M84MC – Visual Structures

This lecture performs a visual analysis of the 2012 advertising campaign for the Lady Gaga Fame perfume. The lecture draws on a variety of semiotics concepts to explore the ad’s connotations and denotations, its iconography, symbolic and inter-textual codes; it finally discusses the advantages and the limitations of a classic structuralist perspective.

Lecture slides: visual structures


  • Barthes, R. (1977) “The Rhetoric of the Image” in Image Music Text. London: Fontana. pp.32-51.
  • Lister, M. and Wells, L. (2001) “Seeing beyond belief: Cultural Studies as an approach to analysing the visual.” in Van Leeuwen, T. and Wells, L. eds. Handbook of Visual Analysis. London: Sage. pp.61-91.
  • Ott, B. and Mack, L. (2010) “Rhetorical Analysis” in Critical Media Studies. Wiley-Blackwell.  pp. 99-122.
  • Prieto-arranz, J. (2012) “The Semiotics of Performance and Success in Madonna.” The Journal of Popular Culture 45 (1): 173-196.
  • Van Leeuwen, T. (2001) “Semiotics and iconography.”  in Van Leeuwen, T. and Wells, L. eds. Handbook of Visual Analysis. London: Sage. pp.92-118.
  • Ways of Seeing (BBC Documentary on visual analysis)

Activity for next week:

Watch these two videos. Perform a compared visual semiotic analysis. These are some of the questions you may want to consider: What connotations can you identify? Which symbolic meanings? Which iconic signs? How does the advert use these elements to convey its message? Write down a summary of your findings and post it here as a comment to this entry.

2 thoughts on “M84MC – Visual Structures

  1. Nguyen Tam Thu

    Nguyen Tam Thu – SID 5967155

    The first time I saw both advertisings of Madonna fragrance “Truth or Dare” and Lady Gaga fragrance “Fame”, I didn’t understand what did Madonna and Lady Gaga want to propagate. However, after some times I watched them again and again and again, I understood one of the deep meaning of their messages.

    Firstly, on Madonna fragrance, lyric of “Girl gone wild” has been replayed two or three times and the image of Madonna wearing a mask and lying with her attractive eyes are looking straight on you in the black and white scenes showed that she has many mysterious things. Moreover, there are some scenes she is looking in the mirror means that there are two “Madonna” inside her. Madonna said “Truth is duality – sin is my twin and contradictions push and pull. Dare is to expose what lies beneath. Infinite possibilities and in this tension between truth or dare, we find out true selves.” Madonna wants to discuss that there are always have two or more characteristics in one person. Once is what people showing to others and once is what they really are. The music in her commercial totally go with the meaning of what she wants to expose to audiences, a woman has been always tried to be a nice person, tried to act like a good girl but inside, another “her” wants to be breaking down.
    As we all know, almost the black and white films or even commercials has gotten lots of views. Madonna said “my oldest memory of my mother is her perfume, I carry it with me everywhere. She always smelled like gardenias and tuberose, an intoxicating mixture feminine and mysterious”. As we all know, every girls are want to be growth as their mother. Furthermore, this fragrance commercial gave the audiences, especially women a new challenge, have confident lifestyle and be the woman they always dreamed of being.

    Secondly, on Lady Gaga fragrance commercial, she is wearing a black mask, seen reclining with an arm behind her head while holding the perfume in her other hand. In the video, Gaga emerges from a vat of black glue, most likely representative of the perfume, which has been described ad “black like the soul of fame, but invisible once airborn. After watched her video, I absolutlly do not understand what she wants to conveys but I know it is artistically brilliant. I guess this her means “Fame” fragrance as the symbol of generation, birth and rebirth. Besides, the visuals for the commercial further enforce the theme of mind control and the occult. The clawed mirror reflections of Gaga to create three images of herself, three being a very powerful number to occultists. The scenes Gaga struts between men cloaked in red and near naked man, faces distorted by black masking tape over one eye, kneeling before them may be represent herself as the mediator between the elite and the general public.

  2. lyklinh07

    Both videos are in the advertising campaign of new perfume of two divas which are Madonna and Lady Gaga. What is in common between these two videos is they use visual effect and many icons that have hidden meaning and we have to use semiotic to analysing them correctly. Using symbols in music is coming more and more popular and that is an effective way to transfer opinion, perspective and purpose of the artists which not only make it too obvious but also stand out and become unique compare to other products at the same time. First of all, the Truth or Dare perfume commercial video of Madonna, it’s a short video which only lasts for 33 seconds and especially all of the images are in black and white. The main icon appeared throughout this video is the symbol M with the cross above it which is short for Madonna, and she used to have a controversial performance that she was tight into a cross reminds about Jesus and it has made Christian people angry. She constantly repeated that symbolic icon in the video and more important, it is the main logo of her product. After all this is still an advertising video so the product has to the main theme, easy to recognize has to be put first. Besides that, the perfume has appeared and be emphasized too. One more particular thing about Madonna is she has been seen as a feminism and that is the reason why in almost her videos, the images of her body were filmed closely and represent sexual emotion. Second of all, it’s the video Fame, official commercial for Lady Gaga’s perfume. Unlike Madonna’s, this video is longer, almost 6 minutes, just like an music video and further, the context in here is more complex. The main product didn’t show up and instead, Lady Gaga plays the lead role for the whole clip along with iconic items, images which represent her own idea. “Fame” is the name of the perfume and also the theme of the video, all of the symbols, design are all in the dark colour such as grey, black or silver that illustrates the darker side of Fame. It is not always shining light and sparkling about the glory of these celebrities which everyone admires and want to be like them, it is also bitter, painful and scandalous. In this video the fact that there is a huge statue of her own show ups many times and many men surround it as well as the real Lady Gaga shows that in order to have worship from people she has to put up with a lot of difficulties. Lady Gaga and Madonna are the masterpieces in using symbol and iconic images to transfer opinion, ideas, and actually their products are very unique and stand out.


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