SEMIOTICS – THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Consumers recognize and evaluate brands according to what they’ve seen in the past – potato crisps packaged in blue and silver foil translate for South Africans as fresh-packed salt and vinegar chips. This might seem obvious, but these visual identifiers are crucially important when designing a product and its packaging. For example, use that same chip packaging in the UK and users will assume they are buying cheese and onion “crisps” or alternatively package them in brown paper, with a hand printed label, and your message implies a natural or home made product.
Semiotics is the study of this hidden language we “read” every day – colours, shapes, sizes, graphics and materials all have meaning and all subconsciously influence consumers’ responses to the external manifestation of brands. Brand managers who are savvy to the world of semiotics can revolutionize their category just by understanding and evolving these visual or tactile codes.
Today’s brand thinkers use semiotics as a science to interpret the production of meaning, to understand how the visual language of a category operates and then, more importantly, how it can be evolved. Firstly, we seek to understand the visual codes at play across a direct competitive set and then find innovative ways to differentiate. For instance if femininity is a core equity within your category and pink flowers and feathers are consistently used as signifiers for this, then maybe there is an opportunity to use passionate and feisty red to talk to a different kind of feminine consumer. Or to use masculine shapes and symbols to evolve your portfolio into the male market.
To inspire this fresh thinking, semioticians recommend looking way beyond any specific brand category. Once you know what you want to say about your particular brand, there is no limit to the sources you can gather visual codes from to use in delivering that message through your packaging and communications. Visual language and culture are constantly evolving. We believe in going beyond the supermarket shelf to find the visual codes of the future. Art, cinema, fashion design and photography are all breeding grounds for emergent visual cues.
Using these codes is about cross-referencing your brand message with visual cues in an instantly recognizable, if subconscious, way. If your product is all about technical expertise, how can the action scenes in ‘The Matrix’ inspire your graphics? If your brand is about wellness how can we deconstruct what’s happening in spas and recreate the sensory cues of a hot stone treatment or a mud-bath through packaging?
The rise of the global wellness trend alone has seen brands turn more and more frequently to rough edged paper, natural fibers and unrefined, opaque glass, all of which speak volumes about the products they contain. Likewise, ergonomic grips, industrial colours, and streamlined shapes have all revolutionized the energy drink category from the Lucozade-as-medicine brands of the past to the power sports tonics of today.
Ultimately, semiotics brings an analytical eye to the visual language of branding, and the culture beyond it, replacing the ‘luck’ factor with coherent and thorough visual decoding and the power to leverage that insight for growth. The innovative use of tools like Decoder™* provides an understanding of the ways in which cultural codes connect products and our human reactions to them. If brand owners consciously identify and use the codes inherent in consumer and brand culture they can then ignite their consumers’ desire for their brands and accelerate growth through demand.