The aim of this close analysis is to analyse the textual features of the selected WWF advertisement. The ad’s overall ideology is that the continued exploitation of the ecosystem can endanger the lives of living organisms.
The ad is composed of two separate images. The image on the left denotes a shark fin in the middle of an ocean whereas the image on the right shows only an ocean without the shark fin. The sign is the key aspect of semiology and communicates a message to the viewer. In this advertisement, the sign is the iconic shark fin and indexical lack of shark fin.
The signifier is the arrangement of images and accompanying texts. By themselves, the images and texts do not mean anything. Their meanings are dependent upon the fact that they relate to other concepts. The vertical split emphasises that sharks, while horrifying, are far less horrifying than the effects of ecosystem exploitation. The angle places the viewers at the same level as the sharks, placing neither the shark nor viewer in the dominant position. The lighting is harsh, playing on the association of darkness with fear and the unknown (O’Shaughnessy and Stadler 148). Within the photographic context, the ocean represents life on earth, whilst also symbolising formlessness, the unpredictable and chaos. On the other hand, the ocean can be viewed as a form of stability since it has remained largely unchanged throughout the centuries. Cultural context informs the meaning of the shark fin; associating it with the act of shark finning. This is the act of removing fins from sharks and throwing the remaining shark back into the ocean. Particularly in cultures such as China and Japan, shark finning is increasingly popular due to the rising demand of shark fin soup.
The signified is the message that the continued exploitation of the ecosystem threatens lives of living organisms. Hence, the connotation reminds viewers of the beliefs, feelings and ideas that are attached to the signifiers. While people typically associate sharks with danger, there is a generally shared cultural understanding that sharks are an important feature of a working ecosystem. If human behaviours remain unchecked, future oceans may lack large species of sharks that are present in today’s oceans. The signified is further informed by the captions that accompany the two images.
There are two captions which accompany each of the two images. On the left is the caption, “horrifying”. On the right is the caption “more horrifying”. The use of parallelism is present in this advertisement, used to persuade, motivate and evoke emotional responses in the viewer. This is followed by the statement, “exploiting the ecosystem also threatens human lives”, which connotates that large marine species play crucial roles in ecosystems, thus, their extinction could result in ecological breakdowns that adversely affect the structure and function of future ecosystems. If viewers saw the images by themselves, they may feel a sense of relief as they see that the shark has disappeared. However, the accompanying captions show that it is not that simple; the absence of sharks in the ocean can signify a disruption in the ecosystem.
The modality markers indicate to the viewer that the statement is certain; it is asserted as fact. This leads the viewer to believe that extinction of sharks is a definite consequence of the continued exploitation of ecosystems by humans. Applying the concept of modality to the image, because the visual representation is realistic rather than in cartoon or animated form, and therefore has a higher truth status (O’Shaughnessy and Stadler 142). The modal markers emphasise to the viewer that they should believe that these images represent real situations and events that will happen if their behaviour continues to go unchecked. Hence, the ideological meaning of the advertisement is that exploitation of ecosystems is undesirable. The semiotics, linguistic and visual techniques used in the formation of this advertisement signify to the viewer that the current practices of humans must be reformed in order to save the ecosystem.
In conclusion, this textual analysis has explored how the semiotics, linguistic and visual techniques used in the selected ad inform the overall ideology that humans’ continued exploitation of ecosystems can harm themselves as well as other living organisms.
O’Shaughnessy, M and J Stadler. “Semiology.” O’Shaughnessy, M and J Stadler. Media and society. 5th. Oxford University Press, 2012. 131-160.