The Semiotics of Cigarette Advertising.

Australia began placing bans on cigarette advertising in September 1976. Starting with television and radio, the bans slowly spread to print media, cinema, billboards and by 1998 cigarette advertising had practically disappeared from public view altogether.

Before these bans were imposed advertising was a powerful tool used by big tobacco companies to help sell its carcinogenic cash cow. Hyper sexualized images and commercials laden with messages of fun and irresistibility were spread across sporting fields and cinemas nationwide.

These messages were carefully crafted in a way that showed both a literal and primary message, all the while evoking strong mental concepts for the consumer. This relationship is an example of semiotics, a powerful tool in the world of advertising.

Paul Hogan Image sourced from:

This image is taken from a 1970s Winfield Cigarettes advertising campaign in Australia. The ad pictured features Australian actor Paul Hogan holding a Winfield brand cigarette. This is a complex image that features visual and text denotations and can evoke a range of connotations for the reader.

There are several signifiers that are obvious. Actor Paul Hogan, holding the cigarette in his hand is instructing the viewer that Hogan himself is a Winfield smoker. The packet of Winfield cigarettes in the foreground is showing buyers what to look out for in store. There is a large text caption at the top of the page reading, “Anyhow have a Winfield 25s” followed by a quote from Hogan reassuring viewers that “You save around 10c a pack… it’s the best deal Winfield’s ever offered and that’s sayin’ something” which suggests value for money. The rich, red background emulates the colour of the Winfield cigarette packet. The ad also stipulates that apparently Winfield were “5 smokes ahead of the rest” meaning that Winfield were offering an extra 5 cigarettes per packet than the standard 20 available at the time.

Big tobacco companies intended these signifiers to be received by consumers in a certain way. The picture will be received differently depending on the viewers’ ideology and life experiences but signs such as ”Anyhow have a Winfield 25s” are instructing customers to buy the product and the Paul Hogan quote helps the reader reassure themselves that they are making the right choice. Seeing a Celebrity such as Paul Hogan promoting cigarettes suggests sophistication and Hogan being dressed in a tuxedo helps Winfield to perpetuate this connotation for the consumer. The quote “5 smokes ahead of the rest” plants the idea that Winfield is somehow better or more advanced than its competitors and therefore a preferable choice.

Due to the subjective nature of semiotics it is always possible for signs to be read in more than one way. The Winfield advertisement may have evoked a sense of class and sophistication in one consumer. Ideas of patriotism and supporting Australian business may be signified in another viewer due to Paul Hogan’s iconic representation of Australia. No two consumers will draw identical connotations from signs, especially with complex signs such as this one.

The Paul Hogan Winfield image offers a compelling look at how we can encode a message and then decode an interpretation. It shows how the connotations can differ greatly from what we see and also how semiotics are used in advertising to provoke mental images within consumers.