A Semiotic Analysis of Diesel Commercial Essay

Diesel is a contemporary, luxury nouveau genre Italian design clothing company whose clientele is the young adult market. Throughout the years Diesel has established its name partly through an array of shocking controversial advertising campaigns, such as Be Stupid, Misopolis, which promotes women’s right to abortion, and finally, Fuel for Life Women Only designed to advertise their latest fragrance for women. The latter has launched a series of commercials and banners which feature young gorgeous females only. If one considers other typical fragrance commercials such as Calvin Klein and Dolce & Gabbana to name a few, one may notice that there is a constant overtly sexual male-female relationship portrayed throughout their campaign to sell their product, however Diesel has opted for a different approach.

While Fuel for Life Women Only flirts with provocative issues such as rebellion against patriarchy and the idea that women are uncontrollable beings, female independence, and female sexualisation, it does so in such a beautiful classy way that the issues promoted seem barely shocking at all.

In this semiotic analysis I will argue and explain how the women show that they are rebelling against patriarchy through signs of female sexualisation, rebellion against gender roles and female independence. Finally I will analyse what this reveals about our culture.

As a starting point of analysis, it is mandatory to focus on the advertisement itself. The viewer is presented with what seems to be a scenario taking place in modern South West Europe because of the aesthetic look of the house where they are and because of the architectural nature of the streets shown throughout the video. It appears to be of modern times because of the city lights and the cars perceived behind the balcony outside. At first sight the decor of the house seem quite austere and typical of the 1930’s, however it is arguable that this style of house is still very prominent in countries of South West Europe, but not in North America. Another important detail is that there are absolutely no men throughout the advertisement, only young gorgeous white women.

The music style is classical, and the instruments played are piano and cello. The video immediately yields a message of high class ladies who exhibit the perfect combination of feminism and sexiness, borderline perversity. The scenes are very short as they all last less than four seconds and are joined together each portraying the women’s actions, such as playing cards, peeking through a key hole, destroying a bedroom, etc. The product being sold is a bottle of perfume from Diesel designed for women only, hence the reason why no men are being portrayed throughout. At the end of the video the bottle is being shown for the first time, first held in the hands of the three females, and then presented on its own. The overall length of the video is 1 minute, and the bottle is being seen for the last five seconds.

There are several connotations promoted here, and in every case these connotations demonstrate a refusal of the patriarchal system. The first one establishes a refusal of patriarchy through the demonstration that women are extremely aware of their sexuality. In his book entitled Ideology, Myth and Magic: Feminity, Masculinity, and “Gender Roles”, Allen Johnson declares that “in practice, feminity applies only to women’s place in heterosexual relationships. And we conveniently ignore everything else. In characteristic patriarchal style, the entirety of women’s being is reduced to their ties with men, particularly lovers and husbands”. (63) By overtly displaying their sexuality, the women break the rules of patriarchy by showing that they are sexual beings and do not need a man to remind them that they are so.

The most obvious sexual connotation is when the woman in the white satin dress who is on the balcony uses her body language to show that she is currently being given oral sex and appears to be reaching climax when she acts as if she is having an orgasm when she twists her body, breathes heavily and look down at an imaginary person while biting her bottom lip. Moreover, opened sexuality is encouraged when two of the women are stripping down naked in the streets and laughing about it, showing no care whatsoever. Equally, one may interpret the breakage of the pearl necklace as a sign of sexuality. In common days, a pearl necklace is at occasions compared to a man ejaculating on a woman’s neck. In the video, the woman who is seen wearing a pearl necklace decides to break it off her neck and the spectator sees it exploding in million pieces on the floor.

Finally, at some point in the video one can see that there are two women who are peeking through a key hole to stare at the other women who are playing card games. This act of voyeurism is an ultimate sign of sexualisation, as women are playing the role of voyeurs gazing at other women. In his article Notes on ‘The Gaze’, Daniel Chandler argues that “to gaze implies more than to look at – it signifies a psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze”. In addition, he claims that often, in video features, the act of voyeurism serves to objectify the female characters. However, in our case the female characters are being gazed at by other women, which defeats the object of a male/female power relationship where the woman is being objectified, reduced to being a mere sexual object to serve a purpose for the man. By acting accordingly the women claim back their sexuality and demonstrate that they are not reduced to their role towards men.

Similarly, Diesel Fuel for Life Women Only embraces issues of rebellion of gender roles associated with patriarchy and the idea that women are uncontrollable. This time Johnson, when explaining patriarchal roles states that

“Everyone needs to maintain a relative stable sense of who they are and that they have a secure place in the world. Given the importance of gender identity in patriarchal societies, attacking people as being insufficiently masculine or feminine can do a lot to control them because it both challenges their sense of who they are and makes them feel like outsiders” (68).

The commercial clearly establishes that the women are in a state of rebellion against their assigned role. An interesting point of focus is that the women seem to start rebelling from the 40th second onwards when the music changes, whereas before that time they seem to be gaining conscience and showing only mild signs of rebellion. One of these milder sign is the black nail polish worn by all of the women. Black nail polish “instantly means labelling its wearer “goth” or “punk”, black nail polish is rebellion in a bottle (…) This [black nail polish] creates a look that is reminiscent of a bad girl”. Likewise, the only words spoken by the women are “Are you alive?” and “Unlimited”. Right after the first words are spoken the attention is focused on a woman who is opening her eyes.

This may suggest that the woman is talking to another woman, most likely the spectator, asking her if she is alive can signify that if she is not alive she needs to wake up, hence her eyes opening, to ‘gain conscience’ on what is happening to her. Equally, the word ‘unlimited’ may signify that feminine strength is limitless. Combining the two meanings together seems to suggest that women need to stand up together, be conscious of their assigned role in society and since their strength is unlimited, they can rebel and stand up against patriarchy. In the same train of thoughts, there are several hints of rebellion against gender roles through the rejection of wearing typical feminine outfits which would please a man’s eye.

This connotation is reinforced when at the ninth second a woman is seen ripping off her dress, when two of them are stripping naked in the street and looking back, laughing, as if they are escaping from something; and finally, when the black haired woman rips the gorgeous, feminine pearl necklace off her neck. Simultaneously, rebellion and the idea that women are uncontrollable are portrayed through the image of the bird in the cage, in which case the animal may be used as a metaphor to represent a woman who is trapped in a cage. The video shows the bird who is struggling to escape, but attending to do so anyway. The association of a woman to an animal emphasizes wildness, uncontrollable temper which is common to animals. Equally, white birds are commonly associated with freedom, which reinforces the idea that women are trapped in a cage and are seeking for freedom from their relationship towards men.

Additionally, in my own opinion rebellion is emphasized when the black haired woman destroys the pillows. In our society the idea of ‘pillow talk’ means “private conversation, endearments, or confidences exchanged in bed or in intimate circumstances between spouses or lovers”. In this case, the action of destroying the pillows may be associated with the rebellion against those private moments which are associated to a man and a woman. To summarize, gender stereotypes of roles associated to women such as nurturer or as caregiver are completely dismissed when they decide to act as untameable wild beings, tear up the pillows and the bedroom or run half naked in the streets.

The last connotation examined in the Diesel video is the depiction of women as strong, independent beings who do not need a man to survive as they are self-sufficient. At the 16th second, the spectator sees two women, one wearing an outfit slightly more masculine than the other, playing card games, maybe a game which involves money, maybe not, the spectator is not being told.

However, if the game involves money, it portrays the women as financially capable of providing for themselves; therefore it breaks the ties with the patriarchal indication that men are the ones who earn the money and should support their woman. Likewise, the viewer sees one woman rolling the dice, in which case this action is commonly associated with “gambling, to take risks, to live on the edge”. Furthermore, this may seem far-fetched but the fact that one of the woman is dressed slightly masculine may reinforce the idea that not only is she an independent strong woman, but she does not need a man as she can play the role of being both man and woman.

As well as selling us a product, this perfume commercial sells us an idea and lets us in on some crucial information about our society. The myth which would be associated with this advertisement is that contemporary women have reached first and second wave feminism and are now ready to fully fulfill their role defined by third wave feminism. First and second wave feminism demand women fundamental rights such as voting, equality of wages, of reproduction, of family, etc. whereas the third wave feminists seek to “embrace diversity and change (…) third-wave feminists believed there needed to be further changes in stereotypes of women and in the media portrayals of women as well as in the language that has been used to define women”. Another myth associated with this advertisement is the idea that today’s women are ready to reject the oppressive patriarchal system practiced in our society, and that the idea of rebellion is widely valued by the young adult bracket of the population, which is Diesel’s targeted audience.

In conclusion, Diesel Fuel for Life Women Only exploits issues such as the refusal of patriarchy under different forms. While the women’s demonstration of openness towards their sexuality may at first sight seem to be exploited to please the viewer’s eyes, it in fact serves a much deeper cause: to prove that women’s sexuality is not limited to the pleasure of the men.

Women are complete sexual beings and must not be tied down to their relationship to men. Equally, the issue of rebellion and separation from gender stereotypes reinforced partly through the destruction of sexy and feminine clothes emphasizes the women’s refusal of fitting into patriarchal roles. Lastly, the demonstration of independence and strength also serve to convince the viewer that the women refuse to be referred to as subordinate to men. Personally, I am hoping that this motivating broadcasted commercial will speak to both men and women and be used as a model for the reinforcement of feminism in our society.

Works Cited List

ADVERTISEMENT DIESEL WOMEN ONLY: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sal5jadIsRc
Johnson, Allen. Ideology, Myth and Magic: Feminity, Masculinity, and “Gender Roles.” The Gender Knot: Unravelling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997. 53-74
Chandler, Daniel. Notes on ‘The Gaze’. Web. Consulted on December 6 2012.
Skincare: Black Nail Polish. LovetoKnow Corp: 2006-2012. Web. Visited on December 6 2012.
Alvin Aigley: White Bird meaning. Web. Consulted on December 6 2012. Definition of pillow talk. The Dictionary.com: 2012. Web. Consulted on December 6 2012.

Idiom Quest: Roll the Dice. Coral Tree Media: 2012. Web. Consulted on December 6 2012.

Tong, Rosemarie, 2009. Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction (Third Edition). Boulder: Westview Press. pp. 284–285, 289. ISBN 978-0-8133-4375-4.

[ 1 ]. Chandler, Daniel. Note on ‘The Gaze’, web. Visited on December 6 2012. [ 2 ]. Black Nail Polish, web. http://skincare.lovetoknow.com/Black_Nail_Polish Visited on December 6 2012. [ 3 ]. White Bird meanings, http://www.whitebird.org/alvin-ailey Consulted
on December 6 2012. [ 4 ]. Definition of pillow talk, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pillow+talk Consulted on December 6 2012. [ 5 ]. Roll the Dice http://www.idiomquest.com/learn/idiom/roll-the-dice/ Consulted on December 6 2012. [ 6 ]. Tong, Rosemarie. 2009. Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction (Third Edition). Pages 284–285, 289.

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