red coffee cup

Semiotics and Syntagm in a Nescafé Advertisement


This print advertisement was created by Reny Manda Sari, a graphic designer from Indonesia, who was inspired by Nescafé’s aroma and their tagline “Wake up to life”.


Analyse the following print advertisement in terms of semiotics and syntagm.

Nescafe advert

Points to Consider

Semiotics is the study of the signs we use to communicate messages with each other. The Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure, argued these signs should be part of a code, or language system, if they were to be interpreted correctly by the audience. Importantly, signs derive their true definition through their relationship with other signs. For instance, the meaning of words only become fully apparent when they appear together in a sentence.

Saussure called this relationship the syntagm.

Think about the different interpretations of “left” in these two sentences: “I left my media studies homework on the bus” compared to “I turned left at the traffic lights”. Although the signifier has not changed, what it signifies has shifted because of its relationship with other words in the sentence.

In this Nescafé advertisement, the alarm clock, coffee cup and the tagline form the sentence so they achieve their full meaning when they are read together. What is this preferred reading of the text?

In any unseen question, you need to identify the media text’s most important signs, such as the visual and written codes, used by the producers to encode the message. Comment on their physical form and what they signify.

What meanings does an alarm clock usually suggest to the reader? You should explain how the producer created the impression of this particular sign because it will support your interpretation of its connotation.

What meanings are conveyed to the audience by the mug and, more specifically, coffee? There are lots of connotations to consider so use your framework of knowledge to decode the sign.

How might the tagline appeal to the audience?

In some detail, explain the relationship between the three signifiers and how they combine to deliver an effective message to the audience.

Finally, how does the background support the producer’s intentions?

For more practice applying the syntagm concept to a media text, try analysing the use of signs in the “Mean Girls” DVD cover or any of the other media texts in our semiotics exam practice section.

Further Reading

Thanks for reading!