Exercise 4.5: Signifier – Signified

Barthes refers to three messages:

  • The linguistic message
  • The coded iconic message (this signs each comprising signifier and signified)
  • Non-coded iconic message (the literal visual message)



I will use the Aptamil advert above to deconstruct the meaning according to Barthes’ analytical system.

The literal visual message shows, on the left side, a woman and child paddling on a beach, holding hands. On the right side packs of Aptamil and texts are shown.

The coded iconic messages consist:

Signifier Signified
Woman and child holding hands The protection of the adult (mother?) afforded to the child
The flat distant horizon Looking to the future, the mother guiding the child
The calm, milky colour of the sea and sky With the mother’s guidance, life’s journey ahead need not be troublesome
Colours of clothing Colours of the clothes are the same as the Aptamil packaging – linking the product to the people
Honeycomb structure surrounding the scientific terms The reassurance of the scientific basis of the product
The size of the Aptamil packs relative to the people Emphasising their importance but also associating it with growth


The advert also contains some text, which Barthes suggests can provide anchorage, it guides the perception and understanding of the advert.

In this case “Inspired by 40 years of breast milk research” offers reassurance that the company has been doing this work for a long time, that it is dependable. Note that it mentions breast milk research whereas the product is a substitute for breast milk.

The honeycomb cells mentioning “DHA, IRON and GOS/FOS” emphasise the scientific basis for the product (echoing the 40 year of research). Williamson (1978 p111) suggests Science “acquires some of the connotative qualities of what it replaces, while seeking to define by contrast precisely that which it replaces: ‘The Natural’”. I would suggest that many readers would not know what DHA or GOS/FOS stand for or what they do. The purpose of it is to reassure that Science is ‘replacing the natural’.

“Our most advance formula yet” reinforces the scientific basis of the product and how ‘modern’ it is.

“Their future starts today” guides the viewer through the whole message of the advert – this product is needed for the safe and secure development of your child.

The final line of text refers to an IMPORTANT NOTICE that ‘breast feeding is best’. However the placing and size of the font used indicates that this message is of lesser importance than anything else in the advert and suggests, therefore, that it is of little consequence.




Berry, N.J. (2010) ‘Got milk? : the influence of toddler formula advertising on attitudes and beliefs about infant feeding’ At:


Roland Barthes: Notes from Rhetoric of the Image (s.d.) At: https://www.mat.ucsb.edu/~g.legrady/rsc/barthes/rhetoric.html  (Accessed on 20 May 2018)

Williamson, J. (1978) ‘Decoding advertisements: ideology and meaning in advertising. London: Marion Boyars’