The use of indexical signs, symbols and icons in print advertising communication

  • Angelique van Niekerk, Prof. University of the Free State, South Africa
Keywords: Marketing communication, Visual communication, Creativity in advertising, Index icon, Symbol, Unstable meaning and target audience attention, Implied marketing message


Advertising communication is a unique genre with a distinct set of language rules that use several mechanisms to attract the attention of the target audience. This article examines the value of three visual sign types to attract the attention of the intended target audience. The value of this investigation lies in its consideration of the value of the unstable connotative meanings of the visual signs of modern advertising communication. Semiotics is touched upon as the broad theoretical background to the study. Thereafter, the discussion moves to the use of indexical signs, symbols and icons in modern print advertising in South Africa to ensure audience involvement in the construction of a plausible and implied marketing message. A typical example from South African print media (magazines) in each semiotic category (index, icon and symbol) are analysed to illustrate the role of the target audience as co-creator of the implied marketing message. The data illustrates that the meaning of these signs in print advertising may be unstable/vague even though a specific marketing message was intended. The analysis of these visual signs as impulse to support audience involvement is broadly based on Leeuwen and Jewitt’s (2001) visual analytical method and focuses on the characteristics of creativity by authors Stuhlfaut and Yoo (2013) and Koslow (2015).


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