The Challenge

Toyota UK wanted to better understand the cultural meaning of the car and how car communications was changing in the UK. They commissioned semiotics to avoid the clichés in car advertiing and to inject some cultural insight into a pan-European brand proposition.

Semiotic Role

The role for semiotics was to analyse 100 car ads in the UK across a 5 year period. This led to communication codes sorted into Residual, Dominant and Emergent codes each sorted into visual cues and metaphors tend to be associated with each of them. This led to a report that inspired the agency to explore the link between technology and humanity within a crowded car category.


The findings – a list of codes including REGRESSION, DE-CONSTRUCTION and NEO EXPRESSIONISM highlighted a fruitful territory for Toyota. This allowed their agency, Saatchi to develop a highly impactful (and controversial) launch ad for the new GT86, which dramatized, in neo-noir animation, the breaking free from a technology matrix.