science of branding_brand semiotics

To start with lets assume our readers are unaware of terms like semiotics pragmatics and semantics. However, Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols as elements of communication. In this article we will discuss about fundamentals of semiotics and how does it helps in building brands.

I would like you all to know that we human beings function as “homo significans”,” that is to say, as meaning makers who use signs to receive, understand and convey complex information. This also includes the analysis of language, gestures, symbols, attire, non verbal expressions as well as our regular and the acceptable ways of communication. Human brains not only perceive and process information but also store them in the form of “priori knowledge”. Paul Cobley and Litza Jansz have vividly explained how signs function as a code between individuals and how they trigger or “unlock” our previous experiences.

On the other hand, Semantics were originated in the first half of the twentieth century in France and Italy. This branch of science deals with people’s interpretations and the meanings of signs. In this article we have tried to elucidate how semiotics and semantics are largely used in creating effective commercials or PR exercises.

The formula

Evidently, in twenty first century; semiotics is playing a crucial role in creating bigger and better brands. Coming to the formula, sign (S) refers to an object (O), so for example a half bitten apple refers to a revolutionary tech brand. Similarly, a three white stripes represent a pioneer sporting brand. In brand semiotics, the sign/s has to be interpreted by consumer- the interpretant (I).

Semantics are the relationship between a sign and an object (S- O). Pragmatics are the relationship between a sign and an interpretant (S- I). Whereas Syntax is the relationship between the signs (S- S).

Marketers often use these signs to tap consumer minds or for brand penetration and recall. However there are specific ways to relate signs with products or brands.


A sign can be related to an object in following three ways:

1) Iconic signs:

These are non abstract signs which represent the utmost similarity with the actual object. Drawings and photographs are used to denote Indexical signs like picture of the product in any commercial,’the packshot’ is the iconic sign of the product.

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2) Indexical signs:

These are signs that signifies an object or event because of the obvious connection with the object. Like, in the event of a broken window pane we tend to look for stone on the floor. That means we try to seek the causation of the event. Hence, Indexical signs are treated as symptoms with a definite causation. This is the reason why sport brands always use slim models as indexical signs in their commercials, only to relate their brand with looks and fitness.

3) Symbolic sign: 

These are the signs which are related to an object, event or community based on a agreement or convention. For example, National flags, red cross, peace sign are some of the examples of Symbolic signs.

Hope you have gained the basic knowledge on how to use signs for branding objective. If you liked our article, please feel free to share with your friends and colleagues.


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