Semiotics Exhibition 24 November 2020
Introduction to the Exhibition
by Dr Rachel Lawes, author of “Using Semiotics in Marketing”
Would you dare to show the world your first experiments with semiotics? This exhibition celebrates the work of brave new semiologists who are sharing their work for the first time.
In April 2020, a group of marketers and insights professionals in a dozen countries embarked on a journey. Over several weeks, they read a how-to book on semiotics, in a group read-along with the author. The book promised to give them real skills in semiotics; strong enough to make the foundations of a career … even if they were trying semiotics for the very first time.
Week by week, the group completed many challenges and developed their own individual projects using semiotics. In November, six of those people developed posters that showcase their new-found skills. This exhibition proudly unveils these six debut works and shares the thinking of their creators.
These posters show considerable variety and demonstrate a range of applications of semiotics. A classical, bottom-up approach to semiotics is seen in Ajanta Roy’s work, “Green”, which explores green as a semiotic sign in India. The same approach is seen in Ray Poynter’s work, “Advanced Analytics”, which explores how analytics agencies build credibility and express emotion, using colour and shape. Colour is a great place to get started with semiotics; it is rewarding to analyse and it helps you make very clear and focused recommendations for brands.
Semiotics also involves top-down analysis; this is the part of semiotics which is informed by anthropology. It is demonstrated in Manisha Dikshit’s poster, “Theatre of Work” and in Joanne McNeish’s poster “We are doing the best we can”. Both these creators have used semiotic principles to ask big questions about human behaviour and society, the secrets of which can be unlocked by examining the implicit systems that we use to arrange our homes and workspaces. Meanwhile, Chloé Nwangwu’s project, “Branding a Continent” combines bottom-up and top-down approaches, finding real-world applications for semiotic analysis at the level of both branded messaging and managing complex, social and economic power relations.
One part of semiotics that enjoys the least awareness is its ability to shed new light on quantitative data. While semiotics is rightly regarded as a qualitative activity, sitting as it does on the borders of social science, the humanities and philosophy, in fact it is often capable of revealing stories in quantitative data beyond the ones which can be seen at first glance. Theresa Jones’s work “Lockdown” displays quantitative data which first appear to show one story, then reveal another, as we switch in and out of a semiotic perspective.
The book which guided these six creators in taking the first steps of what I hope will be a life-long journey with semiotics, is my own. It is for every marketer and market researcher who would love to do semiotics but until now has not known where to start. As we finalised the preparation for this exhibition, one of the poster creators, an experienced insights professional, emailed me to say this: “I have been avoiding semiotics for all these years. When I saw the book read-along with Ray I decided to join. And I am so glad I did. That I have managed to get a poster out of reading the book shows how effective the book reading has been!”
“Using Semiotics in Marketing: How to achieve consumer insight for brand growth and profits” (Kogan Page, 2020) is available from Amazon, KoganPage.com and booksellers worldwide.
The read-along and exhibition could not have happened without the initiative, effort and kind attention of Ray Poynter of #NewMR, to whom I am extremely grateful.
Once the reality of COVID hit home a consistent theme that kept emerging among people I know and social media was the challenge of re designing home work spaces to meet the needs of work from home. There were discussions about lighting, electronic products to buy, setting up green screens etc. I observed how friends (and myself) transformed our work areas. Loads of pictures and anecdotes were circulating in private and public domain. This enticed me to explore the idea of how our work desk and work spaces have evolved. In Singapore, where I live Ikea has seen large queues as a result of all the home refurbishing people are doing.
I am Ajanta Roy. Born and brought up in India. I am from Mumbai and have been living in Kolkata now for quite some time. I have been working as a Qualitative MR Consultant since the last 20 years.
I have used Semiotics on quite a few studies earlier and this was specifically to identify the significance of a Logo with reference to its Colour in the Agricultural Context ! Green was undoubtedly found to be the best and most appropriate colour that connoted positivity, wealth, celebration, success, good luck, auspiciousness and lots more. Black was a complete No.
I am an Associate Professor, Marketing at Ryerson University, Toronto Canada. In March 2020, like most countries across the globe, Canada was locked down. Some retailers were shut down completely and some, considered essential businesses, continued to operate. Whether open or closed, the paper poster, made of ordinary printer paper, was the go-to communication tool for retailers big and small. I wanted first, to capture the posters before they disappeared and then to explore what they meant. My poster entitled “We are doing the best we can” presents four of the thousands of photographs I started taking in March.
In April, I ran an independent quant study looking into the hopes, anxieties and expectations of over 1,000 diverse Londoners. Usually, in quant research, we take people’s responses at face value; through a semiotic lens, we begin to look at way respondents construct a version of reality, designed to make them appear a certain way. The data reveals that in a crisis, people might lean more heavily on traditional gender roles which they were previously leaving behind: men were more likely to be cast in the role of providers than women, making bigger household purchases, spending more on upgrading entertainment subscriptions, and maintaining a sense of routine by going to work, even when someone in their household displayed symptoms of coronavirus. What we can see in this poster is that, for whatever reason, men, especially white men and younger men, are highly motivated to represent themselves as people who are especially able to cope and endure lockdown, and that they are disproportionately interested in telling this story about themselves.
Nmadinobi Chloé Nwangwu
N.Chloé Nwangwu is a is a Nigerian- American Brand Strategy Expert, Digital Diplomacy Advisor and Behavioral strategist specializing in intergroup power dynamics and strategic communications. She discovered a “Global South” code in the course of some brand strategy and design research for a US non-profit headquartered in Ghana and found interesting overlap with the previous work of others on the representation of Africa to Western audiences. It was semiotics that allowed her to articulate the code’s audience–a huge part of the code’s relevance to her work on intergroup power dynamics.
In my consultancy work, I often help companies establish or change their focus. My feeling is that companies do not have to follow the rules of their specialism, but they should know the rules, and if they plan to break them have an understanding of how they are going to do that. In this case I highlight the signs/codes that allow us to recognise an agency is a specialist in analytics (beyond just the name and strapline).