Media As Texts

Description of communication situation
I'll be using the same advertisement from Pizza Hut that features their latest product, the "Cheesy 7 X'Mas Edition" Pizza: 

Analysis of communication situation
Viewing this ad through the lens of media as texts requires an understanding of Semiotics, the study of signs and meaning.  

In Ferdinand de Saussure's theory of structuralism (Saussure, 1916 – Published as Writings in General Linguistics, 2006), a sign is defined as anything that conveys meaning, and refers to something other than itself. It could be a word, a picture, a sound, a light, etc. According to him, any sign is composed of two parts, the Signifier, and Signified. These two parts are inter-related, and cannot be thought of separately.

The Signifier is the physical form of the sign, while the Signified is the concept that is evoked through the sign. The following model of Ferdinand de Saussure's theory illustrates it (Sam Wallbank, 2010 [Image]):

However, viewing the sign on its own is not enough. We will also have to examine how the sign fits into the larger system, to fully comprehend its meaning (Jeff Lewis, 2002).

The Textual View of Media
In viewing media through the lens of media as texts, we will be using the following elements:
1. Signifier or Denotation: The ‘raw’ data of the advertisement
2. Signified or Connotation: The derived meaning from the combination of elements
3. Langue or The Larger System: How this advertisement fits in
4. The limitations of the textual view of media

We will analyse the Pizza Hut advertisement with these. 

I’ve identified the following physical elements:

·         Large brochure format
·         A4 size
·         Paper is smoother and thicker than regular paper

Visual Images:
·         Dominant colours of Yellow, Red and Green
·         Top left corner - Ribbon and leaves
·         Main image – hand lifting a slice of pizza
·         Pizza ingredients – Ham, button mushrooms, red and green capsicums, roasted chicken, cheese, herbs and a cherry
·         Pizza is on a pan, placed on a table
·         Background of leaves and decorations is blur
·         Pictures of the seven different types of cheese
·         Each cheese picture is within a circular shape, which starts from yellow on the left, and gradually becomes red as it moves towards the right
·         Halal logo
·         Pizza hut logo – Bright red roof on a dark red background
·         Logo set against a stylised red background with a yellow stripe border

·         ‘X’Mas Edition’ – set within a yellow circle
·         Top left corner ‘Cheesy 7’ – stylized with smaller lighter circles within
·         Large font size of main text – ‘If you thought the Cheesy 7 was sheer indulgence, think again’.
·         ‘Cheesy 7’ is mentioned twice – emphasis
·         ‘Cheesy 7’ in main text uses the largest font size 
·         ‘Stuffed crust with 3 cheese flavours’ uses small font size
·         Each of the seven types of cheese is individually named
·         ‘Pizza Hut’ – set against a dark red background (Pizza Hut organization)
·         ‘Share a slice of life’ – cursive font

There are a few dominant messages in this advertisement, which Pizza Hut highlights through its choice of codes, colours, setting, words and images. Through the combination of these elements, Pizza Hut creates a concept of:

·         High quality
·         Keep, don’t throw it away

·         Christmas season
·         Festive
·         Joyful
·         Celebration
·         Limited time offer
·         Don’t miss out

·         Delicious
·         Succulent
·         Eat me now!
·         Fresh
·         Ham - Made from turkey, not pork
·         Desire
·         Hunger
·         Cheese – Oozy, melty, gooey cheese goodness

The Larger System
In examining the larger system (Jeff Lewis, 2002), we know that the ad falls under the system of fast-food (Jeremy White, 2010), the sub-system or genre of pizza, and the medium of brochure advertising (Fiske and Hartley, 1978).

Marketing strategies of Fast-Food advertising often utilize one or more techniques in their messages (Fast Food F.A.C.T.S., 2010). Pizza Hut uses the following techniques to convey its message:
1.     Delicious looking food – “Food Porn”
2.     Product Branding
3.     Promotions / Offers
4.     Eating / Festive occasions
5.     New / Unique products

However, it doesn’t utilize these techniques:
6.     Value / Combo meals
7.     Health & Nutrition information
8.     Special Pricing

The placement of the Halal logo implies that it is Turkey Ham instead of pork. This implication arises from the fact that Fast-Food restaurants worldwide often use turkey meat as a substitute for pork (Lane and Duffy, BBC News Magazine, 2007).

The genre of pizza advertising often includes portraying pizza as hot, fresh, and with melted cheese that ‘pulls’ as you lift out a slice. An example would be a behind the scenes look at a Domino’s Pizza photo shoot here (Domino's Pizza Behind The Scenes Photo Shoot). The Pizza Hut advertisement for its ‘Cheesy 7’ pizza does this to great effect. One noticeable element that is missing is the message of quick delivery.

The medium of brochure advertising serves a few main purposes (Effective Brochure Design). Pizza Hut does the following very effectively:
1.     Capture attention
2.     Create interest

However, it does the following ineffectively, or not at all:
3.     Provide information
4.     Lead viewers to a sale

Overall, this shows that the larger system has shaped the way this Pizza Hut ad was developed, and that the larger system itself carries meaning.

The limitations of the textual view of media
The main drawback of the textual view of media is that meaning is a constructed interpretation based on the viewer’s individual life experience (Jeff Lewis, 2002). Thus, different people might arrive at different conclusions even though they see the same thing. For example, a vegetarian might see the Pizza Hut advertisement as the taking of life, or someone who is lactose-intolerant might view this with disgust.

The post-structuralism view of media states that meanings are generally created by the powerful to retain their power (Jeff Lewis, 2002). A cynical world-viewer may therefore say that this ad is enticing people to spend unnecessarily on food, and that it only enriches the Pizza Hut organisation.

Another drawback might lie in the use of food photography techniques, as often, the food presented in reality won’t look as appetising as the advertisement.

Things I hadn't noticed before
Through viewing media as texts, I've realized that different people might view the same things differently, and interpret things from their own perspective.  I also have a better understanding of how the larger system plays a part in constructing meaning for a message.

References & Attribution
1. Ferdinand de Saussure (Author, 1916). Simon Bouquet (Editor) & Rudolf Engler (Editor) (2006). Writings in General Linguistics. Oxford University Press, USA; 1st THUS edition. ISBN 019926144X. Retrieved November 30, 2010 from Book.

2. Ferdinand de Saussure's Theory (1916) – 'Structuralism'. Sam Wallbank (2010) [Image]. Retrieved November 30, 2010 from Web Image. 

3. Jeff Lewis (2002). “Language and Culture: From Structuralism to Poststructuralism” in Cultural Studies: The Basics. London: Sage, pp. 145-170.
Retrieved November 30, 2010 from Web Document.

4. Pizza Hut organization: Web Site.

5. Jeremy White (2010). Is Pizza Fast Food? Retrieved November 30, 2010 from Web Document.

6. John Fiske and John Hartley (1978), "The Signs of Television," in Reading Television. London : Methuen, pp.37-58. Web Document.

7. Fast Food F.A.C.T.S. Report (2010). Retrieved November 30, 2010 from Web Document.

8. Megan Lane and Jonathan Duffy, BBC News Magazine (2007). How Turkey Became a Fast Food. Retrieved November 30, 2010 from Web Document.

9. Domino's Pizza Behind The Scenes Photo Shoot. Retrieved November 30, 2010 from Web Video.

10. Effective Brochure Design. Retrieved November 30, 2010 from Web Document.

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