New Horizons: Advertising and Semiotics

Okay so Animal Crossing: New Horizons  is being released today (!!) and in the spirit of excitement, and because it fits with this week’s blog so well, I thought I’d take a look at some of their advertising.

This week in BCM 110 we’ve been studying images and semiotics, in semiotics there are two key terms, the signifiers and the signified. The signifiers, or denotation of a text is what it conveys, the “common-sense” meaning of a sign. On the other hand, the signified, or connotations of the text is “the human part of the process” (Fiske and Jenkins, 2010), it is the meaning the viewers give it.

DeRosia (2008) writes that “An iconic sign should be interpreted automatically” while symbolic signs, because they have arbitrary meanings – that is, there is no natural relationship between the sign and its meaning (Hall, 1997) – the meaning of a text is dependant on the context of the interpreter, and thus requires more “cognitive effort” to understand. In regard to advertisements, this means that the “author must choose symbolic signs that have meanings commonly understood among recipients,” (DeRosia, 2008). The necessity to be discerning when choosing symbols is obvious in the advertisement above.

In the advertisement we can see a group of people and animals, surrounded by forests, nature and a beach, with a boat and another island in the background. The people in the image are doing various activities such as fishing, reading, chatting and creating. The weather is bright and sunny, and everyone in the image is sporting a cheerful expression. Text reads ‘Welcome to Animal Crossing: New Horizons”. These are the signifiers of the image, the things that the audience can literally see happening on the screen, and don’t require any further thought or insight to understand.

However, there are a wide range of connotations that are conveyed by the image above. Starting with the obvious, that this is a relaxed and peaceful scene, where everyone is happy and doing what they enjoy. This is something intrinsically conveyed by the bright surrounding nature, and the characters themselves. The tents in the image imply that some or all of the occupants on the island are camping or otherwise living here and are part of a close community. Further, first glance one can surmise that there is some element of creation present in what is being advertised, as there are people clearly creating something on the bench.

More meaning can be gained through looking at the text in the image, those familiar with the animal crossing series will understand that this is an advertisement for the newest instillation in the series and will feel eager and elated for this new installation. This different personal context also means that various images in the advertisement have different meaning. What seem to be merely anthropomorphic animals to the casual viewer are instead an indication that characters from previous installations of the series will be present in this game, furthering the atmosphere of excitement. As well as this, the image of tents, something symbolic of ‘camping’ or ‘outdoors activity’ gain deeper meaning as they show players that the mechanics of this game will be similar to that of previous games.

Through choosing these specific images and characters, Nintendo has clearly chosen signs and symbols that resonate with their primary target audience (previous players) while not confusing those new to the series, supporting DeRosia’s (2008) beliefs that symbolic signs in advertisements must be chosen to allow for the intended meaning to be conveyed.

Now, I’m off to finally play Animal Crossing, if you want to check the series out below is the Nintendo Direct outlining its features.

DeRosia, E., 2008. The effectiveness of nonverbal symbolic signs and metaphors in advertisements: An experimental inquiry. Psychology and Marketing, 25(3), pp.298-316.
Fiske, J. and Jenkins, H., 2010. Introduction To Communication Studies. 3rd ed. London [England]: Routledge, pp.80-86.
Hall, S., 1997. Representation: Cultural Representations And Signifying Practices. 1st ed. London: SAGE Publications, pp.15-51.

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