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Towards a Semiotics of Brand Equity Jul 2011 http://grossolatos.blogspot.com/

Towards a Semiotics of Brand Equity Jul 2011 http://grossolatos.blogspot.com/

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Towards a semiotics of brand equity http://grossolatos.blogspot.com/
Towards a semiotics of brand equity http://grossolatos.blogspot.com/

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Published by: grossolattos on Aug 27, 2011
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03/15/2012

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 www.grossolatos.comPage 1
Towards a semiotics of brand equity: on the interdependency of meaning surplus andsurplus value in a political economy of brands
George Rossolatos BA(Hons), MSc, MBA, PhD candidate
«The commodity achieves its apotheosis when it is able to impose itself as a code, that is, asthe geometric locus of the circulation of models, and hence as the total medium of a culture(and not only of an economy)» (Jean Baudrillard, For a critique of the political economy of thesign, p.206)
I
ntroduction
T
o announce a semiotic approach to branding and by implication to the study of brand equityis equivalent to a tautology. And yet, it is through this tautology that semiotics emerges as oneof the proper fields of research for brands as marks or 
/ 
semeia
and branding, asprocess whereby products (commodities) assume meaning in acts not only of financial, buteven more foundationally of semiotic exchange.
T
he focal points of this paper rest with (i) demarcating branding discourse as a field of marketing research through the metalanguage of semiotics, (ii) the delineation of the signsand signifying practices of this discourse and its key terms, such as brand, differential brandpositioning, intended and received positioning, brand elements, primary and secondary brandassociations and brand equity in semiotic terms (iii) applying semiotic key terms, such assign and code to the study of brand equity and revealing their potential operational value inmanaging brand equity (iv) explaining in semiotic terms why brand equity is equivalent tosurplus of meaning and why brand stretching or brand extensions as a brand¶s combinatorialpossibilities can be accounted for by means of a theory of the code(s) (v) discussing why andhow the conceptual rigor of semiotics may contribute to brand equity research, thusconstituting an indispensable brand management tool.
O
verview of inter-textual transfers between branding and semiotics
T
he bulk of research in the wider field of marketing semiotics has been concerned withadvertising and not with branding, even though the latter constitutes the starting point for 
 
 www.grossolatos.comPage 2
making sense of advertising. Based on the assumption of the «autonomy of the sign»
1
,advertising messages have been analyzed extensively by drawing on their dimension ascultural signs and by implication by drawing on brands as cultural (eg. McCracken 1986,Williamson 1978, Stern 1996;1998), rather than commercial products. Despite theunquestionable validity of such readings from within cultural theory, media theory andsemiotic perspectives, and the plethora of resourceful insights that have been generated inthe process, interest on behalf of marketing researchers in operationalizing semiotic conceptsin addressing various marketing phenomena has been limited, with the exception of Hirschman and Holbrook¶s
The Semiotics of Consumption
, Jean Umiker Sebeok¶s editing of the collective work
Marketing Semiotics
(a collection of papers on various applied semioticapproaches to marketing, such as consumer behavior, advertising, corporate image, newproduct development), Mick¶s and McQuarrie¶s extensive publications on semiotic approachesto decoding and processing advertising messages, J.M.Floch¶s
Sémiotique, Marketing et Communication.
At the same time, applied semiotics agencies have been flourishing over thepast twenty years, providing insights to marketing practitioners and generating interpretivemodels by drawing on semiotic concepts. Yet, no uniform branding theory has appeared sofar with the inter-textual import of a robust conceptual framework drawing on particular semiotic theories. Despite the operationalization of semiotic concepts in discreet areas of marketing theory and practice, such as Floch¶s (1990) application of Greimas¶ semioticsquare in positioning studies, Kawama¶s (1987) application of Peirce¶s topline tripartiteconceptualization of the sign as index, symbol, icon into the process of product design andcoining of a µColor Planning System¶, Kehret-Ward¶s (1987) application of the Saussureanconcept of the syntagm in what he calls «syntagmatic marketing research» aiming to unearthlatent syntactical similarities in the way products are used and in their promotion/advertising,while pointing to its operational value in the field of new product design, cross-promotions andshelf strategy in retail outlets, McQuarrie¶s (1989) interpretation of how ads resonatemeaning through the employment of figurative speech that transforms the relationshipbetween signifiers and signifieds in instances of verbal and visual signs, by drawing on
1
As Ransdell (1992:[6]) stresses by allusion to the Peircean notions of sign and interpretant «It is implicit in regardingsemiosis as the production of the interpretant by the sign itself that signs are not regarded as being governed byrules in the sense of "falling under" them.
T
he idea is rather that the disposition or power of the sign to generate aninterpretant is the rule, which thus does not stand over and above the sign, as it were, but is rather an immanentprinciple therein.
T
his is the basis for characterizing semiosis processes as autonomous or self-governing».
 
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Barthes¶ Rhetoric of the Image, none of the existing semiotic approaches to marketingphenomena has attempted to provide a conceptual platform for operationalizing the conceptof brand equity, which is the focus of this paper. Needless to say that the orientation of theinter-textual grounding of a theory of brand equity in semiotics in the context of this paper isfoundational and by no means exhaustive as to the conceptual and methodologicalimplications of a full-fledged semiotic theory that is yet to come. As preliminarymethodological remarks in such an endeavor as a semiotic theory of brand equity Mick¶sfollowing words of caution are taken on board:«First [«], there is a troubling tendency on the part of marketing andconsumer researchers to use terms such as semiotics or semiology in aflippant manner ] Unfortunately, all too often these words [my note: signsand communication] are raised in marketing and consumer research withouta reasonable discussion of which particular semiotic tradition or concepts theresearch is drawing on, and even sometimes without any accompanyingreferences to major semioticians. Second, it is equally important thatresearchers strive for greater rigor in applying semiotics. All too oftensemiotic concepts and analytic approaches are not adequately clarifiedbefore their implementation. As a result, the value of using semiotics isambiguous» (Mick, in Brown 1997:244).
B
rands as signs
 A brand is a sign or more particularly a super-sign in Eco¶s terms: «Super-signs must beconsidered as strictly coded expression-units susceptible of further combination in order toproduce more complex texts» (1976:231) . A logo as the sign of a branded product or thebrand identity of a brand name is a super-sign, as its components (eg. curves, lines, fonts,words, colors) do not make sense outside of its strictly coded context. Individual componentsas signs themselves may be tokens of different types, but in the context of super-signs theydo not assume meaning as tokens of general types, but as semantically hierarchizedcomponents in the structure of the super-sign as sign system (eg a curve may be reproduced

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