Socio-Cultural Appropriation of Sex-Sell Billboard Ads: A Multimodal Study on the Grammar of Sexually Implicit Advertising Text and Images

In the Philippines, “sex-sell” advertisements (ads), particularly the 2011 billboard by Bench featuring the Volcano Philippine Rugby Team, have been controversial. Community leaders view the ads as being offensive to the socio-cultural values of the community in which the ad is distributed. In response, producers of the ads contend that their works are merely creative options within the frames of the law. This paper approaches the arguments by investigating the linguistic functions of sex-sell ads through the grammatical analysis of its visual syntax. Using the framework of multimodal discourse analysis in visual semiotics, the paper demonstrates how grammar in visual language is compatible with the systemic functional language of Halliday (1985) as applied in the visual design theories of Kress (2006) and van Leeuwen (2005). The multimodal approach to the analysis of the linguistic functions of sexually implicit billboard ads seek to demonstrate the social semiotic perspective in the construction of meaning in print ads, how ambiguous visual lexicon can occur, and how a dissonant visual assemblage invites resistant reading. Through this discursive analysis, the paper hopes to promote a critical awareness among the passive interpreters of texts (i.e. general public information consumers) and the institutions (e.g. education, creative industry) that actively participate in the discourse, design, production, and distribution of meaning in advertising texts and images.