At first glance, one may not immediately interpret a meaning behind the fantastical signs, which compose the Hendrick’s Gin advertisement. The ad originally appeared in the City Pages “2018 Best of the Twin Cities” edition. The technical codes of illustration, content, and anchorage displayed in this Hendrick’s Gin advertisement communicates experimentation and curiosity in a positive light. Before one can make sense of the visual signs and codes, one must understand the ad’s original production in addition to its distribution and surrounding context.
This annual special edition of the City Pages newspaper highlights the best art, music, restaurants, clubs, stores, and more the Twin Cities has to offer. The target audience is middle-class people with an expendable income for entertainment who live in or around the Twin Cities. The City Pages’ audience read this edition a week before the annual “Best of the Twin Cities” party to gain insight on the winners featured at the event and discover things to check out in the city if they have not heard of it before. Not only is Hendrick’s ideology of trying something new related to the party, but its positioning within the City Pages is also aligned with its surrounding context.
The ad appears in the “Food and Drink” section. The surrounding articles spotlight the “best drunk food,” bars, alcoholic beverages, and liquor stores. Additionally, there are other advertisements for taverns and cocktail lounges. The Hendrick’s Gin ad corresponds with the subject matter of its surrounding context because the product may be purchased and drunk at these locations. In contrast to other advertisements for alcoholic beverages, the Hendrick’s ad’s old-fashioned and hand-drawn aesthetic distinguishes itself in the crowded marketplace.
Many advertisements for beer, vodka, or wine predominately feature high modality photography of groups of people enjoying their beverages and having a good time. Hendrick’s Gin differs from their competitors because they exclude the consumer as a sign in their advertisement. Instead, they market a surrealistic style based on the unusual pairing of rose and cucumber infused in their gin (Hendrick’s Gin). By juxtaposing seemingly unrelated signs, the company not only promotes their unique gin, but they created an ad campaign to reinforce this value of uniqueness. By doing so, Hendrick’s established a playful world, which is communicated by the codes of technical representation and content.
Hendrick’s pride themselves on their distillation process (Hendrick’s Gin). This is represented by the signs used in their advertisement. One example of a code of content from this advertisement is the bottle of Hendrick’s Gin, which resembles an amber apothecary bottle from the 1800s, surrounded by various flowers. Whirlybirds carrying cucumber slices, a winged hand and glass, the herald’s angel with a little Hendrick’s Gin bottle nested in her lap, two flowers blooming a goblet glass (with cucumbers in them) from their center, and a staircase leading to a highball glass with two people about to dive off are the more whimsical aspects denoted. The hand-drawn images are part of the technical code of illustration often used in diagrams or picture books to give a sense of craftsmanship. This not only corresponds to the physical distillation process but also the skill to construct the ad itself. After decoding the technical representation and content of the Hendrick’s Gin ad, one can interpret and construct meaning from its signs.
The denoted flowers have connotations, which are associated with the process to make Hendrick’s gin. The juniper located on the label of the Hendrick’s Gin logo, the red and white Bulgarian Rosa Damascena, cubeb (green plant), cucumber slices, and the general white flowers, which signify elderflower, yarrow, and caraway are all ingredients “to complement and set the stage for [Hendrick’s] delicious duet of infusion” (Hendrick’s Gin). Obesity is a current prominent health epidemic in American society. In response to this growing concern, Hendrick’s may want to associate themselves with botanical ingredients. This portrays their brand as clean, healthy, and natural to combat other highly processed food with artificial additives. Some flowers also connotate the location this company hails from. For example, the purple flower is a thistle, which is the national emblem of Scotland where the gin is distilled (“Scotland’s National Flower”; Hendrick’s Gin). Additionally, the generic looking rose is New York’s state flower (“Official State Flower”). This is where the United States Hendrick’s Gin parent company, William Grant & Sons’, operational headquarters is located (Hendrick’s Gin). Although many denoted flowers have meaning, the other signs have connotations as well.
While the others signs seem to be more abstract, they still express meaning. The butterflies and blackbirds represent a few names of drinks made with gin. Originally, the pointing hand with wings was used in Hendrick’s 2010 rebranding to assist website visitors from page to page (Elliot). Within the print ad’s context, it connotes the same meaning as the herald’s angel, to deliver an important message and call attention toward the gin bottle. The strange combination of images in the advertisement values their consumer’s individuality in a way in which each person who views the ad may interpret it differently. Although the connotations of signs are important, so are the larger ideologies they convey.
The ideas the ad signifies reinforce a particular meaning Hendrick’s wants their audience to take away. The two people about to dive off the bottle signifies “taking the plunge.” This interpretation comes from the way the ad is anchored to communicate Hendrick’s overall ideology of experimentation. The caption, “Undeniably Peculiar, Utterly Delicious,” encourages their consumers’ curiosity to try things for the first time, such as tasting their unusual drink. As mentioned before, the shading and style of the hand-drawn illustrations support the ideology of craftsmanship and is representative of the time period from which Hendrick’s was established.
With a push in the marketplace for craft beer and gin, this surreal Victorian era style drawing communicates the ideology of originality. They market based on psychographics rather than demographics (Elliot). Many Twin City millennials who may stray from the mainstream trends and read the City Pages, are the same target audience Hendrick’s tries to advertise to. The out of the box and vintage style advertising appeals to these hipsters, who appreciate the effort behind establishing a brand identity. Thus, it allows them to feel like they are not buying from a large mainstream corporation, rather “the original” gin company. While a reader may initially overlook the meaning behind the peculiar images in the Hendrick’s Gin advertisement, a closer analysis of the text proves this random array of signs support specific ideologies.
The Hendrick’s Gin advertisement shows trying new things is rewarding. By conducting a semiotic analysis of Hendrick’s Gin, it is clear the advertisement supports this ideology through their use of signs and anchorage. In American culture, where individuality is the dominant discourse, Hendrick’s Gin not only succeeds at marketing toward idiosyncratic people but also being a distinct brand through their advertising campaign.