health campaign

Triadic Model of Communication – Health Campaign

Anti-Smoking Campaign

The American Cancer Society is a voluntary organisation raising awareness of cancer through advertising campaigns, lobbing government on key issues and providing research grants to scientists who are involved with its prevention and treatment. Everyone knows that smoking cigarettes is dangerous to our health so anti-smoking campaigns need to be creative and engage the target audience in innovative ways to help them beat the habit.

This particular print advertisement will certainly get you thinking. Before you begin analysing the text, make sure you have read our guide to Charles Peirce’s triadic model of signs.


Analyse the following print advertisement in terms of Charles Peirce’s triadic model of signs.

health campaign

Points to Consider

As the name suggests, Charles Peirce’s triadic sign-system suggests there are three stages in communication. This anti-smoking campaign is warning the audience about the dangers of carcinogenic cigarettes. This message is, of course, the object of Peirce’s theory and it is important that you identify its purpose at the start of your analysis. Any evidence you offer should support this final reading of the text.

You should then consider the representamen. This is how the advertisers display their ideas. Focus on the dominant signifier of the download bar and how it is being depicted as a cigarette. Notice how our mental concept, or intrepretant, is also shaped by the anchorage “Downloading Cancer”. You need to explain in some detail how this clever mixture of ideas actually works because that will lead back to the object.

What other signifiers help create this visual metaphor? For example, how is the background reminiscent of a computer screen? What meaning is conveyed by the <Ctrl><Alt><Del>? You could even look at the choice of typeface, which is probably Courier New, and the use of tags.

How does the American Cancer Society logo create a sense of authority?

When you are analysing the text according to Peirce’s theory, you might want to use his three categories to define each sign. For instance, the search bar is an icon because it has a close physical resemblance to an actual search bar on an internet browser. However, the use of colour codes and the shape of the sign also evoke the mental concept of a cigarette. Is the sign still iconic?

Be careful because smoke is often cited as an example of an index because it refers to whatever is being burnt. In this advertisement, it is probably an icon. Finally, the lexical codes are obviously symbols.

Further Study

For more practice analysing a media text according to Peirce’s triadic model of signs, our semiotics exam revision section has a variety of examples you can use to develop your understanding of this key concept. The IKEA advertisement should be your next task because it focuses on his sign-system.

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