Brands and businesses far and wide make use of the striking way in which symbols, signs and icons engage various target markets, audiences and consumers. Semiotics serves to deliver to potential customers the message that brands want to relay to them through a visual representation. The association between brands and semiotics is what makes them both identifiable and unique; the most successful marketing campaigns are those which deliver localised image assets using semiotic techniques.

What is Semiotics? A Semiotics definition

Semiotics is the umbrella term used to describe the theory or study of signs and symbols as a means of communication. It is closely interlinked with the intricacies of semantics and pragmatics and is not only integral to the world of business and marketing but is also at the heart of cultural and anthropological academia. You only have to look at the way in which those who are deaf communicate- using sign language- to show that humans, at their core respond to semiotics and that signs and symbols can resonate just as much as words. Indeed, sometimes semiotics rises above language as a means of communication. In a world with many different cultures and languages, semiotics is a fundamental form of human communication that rises above language barriers and illiteracy. It is clear, then, how essential semiotics is in marketing communications, in conveying the same message to very different and diverse audiences.

Semiotics in Marketing communications

Semiotics in marketing can drastically improve the communicative potential of any given brand and help ensure that bigger and wider audiences can be reached effectively. There are a number of different semiotic techniques used by marketers. Visual elements used in semiotics include logos, colours, websites and advertisements. Metaphors are the most common way in which semiotics can be utilised in a marketing sphere. While verbal communication can be used to get a tag line and message across, most of the effect is in the visual representation of the message. For example, the metaphor and common phrase ‘crying over spilt milk’ is an idiom to suggest that you are dwelling on something which in the long run is very small or pointless. While this is a phrase which not everyone will understand, (it gets lost in translation under certain languages) it is a message that tends to resonate easily with your target audiences.

An example of this use of semiotics can be seen in a Dettol advertisement for an instant hand sanitiser. The advert displays a visual image of a woman standing up on a bus holding a physical human hand, as opposed to the usual bus handle, with the tag line ‘Whose hand are you holding?’ This relays the message that there are thousands of germs on busses and that we should thus buy their product as a solution and to protect ourselves from this. Thus, in this respect it is the semiotic representation which is driving forward the message an inevitably trying to persuade people to buy the product at hand.

semiotics in advertising

Semiotics in Advertisement

Semiotics in advertising is crucial and as aforementioned the main basis for convincing target markets to buy a brand’s product. It can take time and money to create an association between brands and images. A new business could put a dog as the logo of their brand tomorrow but it would take a long-term approach and a holistic implementation of semiotic marketing for people to associate such an image with the product or service that the business provides. Semiotics in advertising can thus only be achieved through leitmotifs (reoccurring symbols) and the repetition of the images that brands want to be associated with.

Another interesting thing to consider is that semiotic advertisement doesn’t always have to be a completely visual thing but can also be related to sound. Most adverts on television for example have music, which is arguably a language in itself. Regardless of your culture or language, music is a universal form of communication and it can be employed by marketers to create the tone or mood of their message. Some brands are associated with a certain catchy musical jingle and this can be utilised to try and make consumers remember them. For example, this is commonly employed in radio adverts, in which companies and businesses contain their phone number or location within the semiotic sound, so that the music and the brand work symbiotically.

The Cultural Importance of Semiotics in Society

Semiotics beyond marketing and advertisement involves studying the use of signs and symbols, as the basis of understanding cultural and social changes. This also includes social traditions and practices, etiquettes and on a psychological level, how customers respond to such images. When approaching new markets, people’s cultural and social experience will shape the way in which they understand and process certain symbols..

All in all, the semiotic message needs to be holistically implemented and consider all of the social and cultural issues and perceptions at hand.

How Does Colour Affect Semiotic Advertising?

Colour can be the most important element in a business advertising campaign. Consumers notice colour before words and even the fresh-faced model you hired to stand next to your company’s products. Colour is a fundamental form of semiotics and they can correspond to a number of ideas, emotions and objects which can be potentially useful for marketing. Some of the best and biggest brands have a strong colour association; Coke is red, Pepsi is blue. Such brands deliberately use colour semiotics to project a positive image to their customers and consumers.

As touched on before, it can take a long time for brands to establish a clear semiotic association and colour can very much help speed up this process, as it facilitates memory recall. Choosing a colour for a brand that will run throughout the marketing approach is a vital element to consider, as this is what will set brands apart from each other. The psychology of colour association is an intricate process and depending on one’s personal cultural and social experiences, colours can mean different things to different people. As touched upon then, a holistic approach to semiotics in marketing should be employed, which includes taking into consideration these social and cultural aspects.

All in all, it is clear that semiotics has a fundamental role in marketing, advertisement, and business and it is a complex concept with many layers to it. The idea of social semiotics, as well as how color influences the psyche and how humans perceive visual representation, all points towards a holistic semiotic approach. Through semiotics, brands are able to override language barriers and even illiteracy to convey their visual message, through various metaphors and other techniques as mentioned above, to reach as wide an audience as possible.