Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Era Where Albums Meant Something, Is Over: The State of Music Today

So over the weekend I came across an article from 2012 on Yahoo News - Yahoo News, which as a site is hardly informative and contains pure trash-, and to my interest, via The Associated Press, writer Mesfin Fekadu highlights one of the reasons why the music scene today is so terrible.

RnB and rap acts who cross-over to pop music, in order to make and earn more money by getting their songs, videos across to mainstream audiences. Pop acts release song after song after song, backed up by a video to accompany it. They have top 10, top 5 singles in the UK, US and other countries. Hit records - sadly, you only need 1 to become successful, and worryingly by the music industry standards, if you have 1 or 2 good singles, then you wouldn't need to have a good or great album with 8, 10 other songs on it.

20, 30, well 40 years ago, the word 'album' used to mean something. The album aka the LP used to be an outlet for artists and musicians to produce and showcase their musical ability and the quality of the production, all-round beyond the EP/single. If you heard 1, 2 songs from your favourite group, singer or rapper, you'd go out and support them by purchasing their album and listen to it, endlessly. When you had that 1 hit song in the charts, you'd sell 1 million or more albums.

But today, the pop stars, R&B singers - for the exception of say the underground, lesser known artists- don't seem to care for or acknowledge the album and the importance of the purpose of releasing an album for their fans. And yet albums today, for the exception of say Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Beyonce & Adele, are not selling in their millions.

So therefore we should ask, what is the problem? 

Well for one, artists and the music industry as a whole erroneously believe they can live on and feed off their success by relying on catchy, hit-making songs and release a product of 12, 15 songs, where 4, 5 of them are good, and the rest of the songs are instantly forgettable.

Secondly, the other problem is related to the consumer: why, after listening the album in full online, via Youtube, and deciding you don't like some of the songs or the album, would you want to spend $9.99, £9.99 or more on a 10, 12 track album, when you don't like those songs? You'd rather have the individual songs right, unless you do like all of those songs and you would go out and purchase the LP. 

I don't buy albums anymore. I feel the quality of the productions - judging by the material moreso than the sound production- are not the same as it was all those years ago. And back then, we didn't have all that advanced technology- but that was a great thing, because it was used sparingly during mainstream pop and it didn't over-saturate and flood the market. Nor was it mass-produced.

The third problem is the lack of diversity - almost every song in the charts and on the radio has the same generic, auto-tune, electro- pop, dance sound. Very rarely can you distinguish the various musical genres in terms of sound. Mainstream RnB sounds so far removed from what it used to be in the 90s. The soulfulness, the silky smooth sounds have been replaced by euro-dance, David Guetta - infused like offerings, which have stripped away R&B's authenticity and realness, which has its roots in and takes influences from gospel, funk, and soul music.

Of all the genres today excluding Pop, RnB is the one genre which has it worse, because, it used to be the music that spoke for and represented the Black people, echoing their experiences, feelings in love, relationships, life. But now, they make music for the sake of making money. RnB is not the same, any more. They are not in it for the craft and to develop that craft and artistry. & with that, if one's mindset is to make a quick buck, then it means, his/hers artistry is stiffled and therefore, it cannot develop any further. 

It further underlines the problematic issue and dilemma that R&B and rap artists seem to find themselves in: R&B has an identity and as a genre, it has numerous musical conventions and characteristics but whereas it is trying to move forward, with technology playing a role, (no) thanks to the overuse of auto-tuning, it is to an extent, hindering that process.

I'd say R&B is having an identity crisis of its own, and frankly, it is the mainstream record industry, who are accountable for its demise.  

Yet R&B and hip hop artists themselves are having to decide whether to sacrifice their creativity and 'sell out' to the masses to generate more income by releasing singles, - or remain true to themselves as artists and on a creative level by releasing an album of extensive material that exemplifies the quality and range, musically.

The music industry ought to be struggling, failing; it is only because of the industry's recently embracing digital downloads and technology that it is still going strong. If not as strong as it was during say the 1980s and 1990s.

Is the music industry singles- driven more-so than album sales, worldwide tours, gigs etc? I'd say yes it is, and that is an utter shame, but also it is a saddening indictment of what the industry has become of. It's all too apparent the industry cares more about quantity, as opposed to quantity. It's all numbers, sales. Quality is a rarity, and besides, most of the quality songs and acts tend to be independent-related, not commercially driven.

U.S singer, producer and songwriter Ne-Yo insists it is not the fault of the record label people that the music business is so singles- driven, but the artists themselves. I disagree with him. If the record label is telling the artist/singer/group what songs to sing, release, and yet the artists cannot be bothered to put out an above average LP and it has mediocre sales, then whose fault is that then?

And equating million - selling singles to low selling albums from the same artist, is a rather silly comparison. I wouldn't say that is a failure by any means, but that is not to say that having consecutive top 5 singles, number 1 singles makes an artist successful in the long run. Because it isn't.... and it surely shouldn't be that case. Relying on only top 10, top 5 singles when say, they don't sell beyond 10,000 copies, is a recipe for disaster.

People knocked 1980s and 1990s pop music, and some still do- but the truth is, unlike the 00s and today's scene, there were plentiful of wonderful albums, as well as hit singles by so many artists and groups. Even some of the boy bands had a few good LPs, such as the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. They didn't just have the top 5 singles, but also the multi-million albums as well to back up their success. 

But right now? What album has sold as many copies as Michael Jackson's Thriller, Prince's Sign O' Times, Madonna's Like A Prayer, The Beatles Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club? Name one. You couldn't, because it hasn't happened. Yet.

However, the days when artists, groups had consecutive multi-platinum selling albums, is long gone, and until the music industry and the scene changes its ways and the songs aren't all generic-sounding, auto-tuned, then it will take years for the success of the album format to flourish, again.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

The Semiotics of Nintendo's Advertising, Part 3: Nintendo's Ad Analysis

In the third and final part of this essay, I will seek to address the usefulness of Semiotics in analysing advertisements and the ways in which Nintendo have chosen these elements and ideas for their ads to a) create meaning and b) to persuade consumers to purchase their products. Through this, I will utilize and apply Semiotic terminology to my advertising examples and state the wider implications and cultural understandings of what Nintendo are trying to imply and decode their ideas and the hidden messages they are sending out to their readers and audience. 

Therefore, I have chosen 5 different adverts: 4 print ads and 1 TV ad. 



Triple Play

The first ad shows the NES, Super Nintendo and Gameboy systems on what looks like an outer space-like background. There appears to be light rays underneath the boxes. This denotes that it is giving the appearance that they are colliding towards each other, like 3 space ships. The caption, 'Triple Play' signifies that there are not only 3 ways of playing Nintendo games but that you have the choice to pick from the NES, Gameboy and Super Nintendo. The Triple Play logo is red in a Futura condensed extra bold normal -type font, which could denote Nintendo's trademark colour of Red, but also to highlight the Red on a Black background. 

The presentation of the poster is futuristic space -like. With space comes technology, computers and video games; therefore it has that feel to it.  

The official Nintendo seal of quality sign is made bigger than the consoles, thus connoting and emphasising how much more important it is to know that 'quality' is better than quantity. It could serve as anchorage in place of the normal Nintendo logo. 

The White anchorage says 'Nintendo gives you the power to choose. Classic power, Portable Power, Super Power.' Classic referring to and signifying the NES, Super Power refers to Super Nintendo and Portable Power denotes the Gameboy, being a portable system. The use of 'power' suggests that in the context of Nintendo and gaming, gaming is power. With power, you can use it to your advantage and to take control of the characters of the games you play. 




Starfox 

The second ad is an advert for Starfox for the Super Nintendo. Has a dark background with Red and Yellow text juxtaposed onto it. The font for the text looks like it is Arial Black. The caption is like a play on words.Chips as in computer chips that are found in computers, and Chips as in US terms potato chips or UK terms Chips as in chunky fries denoting food. 

Given the text is in Red, the red must be used to emphasise the significance of the Super FX chip, which is a first for a video game. The red text says 'One of these chips gives Starwing (Starwing being the other name for Starfox) the most exciting FX you've ever seen'. FX is an abbreviation of 'Effects', as in special effects. Now think about this; imagine replacing FX with 'taste' and seen with had. It would then read 'One of these chips gives Starwing the most exciting taste you've ever had'. If that was the case, then Starwing would be a brand name for fries, instead of a video game. It gives off the impression that it is selling fries or chips, a type of food product. 

The yellow text, 'the other one gives you spots' underneath a picture of a french fry, which is indexical, could denote that with fries and spots, if you eat too much fried food, you'd end up getting spots, as well as get fat and mouth ulcers. French fries is considered unhealthy and a part of fast food, which is cheap to sell and takes less preparation to cook. 

Underneath it, is a small box art of the game, Starfox with anchorage next to it. The small box art can also be seen as iconic, as it resembles what is being advertised and marketed to the consumer, which is video games. 

The signifier is the FX chip, the signified is the caption 'one of these chips....'

The bottom right-hand corner has the Red Super Nintendo logo denoting that this game can only be played on the Super Nintendo. 





Rhythm Heaven for Nintendo DS

This next advert shows pop star Beyonce playing Rhythm Paradise on the Nintendo DS console. The text looks foreign, though I'm guessing it must be German or some other European language. From her facial expression, she seems to be smiling, thus as a code and indexical code, is denoting that she enjoys playing the game and is having fun at the same time. 

Her dress code is very casual, that of a Grey tee-shirt and blue jeans that connotes her relaxed and calm expression, as she is happily playing on her DS. It also denotes the everyday clothes she wears at home when she is not working and having to look very glamorous on camera for the paparazzi and her fans. Her posture signifies how she might play portable video games at home with her legs folded 

The text at the top of the poster could connote Beyonce's hair colour or the background cover of the game box, which is very brown-ish looking. 

The fact that Beyonce was chosen to advertise this particular video game titled 'Rhythm Paradise', the game itself relies on rhythmic action and having a sense of rhythm and understanding the beat of the music playing. As she is a singer and a dancer and she is advertising a game that involves music and rhythm, using the stylus and tapping buttons in time to the beat of the song, it makes her appearance all the more appropriate really. Rhythm Paradise is a music-based video game. 

Beneath Beyonce are the screenshots of different mini-games included in the game, as well as diagrams of a hand holding a stylus, each one signifying how each game should be played. 

At the bottom of the poster is a picture of the game cover with anchorage next to it. On the bottom right-hand side, is the DS games console with stylus, thus denoting which system this game should be played on. 




Pepsi 

This one is more of a holiday promotion held by beverage company Pepsico promoting Pepsi and the Super Nintendo. Mario is dressed as Santa, wearing a Santa hat that has 'M' on it, with Yoshi as a reindeer. Yoshi signifies the reindeer, and his shape and form is reminiscent of a Reindeer.With Mario as Santa, his hat is a dress code and the concepts of Santa and Mario both illicit positive connotations. Santa brings happiness and joy to kids when he delivers presents to them at night when they are asleep, Mario as Santa is an Iconic sign, and like Santa he brings happiness and joy to children, but when they play Mario games. That feeling as a child of opening your presents on Christmas day in the morning and discovering you got a Nintendo Wii, 3DS, Wii U or Nintendo games as gifts, is very much like that. 

Games that are fun for all the family and do not contain violence. It's about fun and enjoyment. The M on his hat denotes 'Mario'. Mario is holding a yellow package, presumably with Super Nintendo written on it, we can presume he is delivering a Super Nintendo console as a present to a child. 

'Win a Super Nintendo Entertainment System' denotes and signifies it is a competition to win a SNES games console. The anchorage, 'Just in Time for the holidays' denotes that the competition takes place a week or so, before the week of Christmas Eve and Day. 

The colour code is mainly Red; Santa wears red, so does Mario along with his Blue overalls. The Red clothing of Mario's connotes Nintendo's trademark colour at the time, which used to be Red, in contrast to Sega's Blue and Sega's mascot, Sonic The Hedgehog, who is also blue. 

Mario and Yoshi's smiles are also a form of non-verbal code. 

Mario and Yoshi are signs emphasizing they are central to this promotion. The small house may connote the house that they left to drop off one of the presents. 





Wii

Here is the advert for the Wii home console that was released in 2006 in North America. It shows the Wii Remote in what looks like liquid rising upwards, and you can see the buttons on the controller. It then shows the D-pad, 3 circle buttons moving about. This denotes that Nintendo have taken a different approach to video games than they did before and are trying to do something that caters to everyone. It then switches to a hand and of a guy grabbing the remote. The way it is shot and edited gives off a sense of suspense. He uses it to play video games. The 2 people, the guy and the girl appear to be playing a game of tennis. Even though we don't see footage of a tennis game, we hear tennis sounds in the background. We then get footage of 2 guys - who look like they are chefs holding Wii remotes and using them as if they were knives to chop up food. It is assumed they are playing a cooking game.

An elderly couple is now shown, each one holding Wii remotes. Classical music is playing in the background. They are moving sideways, too -ing and fro-ing and holding the controller as if  it was a baton and they were conductors of an orchestra. Their appearance signifies Nintendo's aim to create and deliver a product that has mass market appeal, so that anyone, regardless of age, can pick up a Wii remote and play. It switches to a man who is sitting on a chair. He is holding 2 remotes, one in each hand, as if they were drumsticks and he was playing the drums with them. He is then wearing a black baseball cap, Blue shirt and uses the remote to swing it as if it was a bat and he was playing baseball.

A young boy and an elderly man, who appears to be his grandfather are playing a fishing game on the Wii. It is assumed that they connote the father and son bond of getting together and spending time over a particular past -time. which in this case is video games. Shot then switches to a bespectacled guy, who seems to be a dentist holding the remote and looking inside someones teeth. A young woman is lying on the couch with sound effects in the background. Sounds like she is playing New Super Mario Bros Wii. She moves the Green Wii remote up and down. Green is also a referent and the colour of  Super Mario Bros' Luigi's clothes. An image of the Wii nunchuk in milky liquid then appears, and is plugged into the back of the remote. A family, who look like they are having a party with birthday decorations on the wall, are playing a game with remotes. What this game is we do not know for certain. However, one may connote that it is polysemic; therefore, it could be Wii Party or some other party-type game. Shot switches to a guy lurking behind a chair, who then pops up and uses it like a gun to shoot enemies. He then sits down. It is assumed that he was playing a first-person shooter type game. A trio of girls, 2 Japanese/Asian, 1 Caucasian with the Caucasian holding the red Wii remote and of whom are trying to trap a fly. Another guy uses the remote as a sword. You can hear slicing sound effects in the background. The phone rings. He then presses the D-Pad to pause the game, so he can answer the phone.

We get a shot of a Wii remote and see that one of the lights is blue, signifying the game that he'd been playing is paused.

The Wii console is on a table alongside the nunchuk and Wii remote. Image fades. Then 'Coming 2006' appears, signifying the worldwide release date of the console. Then the advert fades and ends.


Conclusion:

Each of these 5 advertisements all have very different ways of selling the Nintendo brand to the consumer. I'd also like to point out that although Nintendo is a Japanese brand by nature and has Japanese and Asian cultural values, the characters of Nintendo, most of them are not Japanese, solely by origin or ethnicity. Legend of Zelda's Link, Samus from Metroid, Mario, Kirby, though were created by the likes of Shigeru Miyamoto, Masahiro Sakurai, Gunpei Yokoi, they each have personalities and images that are western- related that resonate with Nintendo fans, who aren't Japanese themselves. And that alone, is what makes Nintendo stand out from other so-called Japanese games developers, of whom some or most of their characters cater and appeal towards Japanese audiences, moreso than Western audiences.


Final Thoughts:

Semiotics, and the significance of Semiotics in advertising, is crucial in understanding how messages are read and perceived by us, and as to how the creators creation of that text input that message, in order to sell a particular product or service.

Semiotics operates on a level that is firstly denotative by means of seeing what is already presented in front of us and then explaining it, descriptively, and secondly connotative and implicit and hidden meanings that we ourselves interpret from the given image/text. It is about analysing images, signs, logos, symbols, posters etc for the purpose of understanding its meaning. But semiotics isn't just limited to visual media and things, it includes anything and everything. We can analyse anything, and anyone in Semiotics, just as long as it is visual and can be seen by everyone. 

Images and signs operate on different levels, depending on their context, and we only know it is what it is when the signified (word of the image/object) and signifier (image/object) meet together. It is only from then onwards that the coming together of the denotation and connotation makes sense to us, and alas, from that we draw upon our own conclusions.

Nintendo has a variety of ways in conveying their image to audiences and fans, to encourage them to buy video games consoles and games. And it is through advertising, both on TV and print, that they use numerous selling techniques, visual signs and codes to enable them to spread their message across, as well as to emphasize that Nintendo is about fun, enjoyment, and being happy, through the medium of gaming.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Semiotics of Nintendo's Advertising, Part 2: Nintendo's Global Impact and Mario

Video games has had a long standing relationship with advertising through print and television, in addition to other forms of product placement. It enhances and connects video games to the wider world and brings non-video game players and enthusiasts deeper into the cultural and social sphere of video games (C. Murphy, 17).

In the West, sports, going to the theatre, movies, music, watching TV has always been the most dominant tools of communication. Yet in Japan things are very different, as games and playing video games occupy as the main tool of communication over sports due to the lack of space (169). It was seen as something that was embraced positively in Japan and by the 1980s, the Japanese gaming culture underwent a major shift.....


About Nintendo

Nintendo's origins stem during 1889 when the company produced and marketed Hanafuda cards. Hanafuda cards are playing cards in Japan and when they became more and more popular, the founder of Nintendo Fasajiro Yaumachi then hired more workers to mass-produce more cards, in order to meet consumer demands.

The Hanafuda deck consisted of 48 playing cards divided into 12 suits. Each suit represented each of the 12 months of the year.

In 1949, Sekiyo Kenada, who was then Nintendo's second president, suffered a stroke and as a result, called on Hiroshi to replace him, which he did. He became the new Nintendo president and no sooner did he began firing workers and managers, so that they would not be able to question his authority. Hiroshi changed the name Marufuka Playing cards to Nintendo Playing Cards.

In 1959, Nintendo collaborates with American giant, Disney to produce playing cards featuring Disney characters. The idea was so successful, it sold over 600,000 packs during that same year. 4 years on, Nintendo sold instant rice (yes rice) but unfortunately, it didn't work. After that, they went into the love hotel business. They were also a taxi company. But after several attempts, Hiroshi realised Nintendo's asset was not in hotels or the food industry, but the Hafuda playing cards. After the success of the playing cards, their next journey would take advantage of that and to go into the toys and games business.

And with that, Nintendo shifted their focus towards video games.

In 1983, the year of the video game crash, the Kyoto – based company which made playing cards, toys and released arcade games, introduced the Famicom. The Famicom was an abbreviation of Family Computer, and it became Nintendo's first real entry into the console market (Kinder, 89).

Easily beating rival systems of Sony (years before the launch of the Playstation) and Matsushita in Japan, the Famicom sold 2.1 million units in its first 18 months since its release.

Costing between $80 and $150 to produce and manufacture, the Famicom was an 8-bit games console that had the same microprocessor used in Apple's IIC and Commodore 64 PCs (Kinder, 92).

Nintendo arrived in the United States in 1985, in an attempt to revive the video game craze and spent around $30million on advertising to persuade consumers to purchase the Nintendo Entertainment System, I.e, NES for short. The NES was the West's version of the Japanese Famicom. In 5 years, Nintendo controlled 80% of the market share. With total sales heading towards $5 billion, it gave them 20% share of the entire US toy market. To make matters more interesting, by the end of 1989, it was revealed that 1 out of every 5 households in America owned a NES (Kinder, 89, 90).

A year later, Nintendo claimed that close to 50% of its players were over 18 years of age and 36% of them were female. Video games were no longer toys, it was a hobby, a lifestyle. The cutesy graphics and designs of the characters were appealing enough for young girls to take an interest in games and to play as Mario and Link.


Mario and The Worldwide Impact of Nintendo

Mario's influence and impact goes beyond video games making him a (unlikely) cultural icon.

Rovio's Peter Vesterbacka, whose company develops Angry Birds even said Mario was influential;

'Mario is a great character. But it's not just about him – it's the whole world that Nintendo has built, with the other great characters and the stories told through its games' (Soteriou, 2012).

Created by Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario is to Nintendo, the same way Mickey Mouse is to Disney; he is the main driving force behind the company's success. When you think of video games and of Nintendo, the first immediate thing that springs to mind is, Mario. He is everywhere and his cultural impact, since the days of Mario Bros on the NES, has put him ahead of other gaming mascots such as Pacman and Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic became Mario's arch rival during the Genesis vs Super Nintendo days of 1991, up until Sega quit the hardware business and thus, rebranded itself as a third-party software developer and publisher in 2001. 

With 3 animated series, an awful Hollywood movie starring Bob Hoskins, countless merchandise and toys and numerous appearances in spin-off games and such, the fact that more children during the 1990s identified with Mario and preferred Mario over Mickey Mouse, tells you something about Nintendo's effect outside of video games and within society and culture (Super Mario Bros HQ).

The original Super Mario Bros is arguably still the best selling video game of all-time with over 40 million copies, sold worldwide. Mario and his brother, Luigi have become a cultural phenomenon and one would argue they are also the most recognizable video game siblings as well.

Nintendo found their secret weapon to their success; they knew that in Mario he had that cross-over appeal that would interest people of all ages, both male and female, all around the world, as well as it would enable the company to generate more income.

In 2009, a research company going by the name of Smarty Pants, who focus on child-related brands- questioned 4, 700 kids aged between 6-12  for a study titled ''Young Love'. They were asked out of all the major brands, which one was their favourite. Nintendo was the number 1 choice, with the Wii, followed by the DS in second (7, Firestone). These 2 products, Wii and DS games consoles beat out Mcdonalds, Nickelodeon, and DisneyThis statistic alone demonstrated the massive impact video games has had on people of all ages, but that also the image of the traditional video games player, had changed. No longer was this past-time for young boys and teenagers and geeks- video gaming was a hobby that everybody, male and female, young and old all embraced and could participate in. 




Samus Aran & The Birth of A New Female Gaming Hero

As well as Mario and Link from The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo also thanks to Gunpei Yokoi, -creator of the Gameboy, which went on to become one of the biggest selling hand- held systems, ever-, during 1986 unveiled their first main female gaming protagonist, named Samus Aran. The game was titled: Metroid.

In Metroid, the objective of the game is to aid female bounty hunter Samus Aran in finding and destroying Mother Brain & saving the universe. A plot that bears an uncanny resemblance to the Aliens movies starring Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley (Kinder, 107). One of the interesting things about Metroid is given the main protagonist is female, one would be forgiven in thinking that as Samus is a woman and the hero and not some damsel in distress, her heroism and bravery in the face of evil, would encourage more female video game players to play Metroid games and see Samus Aran as a some kind of role model for women.

When in fact, the interest in Metroid and its cult status as a sci-fi action-adventure series has prompted more male players to take an active interest in the franchise. Probably because a) it is a sci-fi, action game and b) Samus shoots people with her arm cannon, not just because she is female.

Additionally, Samus Aran's impact and cultural status amongst gamers and Nintendo fans, has led to the creation and arrival of other female video game characters by other creators and developers. Most notably that of Jill Valentine of Resident Evil, Chun Li of Streetfighter, Sega's Bayonetta and Tomb Raider's Lara Croft.

The success of Nintendo led to the revolution of the entertainment industry and by the 1990s, it made more profit than many of the U.S film and TV studios such as Paramount, Fox, NBC. Nintendo became a home entertainment giant and were finally taken seriously (12, Firestone).

As of today, Nintendo have released a total of 7 home consoles, including the recent Wii U and 6 hand-held consoles including 7 iterations of the Gameboy and 4 iterations of the DS (Dual Screen). With total hardware sales surpassing 600 million and software sales over 4 billion to date, in addition to the DS being the biggest- selling 7th generation handheld console and the Wii as the biggest selling 7th generation home console, Nintendo, in the face of ongoing constant (& mostly undeserved) criticism, media and press attacks and the urge by their detractors to leave the hardware business and focus on making games for mobile devices & rival consoles, are still here, still fighting. And still proving that there are still people that prefer to play games on consoles, as well as still love Mario, Kirby, Link and Samus.

In other words, Nintendo aren't going anywhere.

(Continued in part 3) 



Sources: 

  • Playing with Power in movies, television and video games: from Muppet Babies to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Marsha Kinder, 1993
  • Nintendo's Mascot: From Donkey Kong to Super Mario Lovers, Helen Soteriou, BBC News, 4 June 2012
  • Super Mario Bros HQ, 1997-2013
  • Nintendo: The Company and its Founders, Mary Firestone, 2011 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Semiotics of Nintendo's Advertising, Part 1: The Theory

Following on from 2 of my previous Media and Cultural studies related essays on Representations & Ideology and Star Studies, comes the third in the series: Semiotics, otherwise known as Semiology.


About Semiotics: 

If someone walked up to you, approaching you on the street and asked you what is Semiotics, the answer would be, well, you wouldn't know what that is. Semiotics is one of those things that has a very strange sounding name, and yet you wouldn't have a clue what it entails or why it exists.

The short answer would be 'it is the study of signs', but even that definition alone, is too vague and not specific enough to understand what Semiotics is.

Okay, for those reading this, the study of signs is a way of saying 'analyzing signs for meaning', for definition, understanding the intent of that sign is and why, perhaps, the person or people who created that sign, decided to opt for this sign. Usually, when someone mentions signs, it tends to be visual, symbols, logos, signs that you see in person. Road signs, sign language, star signs. These are things you see in everyday life.

But what if I told you that signs can also be people, celebrities, animals, transport, food, clothing, jewelry, items, money and paintings, as well as sign language, song lyrics and words? You'd probably be surprised, and intrigued. 

Semiology (pronounced as Semi-o-logy) and semiotics (pronounced as Semi-o-tics) are both derived from the Greek term Semion, meaning sign (5, Bignell). It is closely related to the field of language and linguistic studies. However, in media and cultural studies, Semiotics is used to analyse and deconstruct meanings and ideas in TV shows, movies, advertising. 

French literary theorist, linguist and Semiotician Roland Barthes developed a method of analysing rhetoric structures of media culture by taking apart the mythologies that colonise social life and reproduce critical consciousness on behalf of the reader (92, Introduction to Part 2 et al durham, kellner).

Semiotics is a way of seeing the world and things happening around the world and to understand how the landscape and culture in which we live in has a massive impact on all of us (Sign Salad). 

Semiotics represents a radical break from traditional criticism. The first order of business is the interpretation of the aesthetic object or text in terms of its immanent meaning (Benyahia, Rayner). It asks how meaning is created, rather than what the meaning is, by using specialized vocabulary to describe signs and how they function (4).

Therefore, how does the producer of the image use existing structure of meaning to ensure the product means something, and how do we extract that meaning?

The semiotic approach understands that representations do not operate separately from one another, but rather collectively, it forms a representational system similar to written or verbal language (Fourie, 215). It allows for a detailed deconstruction of representation, in order to uncover the sign's connotative and ideological meanings.

Take Red as another example: it is a primary colour; however, Red can also mean something else depending on its context. If the context is a traffic light, then Red would signify 'stop' for the person waiting at the pedestrian crossing. 

If the context is a rose, then Red would signify romance, love, passion. If the context is a flag, then Red would signify 'danger' or caution. If someone's face or cheeks turns Red, it would signify that they are blushing, but also it could mean they are embarrassed or shy. 

Therefore, words, objects, places mean different things to different people, depending on the context that they are used and what they might infer to us.

Every single thing we say and do in life - from cooking, playing sports, talking about our favourite TV shows-, is all governed by a set of cultural messages and conventions. It is through these conventions and messages that we are reliant and dependent on them to decipher and interpret them to the best of our ability.

For example, when someone gives you the 'thumbs up', you notice the thumb being up, not down. Down would connote bad, not good, whereas up connotes 'good', 'good job' , someone happy. We instantly interpret signs as and when we see them. 

Umberto Eco once said that 'Semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign (1976). 

Because signs are words, images, sounds, flavours, smells, objects, such things have no intrinsic meaning attached to them. anything can be a sign, as long as you interpret it as signifying something. For example, let's take Orange, as in the fruit. How do we know it is an orange? An orange is practically nothing. Why is it an orange? This is where the concept of the sign is applied: the sign is made up of 2 parts - the signifier and signified. The signifier is the object, the visual image shown. The signified is the word of that object, so therefore the signified is the word Orange and the letters O.R.A.N.G.E. 




 (object) >>  Signifier 


   Orange  (Word)   >> Signified 





(object)  +   Orange  (word)   =  Sign   

(Signifier)   +   Orange  (Signified)  = 


                                                                            Orange 


When the signified and signifier both meet together, it then becomes the sign. Hence, Orange the fruit (Signifier) and the word 'Orange' (Signified), stating what the signifier is. We know it is an orange because of how it looks and the word 'Orange' that states what the object is. And there you have the sign 'Orange'. 

As children, we learn that it is an Orange and that we rely our cultural knowledge to understand and to know it is an orange through its colour, taste, shape, the word 'orange' and size. 


The Semiotic Terms

According to Charles Sanders pierce, there are 3 types of signs: symbolic/arbitary, iconic, indexical.- A sign represents an object by people who use it. It has no connection between sign and object. CAT has no link to the animal as a pet. It works because we understand the letters C.A.T when put in that order means/signifies a cat. Because it is symbolic or arbitrary, it can have several meanings (Rayner, Wall, 35). When we see the sign of the cat, we then know it is a cat. A cat is a type of animal and pet with 4 legs. When we mention cats, we refer to domestic pet cats, but cats can also mean lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, pumas etc. Animals that are part of the cat family. 

The other 2 signs are iconic and indexical; iconic signs are paintings, statues, photos, street signs, the effiel tower, statue of liberty. Iconic signs resemble the object it signifies. A painting is an iconic sign that depicts in visual form the subject, the painting. 

Indexical signs are signs that are connected to what is being signified. sign of smoke = fire, tear = sorrow, sadness. 

Other Semiotic terms used in Semiotic and Textual Analysis are:

Anchorage - fixing, limiting set of meanings to image. caption, headline underneath a photo. 

Codes - constructed and adhered to by society; dress codes, colour codes, body language, facial expressions, poses. each language possesses its own set of conventions. these conventions aka codes make a representation understood by its readers (Hall, 1997, 36). 

Technical codes - particular texts used, reproduced

Referent - the thing to which the sign is referring to. For instance, the image of a cat is designated by the term, 'cat'. 

Connotation - meaning of the sign through cultural interpretation, experiences, identifying what the sign is signifying beyond what it is. 

Denotation - what the image shows, what is immediate, not assumed. 

Identifying text - offer clear description of what it is 

Semiotics is all around us, every one is a semiotician: when you look at images, signs, photos in the newspaper, on websites, watch TV shows and talk about the characters, storylines, meanings, that is part of what semiotics is about (Sign Salad - Semiotics Explained). 

In structualism, each element within a cultural system gets its meaning from its relationship to every other element in the system (4, Benyahia). Alas, there are many multiple meanings, otherwise known as Polysemic.

In media studies, our task is to break down or deconstruct texts and images into parts and to reveal and understand how advertisers use different signs and codes to create meaning or a message to sell a product or service (33, Rayner, wall).

Analysing media texts is often very complex because it combines the analysis of both 'language' and visual signs. The 2 work together to create meanings that s/he is able to decode.


About Advertising 

Advertising is a form of non-personal form of promotion that is delivered through selected media outlets, that under most circumstances, requires the marketer to pay for message placement (Knowthis.com). 

It is a process and a way in which the manufacturer of the product communicates with customers via a medium, or different media.

Most advertising involves communicating a complex range of messages about a product known as 'branding'. A brand is a product or range of products that have a set of values associated with it that the consumer easily recognises (Mediaknowall). The brand is distinguished and recognized immediately by its name and/or symbol/logo. For instance, Nike's brand is the swoosh tick symbol, followed by the slogan, 'Just Do It'. 

Brand identity is created in 8 steps:

- essence: a way of summerising the significance of the brand to stockholders and consumers of the brand in one sentence 

- slogan: public way of identifying the brand to consumers, involves using the logo

- personality: marketers describe the brand as if it was a person, celebrity

- values: what it stands for/against

- appearance: what it looks, taste, smell, sound like, how it looks 

- heritage: how long has the brand been around for?

- emotional benefits -  is specifically tied to brands, their particular features and how they are marketed. (Day, 2010) 

- hard benefits - Is it bigger? Better, value for money, longevity factor, does it have good controls, is the material of good quality that it won't come apart and break easily? (Media Knowall) 

Advertising will inform and entertain us in a variety of ways and persuade us to purchase a product or service. It is visible everywhere, on TV, newspapers, magazines, online (89, Kolker). Yet it is also a text, comprising of a range of texts- images, words, music, product it is selling, person promoting the product- with its own codes, conventions, genres, narratives to tell and reach out to audiences.

Advertising combines 4 things: art, graphic design, psychology and social engineering. It makes use of visual arts to illustrate its message and product, the narrative from the movies, TV world to tell a story, as well as social, powers of persuasion and processes of deceit, convincing us to buy the product (Kolker, 90). 

In advertising, semiotics helps advertisers easily identify the target market. most advertisements play on cultural knowledge, common references etc to be relevant to the consumer (Manral, 2011).

Through a combination of symbols, words, images and music, advertisers combine all these things to create 1 meaningful, coherent composition (Lewis, Small Business Chron).

(To be continued in part 2....) 


Sources:

  • Semiotics the Basics, D. Chandler, 2001
  • Semiotics For beginners, D Chandler
  • Media Semiotics: An Introduction, J Bignell, 2002
  • Media Studies: The Essential Resource (Essentials) - Sarah Casey Benyahia, Abigail Gardner, 2013
  • AS Media Studies: The essential introduction for AQA, philip rayner, peter wall,  2008
  • Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, The Key Concepts, J Hartley, 2002
  • Media Studies: Media History, Media and Society, Pieter J Fourie
  • How To Do Media and Cultural Studies, J. Stokes, 2012 
  • Messages, Signs and Meanings: A Basic Textbook in Semiotics and Communication, Marcel Danesi, 2004
  • The Advertising Club, Kiran Manral, November 1 2001
  • Examples of semiotics in advertising, Chron, Jared Lewis
  • Key terms in semiotics, Bronwen Martin, 2006
  • KnowThis - What is advertising
  • Mediaknowall - What is advertising?
  • Media studies: An introduction, Robert Kolker, 2009
  • Encyclopedia of Video Games: The Culture, Technology, and Art of Gaming, ed Mark J.P Wolf, Sheila C Murphy
  • Nintendo: The Company  & Its Founders, Mary Firestone, 2011
  • Nintendo Wikipedia page
  • Nintendo History Lesson - N-Sider, 2003
  • Brand Building and Emotional Benefits, Derrick Daye, 2010
  • Media and Cultural Studies Keyworks, Meenakashi gigi durham, douglas M Kellner, ed. 2006
  • The Media Students Book, Gill Branston and Roy Stafford, 4th edition, 2006 
  • Semiotics Explained: SignSalad, 2011 
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