Rhetoric of the Image – Panzani advert


Rhetoric of the Image

(Rhetoric: the art of persuading)

To denote is to define exactly (e.g. the colour red)

To connote is to imply a meaning (e.g. danger)
(Thinkmap, 2018)

Roland Barthes, in his essay ‘Rhetoric of the image’ provides a detailed example of deconstruction of the following image.

Traces Of The Real. (2018).

My first thoughts when looking at this image were around:

  • the string bag and its suggestion of domestic shopping at an outdoor market
  • the actual Mediterranean vegetables and the implication of Italian cooking
  • the association of the colours with those of the Italian flag
  • the inclusion of dried manufactured products with fresh products
  • the colour red and its representation of pasta sauce
  • the repeated name ‘Panzani’ and its Italian vibe
  • the overflowing o the bag with produce, suggesting opulence and plenty

Barthes’ essay

Well, that wasn’t exactly an easy read! However, I hope that I have taken away from this essay the following points. Barthes’ aim in his essay was to understand the image’s messages. He purposely chose an advertisement image as the meaning in adverts is intentional: that is to convince us to buy a particular product.

According the Barthes, there are four signs in this image:

  • The string bag with the connotation of just back from the market
  • The peppers and tomatoes and the connotation of authentic Italian ingredients
  • The combination of foods together to connote a total complete meal
  • The tins, packets and sachets with the connotation of being the equivalent of fresh produce


Linguistic messages:

In his essay, Barthes identifies linguistic messages. This relates to the narrative on the  image; the labels and the text. The labels clearly show the word ‘Panzani’ and we see this word four times in capital letters; once on each of the four products (the two packs of spaghetti, the sachet and the tin). The labels tell us the name of the company (denote) but they also imply (connote) an ‘Italianicity’ with the sound and spelling of the word. Panzani is not an English word or a French word. Italian words are renowned for ending in vowels and this gives us a sense of the Italian.

The phrase ‘a l’Italiennne de luxe‘ ensures that we recognise the link with Italy and the connection of this product with luxury, quality and superiority.

Coded messages:

The image itself is of a string bag, some vegetables and some packets of dried spaghetti which doesn’t sound that exiting or engaging.

So, why do we think of shopping at the market, home cooked foods, meal preparation, a family  sitting together for a home cooked dinner, authentic Italian ingredients, the finished meal, and  a family environment, etc. These are the coded messages that are implied in the image and that rely on our cultural experience. As a society, we know that fresh ingredients result in a home cooked meal possibly shared with family and friends and we know that fresh ingredients are healthy. We also know the colours of the Italian flag and the association of Mediterranean foods with health and the exotic (especially in 1964) and can therefore relate all this  freshness, healthiness and ‘Italianness’ to a superior dining experience. All these ‘signs’ can be interpreted from the basis of a cultural code that we all understand.

Anchorage text

The wording at the bottom right of the image is as follows:



We are immediately ‘told’ that this is a de-luxe product, a luxury, superior product and all we need to create this superior meal is pasta, sauce and Parmesan. The ingredients are arranged ‘tumbling down’ from top left to bottom right which is where our eyes are guided to in order to read the (French) text. The text tells the viewer how to interpret the image.  In effect, we are told that this is a luxury product.



A personal response

Despite the intentions of the advert and I suppose with 54 years hindsight since the image was ‘released’, I see this marketing as nonsense. The implication that dried pasta is a fresh and healthy product does not identify with my own response that white, refined carbohydrates are not healthy. Perhaps I will be proven wrong but this advert just does not work for me and all I see is manipulation of the general public to buy unhealthy cheap products for the benefit of mass producers of cheap food.


Thinkmap, I. (2018). connote vs. denote on Vocabulary.com. [online] Vocabulary.com. Available at: https://www.vocabulary.com/articles/chooseyourwords/connote-denote/ [Accessed 4 Feb. 2018].

Traces Of The Real. (2018). The Rhetoric Of The Image – Roland Barthes (1964). [online] Available at: https://tracesofthereal.com/2009/12/21/the-rhetoric-of-the-image-roland-barthes-1977/ [Accessed 3 Feb. 2018].



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