As part of OMD UK’s mission to be #culturallyconnected, I recently attended a MRS training course on Semiotics and Cultural Insights. Sounds a bit dry, but I must admit it left me really inspired and now my new goal is to earn the title of a Semiotician.
So what is semiotics?
According to several sources (MRS Advanced Semiotics, LavaPR), it is the study of language and image or signs used in a variety of different areas, such as advertising, social media, blogs, articles, art representations, you name it.
It’s really brilliant.
How can semiotics be relevant to media?
Semiotics is applicable to media strategy. Simply said, with the help of semiotic tools and thinking, we can unlock and dissect cultural insights and what they can mean to Brits. We can reveal meanings that we are aware of but often unconsciously overlook.
Unlocking these meanings encourages innovative thinking and can help us come up with strategic ideas that create interest and/or make a difference in a certain category for our clients. This is especially useful in categories and for brands with lesser differentiation, according to expert Semioticians.
Semiotics is a great way to track how culture, trends, language and communication have evolved, from a consumer perspective as well from a brand perspective. It helps to identify category patterns and motives behind cultural shifts in the UK, for example the social representations of gender, sex, sport, success or motivation, or ageing and beauty.
Getting behind cultural insights can unlock greater understanding in which realm brands and companies are positioned and why they play in that sphere. Such an understanding holds the potential to provide ideas and guide creative and sophisticated media strategies.
In the training course we looked at the beauty industry in more detail. By looking at approximately 60 pieces of category material from adverts, articles and blogs (make-up, funeral, death, retirement and other beauty products) we defined codes, patterns and trajectories and categorised the full competitive landscape in beauty. We suddenly found ourselves talking about the concepts of: integrity in which Dove sits, preservation (L’Oréal), transcendence (concept of self-realisation, e.g. Mindfulness) and lastly transformation (pharma). This led to creating a map of cultural meanings – all relating in some form or another to the beauty industry. This helped to pull out influencers and key players in the different spheres.
I am a huge advocate of semiotics, because it provides the framework to think higher than what you see, look behind the obvious and discover what consumers or brands can’t articulate themselves.
The fact is that, for many Brits, brands help them express who they are, consciously or not – so in communications planning, we need to understand the cultural relevance of this, so that comms planning can play a strong role in building an emotional, cultural and inspiring connection between brands and the consumer.