www.marketingmag.co.nz . March 2007
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 conerence entitled “We Don’tDo Groups – Signs o Revolt in Qualitative”,in which they answered the question, whysemiotics?Ater acknowledging that New Zealandqualitative researchers had kept pace withocus 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 ordierent platorms 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
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 successully witha drinks company looking to create a dierentpackaging 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 approachor its brand.Ryan and McKernon, in their 2003 paper di-erentiated semiotics rom conventional quali-tative research by stating that it “doesn’t do anyeldwork; has a undamentally dierent theoryo consuming; oers 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 oreront 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 lie.Smart’s love aair 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 sometimesnds it dicult to speak the language o thelayman. As Pearce says, “Semioticians, likeany proession, 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 powerul 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
Kernon – supple research.Jacqueline Smart – picturing emotion.