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14 19 Cover Story March07

14 19 Cover Story March07

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Published by Jake Pearce

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Published by: Jake Pearce on Mar 02, 2009
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06/17/2009

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www.marketingmag.co.nz . March 2007
14cover storysemiotics
 
March 2007 . www.marketingmag.co.nz
15cover storysemiotics
Revolution 
Research
 A
Almost
a year ago (
 NZ Marketing Magazine
,April 2006) Jesvier Kaur, ounder o QZONE,the qualitative marketing and research special-ists, challenged the way research was beingconducted in New Zealand. She said, “Evenqualitative researchers are becoming bored withchurning through the same techniques overand over and just go through the motions.” Shebluntly stated that the New Zealand marketresearch industry was ailing to generate newways o researching, to engage and involve par-ticipants or understand how people consume.Kaur expressed the view that ocus groups werenot only dumbing down qualitative researchbut that tightly dened tasks were resulting inresearchers seeing what they expect to see.Others have expressed similar sentiments andin the past year there has been an undercur-rent o opinion that has pushed or semioticsto become the “new way”. Kaur hersel doesnot really utilise semiotics, “just a raw orm o discourse analysis at times when it is useul”.She does, however, acknowledge that semiot-ics has a long history in the United Kingdom,spearheaded by Virginia Valentine and MontyAlexander and taken up by Malcolm Evans,co-ounder o Space Doctors. Evans’ semiot-ics work is currently being promoted by the‘sorcerer’s apprentice’ Jake Pearce who havingrelocated to New Zealand ater working withEvans, is a prophet or the semiotic approach
Semiotics is taking o in overseas markets but has been slowto catch on in New Zealand. Graham Medcal talks to some othose who see the benefts o a new approach.
to be used by marketers and advertisers in thiscountry.Pearce believes that in 20 years semiotics willbecome “the dominant means o oresight”,nding out what should be happening, ratherthan what is happening.Despite Evans presenting at a MRSNZ con-erence some years ago, Pearce’s approacheswere initially met with little enthusiasm.“When I rst arrived here,” he recalls, “I did thispresentation at the research society [MRSNZ]and I got all these emails saying I didn’t knowhow to do research properly.” He is scathing o his attackers, saying, “This stu is or visionar-ies, people who embrace the value o lookingat problems dierently.”So, what exactly is this visionary thing called‘semiotics’?Martin Ryder, author o 
Semiotics: Languageand Culture
, wrote in May 2004 that, “Semi-otics investigates sign systems and modes o representation that humans use to convey eel-ings, thoughts, ideas and ideologies. Semioticanalysis looks or the cultural and psychologicalpatterns that underlie language, art and othercultural expressions.” In short it is the waypeople understand what they see, hear and ex-perience and how they organise this mentally.The study covers all non-verbal communica-tion and so is ideal or researching the impacto advertising, design, packaging and other waysthat marketers try to infuence consumers.Semiotics has its roots as ar back as ancientGreece but its modern traditions stem rom theSwiss-French linguist Ferdinand de Saussureand the American philosopher Charles SandersPeirce, both o whom worked with semiotics atthe start o the 20
th
century.Virginia Valentine is credited with introduc-ing semiotics to the UK in the 1980s. She andcolleague Monty Alexander claim semioticsto be unlike almost all other orms o marketresearch, with its ndings based on state-o-the-art cultural communication theory, notconsumer opinion. They believe consumersto be the products o the popular culture inwhich they live, almost ‘zeitgeist zombies’ asone wag put it.In New Zealand semiotics has been largelythe domain o academics with one o its primeexponents being Margo Buchanan-Oliverat the University o Auckland’s departmento marketing’s centre o digital experience.She sees semiotics, along with ethnography,as part o the arsenal or market research. “Ithink what is increasingly important is thatwe are now asking the questions about howconsumers actually experience the market andthe consumption practices o the market. Andsemiotics is certainly a very powerul way intothese kinds o discoveries,” she says. “Whatdoes the experience mean to you? How are you
 
www.marketingmag.co.nz . March 2007
16cover storysemiotics
literally encoding the experience? That’s reallywhere the power o semiotics comes rom.”In 2003, Stephen McKernon, then atQZONE, and Lee Ryan, in her capacity asqualitative director at NFO, presented a paperat a MRSNZ conerence entitled “We Don’tDo Groups – Signs o Revolt in Qualitative”,in which they answered the question, whysemiotics?Ater acknowledging that New Zealandqualitative researchers had kept pace withocus group methodologies and psycho-dynamic theory, and were arguably at the ore-ront through Paul Heylen’s place in our historyand the presence o sophisticated approacheslike NeedScope, the pair argued or the need ordierent platorms to drive innovation.“Overseas practitioners specialising in semi-otic and ethnographic approaches are able tobuild unique analyses and gains or clients.We believe semiotics to be an increasinglyrelevant tool or 21
st
century markets and orresearch in New Zealand,” they said, propos-ing the approach to distinguish divergent oremerging needs and to evolve new, distinctbrand strategies.Since then, Ryan has moved to Singaporewith TNS and McKernon has set up his ownconsultancy in New Zealand under the nameSupplejack. They are both still strong propo-nents or the semiotic way.“For me,” says McKernon, “semiotics is a wayo thinking about and exploring all the mean-ings available in a market, how these meaningshave evolved over time, how the market worksat the present time, and how new meanings canbe commercialised. That is, semiotics is rsta way o thinking about how and why thingsmean what they do and only second, a collec-tion o study methods.”McKernon believes semiotics helps clientsunderstand how a market works, what moti-vates consumers, shows them how to designbranding and communications, where to ocuscreativity, and how to go about innovation. Hehas used semiotics to understand a market anda client’s situation in it, design a product and aservice, design the branding and communica-tion, solve problems and develop strategy.Ryan has used semiotics very successully witha drinks company looking to create a dierentpackaging within a competitive beverage in North Asia. By “reading” the packaging in thecategory, she was able to steer the client towardswhich type o visual language they should andshouldn’t use. Success in that category has ledto a communications company approachingher and TNS about using a semiotic approachor its brand.Ryan and McKernon, in their 2003 paper di-erentiated semiotics rom conventional quali-tative research by stating that it “doesn’t do anyeldwork; has a undamentally dierent theoryo consuming; oers sophisticated modernanalyses o society, culture, communications,marketing and branding; and consequently candeliver a richer range o insights and strategiesthan conventional qualitative”.Back in New Zealand, social researcher Jacque-line Smart has been at the oreront o semioticuse, whether it has been coping with the greatKiwi identity crisis, discovering why some
 
Kiwiwomen are real men, or picturing emotion.The latter study was conducted recently underthe auspices o M&C Saatchi and undertooka semiotic analysis o advertising and ethno-graphic interviews to understand the expressiono emotions and moods in everyday lie.Smart’s love aair with semiotics startedwhen she was a researcher with ResearchInternational, continued through her time asdirector o strategy with advertising agencyFCB, and continues today in her role as strategyand planning director at M&C Saatchi.She talks about the “critical construct o semiotics” being its “inter-textuality betweenculture and advertising”. She would say thatbecause not only is she smart and works oran ad agency, but like Pearce, she sometimesnds it dicult to speak the language o thelayman. As Pearce says, “Semioticians, likeany proession, are ull o all sorts o bullshitterminology.” Perhaps it is this use o jargonthat has put marketers o.Smart, however, believes that, “people aren’taware o it [semiotics] and how powerul it is.”She says there are not enough skilled, pro-cient practitioners who are applying it in theirday-to-day work. “You’ll nd universities havequite a lot o very skilled semioticians, althoughthey might not call themselves that, but theyunderstand the notion o being able to look atthe text and code o advertising and how thatruns with culture,” she says. “I just don’t thinkanyone is out there eulogising about it. Andbecause it’s derived rom the French and is so
Stephen M
c
Kernon supple research.Jacqueline Smart picturing emotion.

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