This is a semiotic analysis of an Aïshti advertisement.
Aïshti is a Lebanese luxury and stylish department chain store which under one roof gathers some of the most prestigious fashion labels and top designers in the world. The advertisement chosen is a division of the Aïshti Campaign that was created by the famous designer Stephan Sagmeister and is part of a series of images promoting the premium lifestyle promised by Aïshti.
The advertisement was seen in every medium possible (Women and lifestyle magazines, Television ads, Online spreading, outdoor covers and billboards). However, we will be focusing on the humongous billboards found in Downtown Beirut.
A scientific, systematic and semiotic analysis of the advertisement has been undertaken, with Feminist and Marxist approaches, based on the concepts of Semiotics (Roland Barthes, 1965), Superstructure-Media (Karl Marx, 1848), the Beauty Myth (Naomi Wolf, 2002) and the Decoding of Advertisements (Judith Williamson, 1978) with least possible subjectivity.
The above mentioned advertisement included three elements:
– The famous orange Aïshti box
– Silhouette of a woman wearing a short dress
– A naked woman holding a pair of scissors in her right hand
Story Line: Aïshti visits the Garden of Eden
The advertisement under study cannot be interpreted alone, rather a comprehensive look is needed to better understand the message that the designer wants to convey. Thus, by looking at the other images of the 2011 campaign a story line could be inferred. The naked woman is the ‘virgin’ woman in society. By ‘virgin’ we mean outside the Aïshti kingdom. She is still primitive. She is Eve. She is limited with her knowledge and understanding. She knows nothing but the Garden she was put in. At first we thought that the silhouette on the orange box is the shadow, but soon we reasoned that there is already a shadow beneath her. How can a person have two shadows? The dark ‘shadow’ image on the box is what Aishti can make out of a woman. That is, what they can make you become; from the state of nudity to the finest clothing sensation ever. Finally, the Aishti ‘Eve’ is seduced. Eve took a bite of the prohibited fruit and consequently she gets to know the ‘Truth’ (she was falsely promised to know as equally to what God knows). She is given a pair of scissors, and she chose to cut the elegant ribbon that separates her and the products compacted in the box. As the box opens, the Aishti products seem to jump outside with great force. It includes all what a woman wants. In contrast to the Biblical Eve, the Aishti Eve utilizes all that was given to her, with maximum satisfaction and joy. She is now lured into the Aishti world which gives her satisfactory emotions as sexual intercourse would have provided.
Decoding the Advertisement
Judith Williamson in “Decoding Advertisements” argues that a three step process is needed in effective advertising. The first is Association. All Aishti ads include the yellowish orange box very similar to the color and the rectangular shape of gold bars. The background is typically dark black, creating a great color contrast and making the Aishti brand more eye-catching. Furthermore, the real woman and the silhouette have symmetrical positioning. The woman with the naked body looks directly to the eyes of the audience. Although the ad is not clear whether it is promoting Aishti clothing, accessories, restaurant, magazine or architecture, it is clear is that the orange box represents the Aishti identity as a whole. “Advertising’s technique is to… gain meaning and to correlate them to tangible objects, linking the unattainable with the attainable” (Omni-Semiotics, 2009). Hence, Aishti will become associated with luxury.
To be so, a Differentiation is needed. “The way in which difference is created is by means of an image” (Ibid). Williamson, in reference to Barthes, argues that products take on meaning as the signified: the orange box, from one system of meaning (the language level or the referent system) is transformed into a new signifier for the signified of the product: Aishti as luxury (at the myth level). Once this transfer has taken place the product itself comes to mean an image.
The image is the above stated Aishti identity: the luxurious lifestyle. This is what differentiates between this high class chain store and any other clothing store! You are not just any other shopper, you’re an Aishti client. They sell you beyond the product you buy. They sell you more than clothing. They sell fashion. They sell more than an appearance. They sell a lifestyle. That is what makes you different as a client! You are now regarded as a high class citizen. The box that represents Aishti products can, at some point, move from signifying meaning to actually generating meaning. That is, from meaning luxury to being luxury.
The third phase is the Repetition that Aishti excelled in doing. In all its ads it uses the trademark orange box with the elegant ribbon and the black contrast. According to Sagmeister “We honed Aïshti’s signature orange gift box, making it the visual centerpiece of the campaign” (Brofessional Review, 2012). The box quickly became a symbol for the brand, turning into an object of luxury. Furthermore beautiful women are used on regular basis to promote the brand. The Aishti Campaign is like a Tsunami wave. When it hits, it is everywhere from billboards to magazines to online and TV coverage. They all convey the same message in a repetitive way. And, on the long run, it has its effects on the audience, as the redundancy effect is clearly obvious by now.
Aïshti’s golden box clearly reflects a certain lifestyle achieved through the purchase of Aishti products. This lifestyle, commonly sought, is the luxury life, the good life. Of course, the ‘good life’ as defined by the consumerist diction; where the ability to afford and purchase over-priced (if not insanely priced) branded products inevitably signify a happy good life and a social standing. Not to mention that the ad also aims to spread consumerism with ‘the more you buy the happier you can be reasoning (or mal-reasoning).
Through deconstructing the ad, the golden box is a sheer symbolic representation of Aïshti’s lavish image. The naked woman, with her fancy shadow, seems to reflect a consumerist-materialistic reality where the impression and value of a woman is not by her intellectual capabilities and unique character, but rather by how she looks like, her ‘shadow’ image. The lighting, and its angle, is quite peculiar in this advertisement. For instance, the only source of light is that which creates a fancy shadow of the naked woman. In other words, there is no other way to light her up.
The beauty myth is quite evident in this campaign. “The ads were seen as sexist and another example of “sex sells”… identifying art from eroticism became an almost impossible task to accomplish” (Brofessional Review, 2012). First and foremost, the usage of a female element and complete nudity to attract eyeballs is very stereotypical! The body of the woman is that of an ‘ideal model’ skinny body. This, by itself, reflects the stereotypical marketing through media towards women; targeting their insecurities and questioning their self-image. Also, from a Feminist perspective, Aïshti’s ad campaign and all what it stands for demeans the character and image of women into a shadow character existing exclusively to look lavishly good and impress the other sex. “I used to love Aïshti’s previous ads. They communicated glamour, exclusiveness and made me dream. But this advertisement came as a shocker to me… It felt like if I’m not dressed from Aïshti, I should feel naked” writes a famous blogger and a loyal client Ivy Says, frustrated from that specific image.
“Advertisements put without more serious considerations about location are made to fail. There is a problem though…we live in an advertising jungle in Lebanon” writes Rita Kml in Advertising: the Case of Lebanon (2012). Located in Solidere, Downtown Beirut, one can infer the target audience: the upper class. In other words, Aishti is the commercial manifestation of the upper class’s lifestyle. Women incessantly seek to look superhumanly perfect and become ‘shopaholic’ due to the consumerist mentality that they were fed. It’s true that billboard advertisement is common and relatively cheap. But, the location of Aïshti’s billboard ads makes it an exception. All billboards are well-centered around Downtown Beirut; not to mention that this advertisement campaign was well promoted in other types of media.
The most dangerous outcome of such advertisements is the manufacturing of consent. When people are heavily bombarded with such ads, they generally endorse the concepts and notions upheld in it as normal. The process of promoting a consumerist lifestyle, with all the sexism, beauty myths, class segregation and racism that are its marketing tools, has been successful due to people’s general consent towards media; whereby accountability and questioning seem to be qualities exclusive to political processes. While for the media, and all its ever-increasing mediums, consent has been smoothly manufactured through the keen targeting of the masses’ insecurities, ignorance, ego, greed, sexuality and individualism.
Hrag Avedanian and Ibrahim Halawi