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Ralph Lauren Ads for Men and Women: A Semiotic Analysis

Compare and contrast the form and content of printed ads for the same product (or a closely- related product from the same manufacturer), which are aimed primarily at women, with those aimed primarily at men. Unfortunately, in the society that we live in today, it seems that everywhere we look, we are surrounded by advertisements, whether they be television commercials, billboards or press advertisements.

The primary purpose of advertisements is to get the consumer to purchase the product in question; the message within the advertisement has to be as persuasive as possible and ensure that certain emotions, feelings and values are awakened in the consumer. Therefore, print advertisements are an extremely effective way to reach a mass audience. Because the advertisements are in print, colour, text, and photography are critical factors in ensuring a successful campaign.

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Advertisements cannot simply attempt to sell the product in question; they must make it appeal to the consumer. It is essential that advertisements not only attempt to make clear the attributes of the product they are trying to sell but also ensure that these mean something to us, the consumer (Williamson 1978 p.12)

It is no wonder that advertising is constantly being studied and analyzed due to the constant speculation of ‘hidden meanings’ and underlying messages. Using semiotics in advertising can help to reveal the hidden meanings and messages in the underlying level; this modern-day method of semiotics is based on Charles Pierce and Ferdinand Saussure (Beasley and Danesi 2002 p.20).

For this essay, I have decided to concentrate on four printed advertisements for Ralph Lauren. Ralph Lauren is a fashion designer famous for his chic designer clothes and fragrances. He started his successful empire in 1967 by opening a tie shop. Ralph Lauren then made the transition into menswear and, in 1971 introduced women’s clothes into his collection. Ralph Lauren remains to be one of the most successful fashion designers of our time.

Ralph Laurens’s advertisements are critical as they create meaning for their products because Ralph Lauren is famously known for its chic designer clothes that exert quality. Hence, there is not a great need for mass advertising. Furthermore, consumers will look at the label and immediately recognize the Ralph Lauren logo, which instantly generates values such as quality and style; therefore, the advertisements must also generate these values within the consumers.

The first of the printed advertisements I am going to look at are those for Ralph Lauren Romance. Ralph Lauren Romance is a fragrance with two separate products- one for males and one for females. If one looks at the two different advertisements, one can begin to see the different signs and methods used to address the different sexes.

Figure 1 Figure 2. Let us first look at figures 1 and 2. Both advertisements are for Ralph Lauren Romance. Figure 1 is for the women’s fragrance, and figure 2 is for the men’s fragrance. Both advertisements show a male and a female (Filippa Hamilton and Thierry Pepin). Both advertisements are in black white, but as one compares both ones can notice that the male advertisement has much darker tones. Figure 1 is an advertisement featuring a male and female, the male has his hand on the female’s shoulder while she has her arm loosely around him in a very gentle manner- this is in total contrast to figure 2.

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Figure 2 is an action shot and is slightly blurred. The male has his arm embracing the woman almost aggressively in a lustful manner, so much so that his bicep is flexed. The female has her head tilted while they both passionately kiss. The female’s hair is blowing as if by the wind, which could connote the idea of a whirlwind romance. Both models have the ‘perfect’ figure, which signifies health and beauty. The male is perfectly toned while the female is very slim and attractive; her hair is flowing to signify femininity. The visual codes within the advertisements signify gender; in both advertisements, the male takes on the active role.

In figure 1, the male is taller than the female, allowing an element of elevation- this technique is common and has gender connotations. In figure 2, the male again takes on the active role. The face of the female cannot be seen- this advertisement is all about the male; he is in control of himself and the situation. While comparing the two, one can begin to notice the colour codes emerging. The white clothes of the two models in figure 1 stand out-the colour white has connotations such as purity, innocence and goodness, which are all linked to romance itself- the name of the fragrance.

It is when one starts to look at the colour connotations that a syntagmatic pattern emerges. The white clothes have a syntagmatic pattern with the fairness of the female’s hair and light tones of the iconic image of the bottle of perfume. The fair hair of the female model against the dark hair of the male model is a paradigmatic structure within the advertisement. Figure 2 also has a syntagmatic pattern. The iconic image of the bottle is dark, as is the hair of the male model, where the white clothes of the female have a syntagmatic pattern with the fairness of her hair.

One thing that struck me when comparing and contrasting the two advertisements is the chain tattoo on the males’ arms in figure 2- something that cannot be seen in figure 1. The tattoo on the male’s arm draws the audience’s attention to his perfectly defined bicep, which connotes masculinity. In addition, the tattoo signifies an element of rebelliousness, which is incomplete in contrast to that of figure 2-, which has elements of goodness and purity mainly due to the stance of the models, which is very innocent.

The form of both advertisements is what Ralph Lauren thinks the male and female’s perception of romance is. The female advertisement is very gentle and soft was as the male advertisement has connotations of sex and lust-, which are extremely stereotypical of the male’s idea of romance. Let us now move on to the second set of printed advertisements. Figures 3 and 4 are printed advertisements for Ralph Lauren Golf clothes.

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Figure 3 Figure 4. Both figure 3 and figure 4 were printed for the Spring/Summer collection 2004 for Ralph Lauren. Figure 3 is for ladies’ golf wear and shows a female model in what seems to be a golf course. The colour codes of figure one start to emerge as one compares it to that of figure 4. Figure 3 has many pastel colours, such as pink and white, which are culture-specific colour connotations of innocence, femininity and purity. The colours used are exciting as pink is a highly feminine colour, but typically golf is a masculine game.

Figure 3 has similarities to figure 4 as pastel colours are used again. Still, this time the colours are mainly blue- typically a male colour but also has connotations of tranquillity and mystery (Beasley and Danesi 2002 p.41). Many people notice these colour connotations as merely being there for decorative purposes only- but actually, they can have an underlying interpretation. As well as colour codes within the advertisement, there are also dress codes; it is easy to see what the printed advertisements are for. For example, the hat, the golf club and the golfing glove all connote golf, just as a top hat and tails signify a wedding.

One thing that struck me while comparing and contrasting these two printed advertisements is the models’ active and passive roles. The iconic image of the female in figure 3 is extremely passive compared to the male in figure 4, who is active. The female looks almost lost were as the male is showed playing golf in a very active role- figure 2 is an action shot. Although the female in the advertisement is taking on somewhat of a passive role compared to figure 4, she is featured on the right-hand side of the advertisement. According to Robert McKee, the American Screenwriting guru is the stronger side and objects on the right have a greater sense of power.

Figure 4, however, features the male in the centre of the advertisement so he is the focal point of the advertisement. It is interesting though; that the face of the male in figure 4 is covered by a shadow- this ties in with the mystery connotation that the colour blue connotes. From analyzing figure 3 it is clear to see a syntagmatic structure within the printed advertisement. The model wearing a golfing hat, carrying a golf club and wearing a golfing glove along with the greenery in the background all signify golf. For example, if the model was carrying a tennis racket the syntagmatic structure would diminish- it would not make sense.

The colours within figure 4 also create a syntagmatic structure- the blue shirt of the male model along with the perfect blue sky in the background all create a syntagmatic pattern within the body of the printed advertisement. The linguistic signs (the written word) within the two printed advertisements also have gender connotations. The text within figure 3 is relatively small compared to that of figure 4. The word ‘Polo’ in figure 4 is in large bold font and is spread centrally across the advertisement. Significant, bold texts are typically seen as male, whereas small, curvy fonts are female.

In figure 3, the model is placed next to the linguistic sign, the brand name ‘Polo.’ By placing the model next to the brand name instantly creates a relationship between the linguistic sign and the model (Bignell 2002 p.34). The relationship between the linguistic sign, which in this case is the brand name ‘Polo’ and the iconic sign- the photograph of the female model is very important for the meaning of the advertisement. The female in the advertisement is young, slim and beautiful all positive connotations that have derived from the culture we live in by placing the female next to the linguistic sign these connotations are then associated with the brand name ‘Polo’.

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When looking at figures 1 and 2 the differences were quite substantial especially considering they were both advertising for the same product- Ralph Lauren Romance. The two advertisements were almost comical in the respect that they were extremely stereotypical at what the male and females general conception of what romance actually is. When one looks at figures 3 and 4 it seems that men need action shots and bolder text within their advertisements to capture their attention, were as the female advertisements are much more subtle. For example figure 4 is a man playing golf and the printed advertisement is for golf wear- straight to the point.

All advertisements show extremely attractive models- by using such attractive people within the printed advertisements the reader immediately links the product or brand name to the positive connotations that the models have such as beauty, health and sophistication, also there is an element of “buy this product be like this model”. Most of the Ralph Lauren advertisements do depict an element of uniqueness. Ralph Lauren clothes are quite unique and this reflects onto the consumers- if they buy these clothes they to will be unique and beautiful like the models within the advertisements.

For Figures 1 and 2, the term romance indicates to the consumers that using this fragrance could make one appear more attractive and romantic to the opposite sex and they to could be like the models featured in the advertisement. There is no doubt that males and females read and process information from advertisements differently so therefore it is essential that this is taken into account when creating advertising campaigns for the different sexes. Semiotics can help us to decode advertisements and be aware of the underlying meaning within the texts.


  • Beasley, Ron & Marcel Danesi (2002): Persuasive Signs- The Semiotics of Advertising. Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Bignell, Jonathan (2002): Media Semiotics- An Introduction. Manchester University Press.
  • Williamson, Judith (1978): Decoding Advertisements- Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. Marion Boyars


  • Photographs were taken from spring/summer collection 2004

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Ralph Lauren Ads for Men and Women: A Semiotic Analysis. (2021, Sep 28). Retrieved January 30, 2023, from