Do you see what I see?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘semiotics‘ can be defined as “the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation”. They are used to investigate into how meaning is created and how meaning is communicated. It is a way of seeing the world, and of understanding how the landscape and culture in which we live has a massive impact on all of us unconsciously.

Signs consist of a signifier and the signified. A ‘signifier’ is the word/images that give the meaning, and the ‘signified’ is the mental concept that is being evoked. With signs, there are many interpretations that can be presented to the chosen audience because of their ideology.

Take this image for example.

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What are the signs you think are being presented? And how does this make you feel?

This image was first presented in Thailand in 2013 to promote a new product from the famous American brand, Dunkin’ Donuts. The goal of advertisement is to attract the audience and encourage consumers to buy the product. The company did manage to attract a wide audience, but not for the right reasons.

Dunkin’ Donuts was promoting their new “charcoal donut”. The way in which they decided to do this was to include a woman with painted black skin, holding up a donut with a bite taken out of it. A major signifier in this ad is the stark contrast of the bright pink lips with the dark skin and background. The image is centred on the woman’s face and not the initial purpose of the ad, which is the donut. To me, this suggests that the chocolate donut is associated with having dark skin and darkness more generally. Racism is a big denotation within the ad as the use of the controversial topic of ‘blackface‘, is being used. Blackface is offensive to most members of society as it is known to perpetuate the fallacy that black people are an inferior race, and it also gives a sense of dehumanising individuals with darker skin and treating them less than human.

The connotation within this ad is shaped by the viewers beliefs, past experiences, values and their ideology. Personally, this concept of ‘blackface’ is completely offensive as it is racist and can offend people of colour, like myself. The image is associating blackness with chocolate, which makes the readers also associate whiteness with vanilla. If Dunkin’ Donuts were to promote, lets say a “white chocolate donut”, would they paint a dark skinned women in white paint?

This image can be interpreted in many ways. On social media, a majority of the public are agreeing with my argument of it being racist, however some citizens of Thailand are not really affected by this ad as it is not the most controversial commercial that has been aired there. The CEO of Dunkin’ Donuts in Thailand has stated that “it’s absolutely ridiculous” and dismissed criticism as “paranoid American thinking“.

Take a look at the ad!

So, after watching the ad, what side are you on? Feel free to comment your thoughts below!



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