two general forms: the signifier and the signified. The signifier is material in nature while the signified relates to a mental or psychological representation (Bouzida, 2014). The signifier is thus a representation of the actual images, sounds or even objects. On the other hand, the signified is a mental representation depicting things that people hold such as beliefs or myths. Denotation classification falls in the first signification level. Denotation represents the permanent or literal sense of a word. With regard to advertising images, it refers to literal meanings of the images (Bouzida, 2014). In other words, denotation is the message that the audience receives when they see a particular image without associating it with their cultural beliefs, myths or ideologies.


Fig. 1: Revlon Beyond Natural advertisement image.

The above ad clearly highlights denotations. The ad shows Jessica Alba using a make-up product known as Revlon. The image of the product is displayed, including the color of the product contents. The product promises to transform ones skin tone from white to the exact skin tone. The product comes in five different shades, which all promise an even skin tone. Jessica Alba poses in a seductive manner, looking side-on. This simply makes the ad more appealing. As such, consumers may end up buying the product in the hope that they will have a flawless skin like that of Jessica Alba. This is a form of index denotation, which involves representations through association. The other forms of denotation include icon and symbol denotation.


Connotation refers to the implications that the audience derives from a particular image or ad in addition to what they denote. Connotations can be personal or universal in nature (Bouzida, 2014). They also relates to one’s cultural and ideological influences. Connotations relates to the emotions or feelings exhibited by the audience in relation to their cultural values and ideologies upon seeing an ad. As such, connotations are influenced by particular subjective factors in the society or among individuals. Connotations work hand in hand with denotations. The two are inherently tied in that connotation depends upon the earlier existence or presence of denotation. Connotations are the additional or suggestive meanings that the audience obtains on seeing an ad image (Bouzida, 2014).  Advertisers aim at creating appropriate connotations when developing an ad. When a product evokes the right connotations, the consumers may associate the product with quality of life-style in the end. This may help in developing product quality.

The ad above shows a number of connotations associated with the product. First, the ad uses a media personality, Jessica Alba to create connotations about the product. Jessica Alba is an American actress and model with appearances in major beauty shows, awards, and has also made a debut in the film industry. She is associated with beauty and glamour, having been named in People Magazine among the top fifty most beautiful person in the world. As such, the connotations in the ad revolve around her beauty and glamor. The consumers are likely to associate Revlon as the source of her beauty and glamor and thus end up making a purchase. There is also an aspect of sex appeal in the ad. Jessica Alba is posing seductively giving the connotation of sex appeal. As such, consumers are likely to associate the product with increased sex appeal on using the product.

One of the dominant ideologies that are posited in the ad is that of natural or exact skin tone. The ideology is that upon using the product, the consumer will acquire her natural skin tone from the white skin tone that is caused by a number of factors such as the effects of weather on skin. The ad also indicates that by using the product, one is likely to develop a flawless skin that is even-toned. The ad primarily focuses on women who are inclined to have a flawless natural skin. Counterarguments exist with regard to the ad. First, it may not be possible to achieve such a flawless skin especially with regard to those women suffering from certain skin conditions such as breakout of acne (Rifon, Royne, & Carlson, 2014). The second counterargument is that the product itself may not actually make one look beautiful, for beauty is a multifaceted concept.


Bouzida, F. (2014). The semiology analysis in media studies – Roland Barthes approach. International Conference on Social Sciences and Humanities. Retrieved from   

Rifon, N. J., Royne, M. B., & Carlson, L. (2014). Advertising and violence: concepts and             perspectives. United Kingdom, UK: Routledge.

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