Semiotic Pie

Friend and marketer Ty Sullivan questioned the relevancy of this Capital One ad. He suggested there was marketing disconnect. I, on the other hand, think the ad is, if not the work of an advertising genius, pretty clever.

Capital One Bank advertising featured two slices of cherry pie.

There’s quite a bit to address here in terms of semiotics. This isn’t just an ordinary slice of pie – it’s an ordinary slice of pie. Actually, two of them, stacked. With whipped cream on top.

Did you play that game as a child: “pretty please,” and then “pretty please with whipped cream on top?” And everyone “deserves a slice of the pie,” which speaks to a sense of entitlement and enfranchisement. Free. Like “America the land of the free,” because you shouldn’t have to pay for ATMs, and aren’t you feeling indignant?

Here, mama has a slice of pie for you: the bank as mother. And get MORE! Life is a bowl of cherries.

American Pie – the archetypal adolescent movie, where the hero was caught masturbating with a pie, because he was told that getting to third base felt like that. Cherries, as the symbol of virginity, while three of the fruits lined up signify great winnings at the casino. It’s not a coincidence that the myth goes that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree.

In the flash of a second that a passerby takes in the image, does the ad enhance their life, or does it require too much of an emotional investment? Does it add aesthetic value to the landscape, or is it an unwelcome intrusion that disrupts the thinking of the day. Clearly, for the marketer, if the audience associates all of the warm, wonderful emotions with the brand, it could be a win. On the other hand, more and more people have learned to avert their glances from pastries and candy; they are simply trying to be healthier.


photo courtesy of Ty Sullivan

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13 comments on “Semiotic Pie


Other possible subconscious associations: Banking with CapitalOne is as easy as pie.

I was more distracted by how the “A”s line up in a strange way along the first two rows of this. And the English major in me wants high-yield checking to be hyphenated. :-)

But yes, it really is a nice design — very red, white, and blue, with the iconic cherry pie.

    Ric Dragon

    Oh, I agree with the high-yield, Jacques! – and yes, if I’d designed the poster, I would have been tempted to change the size on the middle line.

      Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

      being picky, my thing was the fork placement. It isn’t congruent, it’s in a slightly aggressive angle. It should be receptive to the pie. How they composed the shot, maybe they had no other choice, but honestly the classic “dig in” position would probably have been a lot better, as long as they are being iconic.

        Ric Dragon (@RicDragon)

        That’s funny – I actually thought the tines WERE sexy – sort of “grabbing” those cherries. Dayum; if anything, this ad is downright pornographic!

    Beth Granger

    Yes, hyphenate please.

Ty Sullivan

Great “piece” lad! I agree with what your saying and looking at it from that direction I can say I agree with your take on it. I still though say, if I was the casual observer (which I was in a way since it was pre coffee this AM) I might not make all those associations. From a marketing eye now (and a cup of joe) can say YES. It’s a fine ad! LOL


    Ooooh….pie AND coffee. Now THAT’s American!


Thanks, Ric. I now have this song in my head. No innuendos here!

Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

Nice thoughts Ric. I also think that it drives home to the whole “going on a diet” analogy people live though, pretty powerfully, in terms of their bodies and their finances. There isn’t only whip cream on top, this is a double helping of pie. My goodness. Taps into the whole Bacon meme which is all about richness of experience in defiance of PC models of health.

On another level, considering how we are still in the aftermath of the irresponsible “non diet” lending practices of the housing boom, this is some serious semiotic messaging: Don’t worry, we’ll indulge you! Powerful, as you say.

    Ric Dragon (@RicDragon)

    Thanks, Kevin – I KNEW you’d provide some great semiotic interpretation. I hadn’t considered the dieting angle.