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A Semiotic Analysis of a Diesel Print Advertisement from the “Successful Living” Campaign

Written by Crystal McLeod July 2010 www.crystalmcleodphoto.com 1


This essay is one which will aim to use the Seven Perspectives for photographic analysis to analyze the “Fat Men” advertisement (Fig.1) that was published by Diesel as part of their Successful Living campaign, which was started in 1991. This essay will give a brief overview of the history of Diesel, in conjunction with the analysis. It will deconstruct the image, highlighting each element and detail, which may be of importance to this analysis, and will aim to supply an interpretation of these elements and the semiotics contained within the advertisement.

While an analysis of an image without historical information is possible, it is true to say that the interpretation would be more accurate if there is an understanding of the company that is represented by the advertisement, and also their marketing strategy. In order to enforce this interpretation, a brief history of the Diesel Company will be provided. According to fragranceX.com, Diesel is “an innovative international design company” which was founded by Renzo Rosso in 1978. He is said to have “surrounded himself with creative, talented people – innovators who, like him, rejected the slavish trend-following typical of the fashion industry (www.frangrancex.com, 2010: par.1, 2). Renzo wanted to come up with a dynamic line on clothing, and ran the company by taking chances and carving a niche for itself. Therefore, Diesel‟s design team “turned their backs on the style-dictators and consumer forecasters of the fashion establishment and let their own tastes lead them”. It is for this reason that Diesel “immediately became a leader in developing styles, fabrics, manufacturing methods and quality control, guaranteeing an outstanding quality product” (www.frangrancex.com, 2010: par. 3).

With the uniqueness that Renzo aimed to create, came a kind of rebelliousness, in attitude and also in Diesel‟s advertising. Griffiths (1996: par.7) posits that, generally, in the world of advertising, “there is continuous pressure to create adverts that are increasingly more in the image of audience motives and desires […and that] the actual product has come to matter less as audience participation increases”. This is to say that Diesel has a unique way in which they approach advertising, in that they choose a specific idea for their campaign and run with it, rather than customizing adverts to suit particular audiences. 2


For the majority of companies who advertise globally, it is the norm to target certain “policies” that will appeal to specific countries. Unusually, Diesel advertisements remain the same world-wide. This has been justified simply by their Art Director, Joakim Jonason, who states "a person is the same all over the world" (Sky Magazine, 1996). He goes on to stress the underlying philosophy of the whole advertising campaign, "the campaign is a satire on the whole advertising business ... At its worst, advertising is full of empty promises".

The company's International Advertising Director, Maurizio Marchiori, concludes by stating: "We decided to play a little with the irony around the big problems of life" (Skye Magazine, 1996). Diesel was recently involved in a banning issue, which resulted in two of their advertisement posters being banned because of the content thereof. Diesel said that the advertisements “portrayed a strong and unexpected image of femininity," which swung the case, and allowed the adverts to remain part of the editorial campaign, as the content was not seen by younger viewers (as a result of the particular magazines that it was published in) (Herrman, 2010: par. 4). As far as the main target audience is concerned, Diesel places their adverts in glossy monthly magazines, such as Sky Magazine (which has now ceased publication) and The Face, Cosmopolitan and Elle as well as other fashion magazines. Such magazines are purchased predominantly by so-called 'trendy' people, namely those who are interested in the latest fashions, inspiring art and photography, the club culture and modern urban life. It may therefore be reasonable to suggest that their eye-catching and often bizarre advertisements (appendices A to F), which are filled with saturated colour, are designed to be appreciated by people who are a little eccentric and thrive on non-conformist behaviour. Having looked at the Diesel Company as a promoter of non-conformist behaviour and views, this essay will follow on with the analysis of one particular advert that Diesel published. Figure 1, an image entitled „Fat Men‟, is an advertisement which was published by Diesel as part of their “Successful Living” campaign, thus bearing the “Successful Living” tagline. 3


Figure 1: Fat Men. Diesel Jeans and Workwear. 1994.

Together with the tagline, the advertisement also bears other typographical and graphical elements, such as the “DIESEL Jeans and Workwear� logo, which is seen in the top left corner as white text inside a red rectangle, and the black stamp-like circle containing what appears to be an annotation of a human head.

Figure 1 presents an advertisement set in a landscape format. The image appears to be staged, and has been set in a restaurant scene. The scene is one which gives off a cold and uninviting sense, rather than being warm and comfortable, the way restaurants usually are. One can conclude that one of the reasons for this clinical scene is because of the colour that is dominant here. In the scene, one can see white walls and a white floor, which again, does not seem usual for a restaurant scene. In a restaurant, one would expect to see artworks or photographs hanging against the walls, but here, one can see busts of animals. The first is the rear end of an ox, second we can see the head of a bull and third, is a head of a wild pig. They are hung on the wall, the way hunting trophies are mounted. 4


The subjects that are present in the image can be divided into two different sections. There are nine men who are sitting at different tables on the left hand side of the image (as the viewer sees it). These small, round tables are covered with white table cloths, and each table holds a narrow vase with a single red flower in it. The obese men are occupied by the food on their plates, which is overflowing onto the table, but also look as if they are enjoying themselves thoroughly. They are all dressed in similar clothing, wearing white shirts, black ties, suspenders and black pants and shoes. The nine Caucasian men are all obese, unlike the other subjects in the image.

On the right side of the image, three people can be seen. One of the figures is a male while the other two are females. The three “Diesel People”, are sitting together at one table, which is also a small, round table that is covered with a white table cloth, but instead of having food and a flower on the table, their table has nothing on it. They are all dressed differently to one another, and certainly very differently to the men who are sitting on the other side of the image. The “Diesel People” are slouching in their chairs while staring at the men who are consuming their food.

This part of the essay has made an inventory of the elements that can be seen in the image, next, comments will be made about the lighting that was used, eye contact of the subjects, visual cues of colour, form, depth and movement, as well as taking note of the gestalt laws that apply toward the composition. To start with, the “Fat Men” image has been lit by what appears to be three different light sources. There appears to have been one light above the animal heads, on their left side. This is clear to see because of the long shadows that it cast diagonally underneath (and to the right) of the mounted figures. The second light might have been placed to the left of the photographer to light the faces of the overweight men sitting on the left of the image. This is evident because of the shadows underneath their chairs, and also because of the relatively flat lighting on their faces, as well as the shadows that have been cast on their shoulders (by their faces/ chins) towards the back of the image. The third light might have been placed in front of the three people on the right of the image. One can conclude this because of the long shadows that are cast by the legs of the people and also the legs of the chairs. 5


Although the subjects on the right hand side of the image are staring towards the left (their right), the subjects in the image are not making any eye contact with the viewer, or with any of the other subjects in the image. Other than eye contact, there are many other visual cues within the image. The viewer‟s eye is directed through the image, by the elements and visual cues. The red Diesel logo is a prominent element within the image, which draws the viewer‟s attention to the top of the image, from there, the ox‟s tail leads the viewer‟s attention horizontally to the right, and then down the shadows to the people sitting at the tables. One‟s gaze remains on the left of the image because there are more elements that exist there, and more for the viewer to take in. The image is heavier on that side, literally because of the amount of elements to decode, and figuratively because of the overweight men who are making the image feel heavy. This makes the composition feel unbalanced, but because of these things, together with the movement caused by the path of the gaze of the subjects on the right, the overweight men are made the main focal point and point of interest. The circular tables also create a sort of movement within the image.

The laws of gestalt apply to this image on the left, where the scene has been cropped. Our minds are designed in such a way to know when something ends, and in this case, we can imagine that the scene continues beyond that which we can see, and that there might be a continuation of the image and room, outside the frame. Although the scene is one which in terms of colour use is fairly sparse, in the case where colour has been used, it is saturated slightly more than usual. Black and white, however, are the dominant colours within the scene.

A gut reaction to this advert might be that the clothing company is commenting on the obesity of consumers, and that they suit their clothing to those who are not part of the majority, but rather those who set themselves apart, who try to be non-conformist, and who are healthy and thin.

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This essay will continue to analyze this advertisement by placing the image in a historical arena, and looking at technicalities and also the ethical and moral responsibilities of the creator. The societal impact of the image will also be looked at, in order to be able to draw a suitable and well-balanced conclusion about this advertisement, and the rage of advertising campaigns that Diesel has put out into the media.

The first, of the most important factors that will be looked at it the historical arena that Diesel has placed itself in. Diesel is known for their extravagant adverts (again refer to appendices A to F for examples), and are also known for making comment on several “problems,” by “play[ing] a little with the irony around the big problems of life” as Diesel‟s advertising director has said. In this advertisement, excess and obesity are clearly what Diesel has decided to comment on. “Fast food” has been used in order to express the point of excess and over eating which leads to obesity. This food is a clear indication of the unhealthy lifestyles that people live, and also shows the „eat-on-the-go‟ trend that is being followed today, even though the people in this advertisement are sitting at tables.

The obese men in the advertisement seem to be unaware of what they are doing to themselves by overeating the way that they have been doing, as they are laughing and enjoying themselves. In fact, they have a veil of ignorance. We can also say this because of the fact that they are so overweight, which is definitely evidence to prove that this type of behaviour has been practices for quite a while. These men fall into the category of hedonism because they seem to be living for the moment, and are not concerned about their future health. These men look as if they have fallen into the trap of consumerism, when it comes to food. Another indication that Diesel is commenting on a lifestyle of excess and greed is the animal trophies that have been mounted on the wall behind the subjects, in the image. Hunting started as a way for man to provide food for his family, but as humans do, it was turned into a sport and a way of controlling things, even things in nature. It is a display and a constant reminder of man‟s ability to capture and control.

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The golden mean in this image is the comparison between the heavily overweight men on the left and the thin, healthy-looking subjects on the right of the image. One could say that living a life of non-conformation and consumerism (buying Diesel clothing which costs more than other clothes) is a form of hedonism in its own right, but here the comparison using the issue of weight and overeating is the more dominant factor that has been commented on. The Diesel People are portrayed as being detached from the scene, except for their gazes. This can be seen because of their postures, and because they do not have any food on their table, and because they appear to be watching in disapproval. They are the ones who are acting differently, have different postures and physiques, and most of all, they are dressed differently, and are not part of the fat men‟s feast. In this way, Diesel parallels their brand and clothing as having the ability to go against the norm and therefore put them in the bracket of non-conformity. Diesel‟s advertisement from the “Successful Living” Campaign highlights excess versus non-conformity, as this essay has discussed, but there is another prominent point that seems to come to the fore once you investigate the image further. One might be able to say that these men, who are successful, because of their achievement, are actually failures in the way that they live their lives, and that their “success” is a constant reminder of their failure. What is meant by this is, is that, the men are dressed well because of their work and achievement, but they are severely overweight, and they have to live with the discomfort of this. They also have animal trophies mounted on the walls, as a sign of their control, but it is a reminder of what they think they have achieved. Diesel is shown as commenting on what the world perceives as successful living, as not being so successful after all.

Diesel has clearly separated the demographics in the image. As mentioned earlier, the image is divided into two halves, but it is possible for us to see that the demographics that have been included in this image have also been divided in the image. The racial identity of the subjects is different, together with a difference in ages, and also gender, when compared to those subjects on the left.

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The subjects on the right have a darker skin tone than that of the men on the left; they are also possibly in their twenties, compared to the men who are probably in their late fourties or fifties. On the right hand side of the image, two women have been included, which could mean that even woman can be seen in the traditional view of success if they are non-conformist, Diesel-wearing people.

Diesel might also be considering the fact that racial and sexual exclusion is changing, and that women and non-Caucasians are moving up in the demographic ranks, becoming equals, or perhaps even more successful than those who are traditionally viewed as successful (namely, white men). By sticking to their advertising strategy, Diesel is commenting on the social issue of shifting demographics, and they are predicting that the new demographic is one of individuality and trend-setting. Diesel portrays themselves as this kind of non-conforming, innovative, trend-setting, individual and unique group that does not allow society to dictate their view of fashion to them. It is safe to say that Dieselâ€&#x;s advertising campaigns contain elements and symbolic images that allow the company to make comments on various issues, and that they use their images in a clever manner to set themselves apart from the competition, and also from society and the views that people have about certain issues that exist. This essay has aimed to provide an analysis of the “Fat Menâ€? advertisement published by Diesel, by using the Seven Perspectives for photographic analysis as a guideline. It has given an overview of the history of Diesel and aimed to deconstruct the image by highlighting elements present within the image. This text also made comments about lighting, eye contact, visual cues of colour, form, depth and movement, as well as taking note of the gestalt laws. It has attempted to analyze the advertisement further by placing the image in a historical arena, and looking at technicalities and also the ethical and moral responsibilities of the creator. The societal impact of the image was also considered in order to draw a suitable conclusion.

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Reading List: Chandler, D. 2001. Semiotics for Beginners. [Online] Available: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/semiotic.html (Date Cited: 20 July 2010) [n.a.] 2004. Diesel for Successful Living: Branding Strategies for an Up-market Line Extension in the Fashion Industry. [Online] Available: http://faculty.insead.edu/chandon/personal_page/Documents/Case_Diesel%202007_co rrected-w.pdf (Date Cited: 20 July 2010) France: Insead. Levine, R. 2003. Power of Persuasion: How we bought and sold. USA: John Wiley and sons.

Reference List: [n.a][n.d] Fragrance X. [Online] Available: http://www.fragrancex.com/products/_bid_Diesel-am-cid_perfume-amlid_D__brand_history.html (Date Cited: 1 July 2010) Griffiths, M. 1996. A Semiotic Analysis of Diesel Print Ads. [Online] Available: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Students/lmg9302.html (Date Cited: 12 July 2010) Herrmann, S. (Editor) 2010. 'Offensive' Diesel adverts banned on BBC News UK Website. [Online] Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10456704 (Date Cited: 14 July 2010)

Image Reference List: Figure 1: Fat Men. 1994. Advertisement for Diesel Jeans and Work wear. Graphis. Volume 52. Issue 306. Published November/December 1996. Appendices A-F: Dieselâ€&#x;s Advertising Campaigns. 2010. [Online] Available: http://www.designyourway.net/blog/inspiration/diesel-jeans-advertising-campaigns-45prints (Date Cited: 12 July 2010)

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Diesel Advertisement Analysis  

A semiotic Analysis of a Diesel Print Advertisement from the "Successful Living" Campaign

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