Creative Semiotics Creative Semiotics

10 Random Semiotic Projects

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Okay, so I lied.

They're not really random. They are the last 10 projects I've worked on or pitched for under the Creative Semiotics Ltd imprint.

A wise man once said that when you're selling a service to fall in love with the problem and not the solution. You don't really need to know how (the solution) semiotics works. I do want to show its relevance to your business and your current pain points.

Semiotics can add value in many different ways so I thought I'd share anonymised accounts of the 10 last in bound enquiries I have had. Most of these I have worked on as projects, and will present in trade papers or conference case studies in the future. Others are enquiries that may not convert. No matter. They still show where the demand is coming from; with which problems.

1. HELP  US BETTER BRAND OUR PROMOTIONS

Semiotic analysis of the way brands convey 'value for money' when offering trading and deals across category. The ultimate aim is to create distinctive branded visual assets to help the client do promotions in a way that doesn't cheapen them.

2. HELP IMMERSE US IN JAPANESE CULTURE

Distillation of Japanese cultural knowledge into 10 salient codes to give an agency creative department springboards to new territories that were grounded in a Japanese cultural essence of relevant evidence, substantiating their imaginative leaps. 

3. HELP US FINE TUNE THIS CAMPAIGN

Giving a semiotic view on the likely reception and inter-cultural impact on the UK market of a prospective corporate communications campaign. This involved not only visual rhetoric of videos, advertising, press releases etc also sensing ideological biases etc.

4. HELP US 'PREMIUMISE' OUR NEW PACK

Undertaking a 360 degree semiotic analysis of the packaging codes of UK premium and personal care brands to feed into the creative brief for pack designers working on a global pack refresh and alert them to layout, colour schemes, typefaces and on pack claims.

5. HELP US IMPROVE CONTENT METADATA

Semiotic instructions for tagging content in a more nuanced way has helped created a comprehensive taxonomy based on a uses and gratification framework of users that is enabling a media corporation to better serve their audience through data science. 

6. HELP US 'RESTAGE' OUR HERITAGE BRAND

The semiotic focus on meaning is great when looking into the history of a brand to identify timeless symbolic material to be retrieved and repurposed. We distilled our findings and delivered a range of visualised strategic options for a client workshop.

7. HELP US DEVELOP A VISUAL BRAND LANGUAGE

A startup drinks brand experiencing 100% per annum growth has embarked on their first research programme to inform a marketing strategy. They want to use semiotics to revamp their visual language to ensure distinctiveness in a crowded marketplace. 

8. HELP US EVALUATE THIS UX INTERFACE

Sometimes it is about being a provocative voice amongst others. I recently took part in service design workshop along with other experts from behavioural economics, decision theory etc to evaluate various interface options for a service design brand.

9. HELP US AVOID NAMING CLICHES

Sometimes semiotics can be delivered as part of expert opinion panel. In this context the question was about the prospective connotations of semiotics/semantics of a new product name - for a snack brand to be launched within the UK.

10. HELP US CLARIFY OUR BRAND VOICE

Contemporary semioticians need to understand identity politics. This study aims to streamline the brand mission, visual identity and core messaging of an arts organisation focused on social justice to help them be more distinctive to audiences.Hopefully, you have a better grasp of the sort of projects that I work on - though of course, this is just a microcosm of my work.

Hopefully, you'll now have a better grasp of the sort of problems I solve - though of course, this is just a microcosm of my work.

So if you have a similar problem and you see it in these words, then get in touch and I'll let you know if I can help. And if not I'll pass you onto the many good people I know in other methodologies such as behavioural economics, neuro-metrics etc.

10 Harsh Lessons My Younger Entrepreneurial Self Needed To Learn

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My business turned 9 years last month.

I've been turning over in my head what i'd like to say on my blog to mark this in some way - because honestly, when I started Creative Semiotics I had no idea it would last this long. So it's a bit of a milestone for me. What popped into my head as an overarching theme was the things I have learned along the way. These aren't necessarily all business lessons, or branding lessons. Many of them are life lessons.

I decided to whittle it down to the "10 Harsh Lessons My Younger Entrepreneurial Self Needed To Learn"

Caution: I am going to apply some Radical Transparency here and admit some things I probably shouldn’t be and for three main reasons:

a) I know how 'the news' generally works. People are more interested in things going wrong than things going right. Funny, that!

We have a negativity bias so people interested in me, will want to get an insight into these titbits for curiously, and prurience sake. Me too.

b) The people I like to read most about reveal something about themselves and without that, we cannot build any sort of connection.

Too much corporate communication is fundamentally disingenuous and amounts to an elaborate humblebrag... See Alastair Millar's post.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/linkedin-humblebrag-alistair-millar/

c) Because none of us are perfect in running our businesses; so perhaps someone might even benefit from something I write here...

Plus, I'm a poet. We emote. That's what we do. So, let's dive straight in...

1. BEING NICHE IS A TRADE OFF

When I was starting the business I realised that I had a stark choice. I could either keep things broad, and parlay my blend of qualitative research, planning and other skills and become a 'brand consultant'. And thus join a long and growing list of freelancers and be eligible for a large volume of work. OR I could specialise in semiotics and plough a narrower furrow - fewer opportunities but a bigger chance of winning the piece of work. I opted for the 2nd option. The advantages of this are that I am a thought leader in my area and get to do fascinating projects that involve triangulation between brands and culture. And I am also on a relatively short shortlist with semiotics briefs come up! 

i consider myself to be a 'T-shaped person' with a specialism in semiotics but able to operate autonomously as a creative strategist too.

Sometimes frustrating that on the bigger ticket branding projects I have to pass the baton on to lead consultants and that I don't get asked to manage  a suite of research techniques - but that's just part of the territory that comes with how you position yourself in a marketplace.

2. BE PREPARED TO PLAY WITH THE CHANGES

Since I've started i've witnessed may changes which have occasioned changes in the sector I work in. 

Check out the Mark Ritson part of this APG review: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/apg-contrarian-thinking-event-my-review-chris-arning/

The Rise of Big Data, The Rise of Behavioural Sciences and neuro-metrics science, the growth of client maintained research communities, the shift of budget towards measurable research data and programmatic all these have impacted on qualitative insight feeding into brand planning. Semiotics then needs to be applied differently to work in synergy with these areas. In the 2000s I was working more with qual and ethnography, now it's just more with behavioural insights and qualitative methodologies. But it turns out that semiotics is equally good finding patterns in big data sets, can work in concert and synergy with behavioural economics through the medium of framing. But in other senses our need for sophisticated readings of culture has only grown more urgent and essential to help us navigate the culture wars and to matching brand purpose to cause marketing through awareness of the working of ideology in imagery semiotics is essential getting it right.

Ultimately semiotics will always be relevant because provocative views on culture that help brands get unstuck from the ruts they settle in are needed. As General Patton said, "if everyone is thinking the same, then somebody isn't thinking". Semiotics is an antidote to this.

3. MIGRATE TOWARDS YOUR VALUES

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-dream-semiotic-briefs-chris-arning/

A few years ago I wrote about the sort of projects I wanted to do my dream briefs; these included some quite utopian projects, but also more realistic – as it happens I am currently on something very key to a public organisation. I’ve only done one project that I felt was quite morally questionable and personally felt uncomfortable doing – otherwise, I’ve turned a few tobacco projects and some other proejcts (researching net neutrality, working for brands dirreclty encouraging militarism etc). I’m no saint, but there are just things I don’t work on – and that;s just fine. It turns out that blogging about you want and migrating towards what you want to do takes time, but has its own logic.

4. ACCEPT THE SELF EMPLOYED BARGAIN

Going self employed means realising that you've struck an bargain. it's a bit too melodramatic to call it a Faustian bargain, but it is a sort of a pact. You are now free to set your own working hours. Which sounds great... Until it isn't. Time management is at a premium to create your own structure, and at any one time you could be doing anything and nothing - you have to decide what is optimal at any one moment. Secondly, you no longer have a boss. At least not one person telling what to do. But the unsaid concomitant of this is that you have another boss. It's capricious and anonymous - it's called The British Economy and it can be a cruel master. Of course there are fewer pesky requests from colleagues. And no office politics - working with people you don't get on with - but again, the solitude can also be a killer. Like i said. it's a bargain. And you exchange one form of stress - of being constrained and directed for another - being free to succeed, but also to fail.

At worst I can feel like an unemployed person with a Company Number. I could be a lot better at the hustle. I wrote this to remind myself.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-hip-hop-aphorisms-get-your-entrepreneurial-swerve-chris-arning/

When the phone isn't ringing it can be tough, but when I'm being of service to clients and have ownership of it, it feels like a real honour.

5. GET TO KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS

In Susan Nash's consultancy book How to Start and Run a Successful Consultancy, she recommends getting to know your customers from the outset. this is, frankly, something I've always struggled with. I'd love to get to know my clients better - but whilst I know the sort of job titles who tend to commission semiotics, it seems to be more of a psychographic segmentation that determines who phones with the need. In work with a business coach I wrote that what my clients have had in common is that they are 'enemies of the insipid insight solution'. They want clarity but also provocation. But where to find them?!? I joked with another semiotician that at times clients at times feel like the Illuminati. You suspect they exist, but it's hard to find them. I do connect with relevant people on LinkedIn – but it's not the most congenial setting. I've never found direct consultative sales works and conferences are not only soulless affairs but they tend not to best way to connect with people. So far, my strategy is content marketing and raising awareness and clients get in touch when they want something.

6. CREATE YOUR OWN FORUM

In 2011 I spent about £5k on attending a conference in 2011. I won't say which one to save their blushes. It was a sink bin for my hard earned cash. I had to buy the shell of the stand I was in - see the image above - pay for a speaking slot and I paid for someone to man the stand while I was speaking, networking.  As to the event, one of the most soulless, insipid, corporate hell holes you could ever imagine. I was harried by suppliers selling services I did not want, and the clients and prospects I wanted to contact were nowhere to be seen. At the end of the day someone even stole our box of ganache. Fast forward to 2012 I decided I wanted to start my own event. 8 years later this event called Semiofest, a Celebrating of Semiotic Thinking I co-founded is still going. We have a created an event - that I look forward to going to every year and has created a network that delivers inspiration, sub contractors and has generated some business too. Win win win.

7. CREATIVITY FEEDS THE TANK

The name of the business is Creative Semiotics. Semiotics is a mix of art and sciences – it is lateral thinking that helps us uncover what you might call 'non arbitrary creativity'. I’ve found that creativity is a really important thing for me to rebalance the mentally tiring business of decoding branding collateral. Semiotics is fascinating but decoding images becomes compulsive and can compound one's internet addiction.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/semiotics-ruined-my-life-outside-work-true-dr-rachel-lawes/

Outside of work my creative expression is various through writing poetry, doing open mics, poetry and a bit of stand up – making sure that I balance the cultural consumption with some cultural expression – I believe that this just doesn’t make me better at doing semiotics, it is also for a requirement for mental health. Semiotics involves sustained analysis, and can be very isolating - we need to switch off but also to engage in play. For me it's poetry and calligraphy is the slow, absorptive to counter acts the manic, attention scattering of social media.

Of course, I like to be creative in how I brand myself, through my blog posts, Sixty Seconds of Semiotics and other communication.

8. BOOKS AREN’T EASY TO WRITE

Well, I’ve been writing a book on semiotics since 2016, just before the EU Referendum – and just like Brexit, it’s been through many twists and turns but hopefully will have a positive outcome. It’s a book designed to explain the process of applied semiotics. I have shared it with select people in my network and it has received very positive feedback. My ambition for the book is to write something scholarly that retains the depth and rigour of the enterprise, but also to show the range of semiotic applications and how indispensable it is as a way of revealing the complexity of brand meaning – at the moment it is poised between being a classic textbook for universities but it may yet also become something for practitioners. I'm wrangling with the publisher since there are advantages and challenges in both / either one of these routes. It has been frustrating. At times I feel the conservatism of academic reviewers means I have to jump through more hoops than I'd like.

But I'm continuing with it. For all those struggling with writing projects, I recommend following this person on LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/gabriela-blandy/

And this blog post too:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-high-lantau-peak-betty-adamou/

9. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE GRIT

95% of businesses fail in their first 5 years and thereafter – most of these businesses thrive according to some fall in love with the solution and not with the problem. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/01/24/start-ups-across-uk-going-bust-need-careful-management-economy. So grit and perseverance are more important than intelligence. When the phone isn’t ringing, or the pipeline is weak there is always more to do. In an Attention Economy it is important to be persistent since everyone is so busy. It might be that your offer is not right for a customer, but it might also be you haven't persevered as much as you could have. Sometimes it’s best to be persistent up to a point and then to move on…They say that it is darkest just before the dawn - I've had some cash flow issues - but always come through it. My belief is that constant prospecting and content marketing will always generate business - even if consultative sells are not always easy.

I find this an inspiring watch:

https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance?language=en

10. GET YOURSELF A MENTOR

It’s difficult to find a mentor when you’re doing something niche. Maybe it's easier if you run a creative shop, but frankly, there are not that many people who've been there done that you also aren't rivals... I never knew the different between a coach and a mentor until recently. I’ve mentored people but never really been mentored. In the end I guess I’ve been mentored by my mistakes. A mentor provides guidance and help and they are trustworthy... I have been lucky enough to be able to draw upon peers like Asif Noorani and others with whom I work and it means I have a trusted adviser to runs things by, to tighten up my conclusions for clients and to increase my final value as strategic advisor. I would advise everyone to get the humility to find mentor as early as possible, they can highlight the 'unknown unknowns' for you.

So there we go, another elaborate #humblebrag and a thinly veined pretext for bombarding you various legacy blog posts.😃I've probably been too revealing here. But there we go. Always interested in people's responses to this - and especially those who run their businesses.

 

10 Inconvenient Truths for Semiotic Skeptics

It turns out #semiotics isn't about making s*** up to sound clever.

It's apparently about UNCOVERING or REVERSE ENGINEERING the way MEANING is REPRESENTED or CONSTRUCTED... It turns out that you can ACTUALLY STUDY and even PRACTISE a subject full of helpful FRAMEWORKS and WAYs TO LOOK AT THE WORLD that HELPS YOU ANALYSE CULTURE and COMMERCIAL SIGNS more rigorously focused on the ultimate MEANINGS that can be GENERALISED for people across a SHARED CULTURE. And it turns out that a bunch of people* actually DO this thing and GET PAID for it by BRAND OWNERS and associated CREATIVE AGENCIES. It’s CRAY CRAY! (bear with the sarcasm) I KNOW!!! It scandalised me too when I heard.😂

Apologies for the INTENTIONALLY sarcastic tone. But at least I got your attention. I try to alternated my blog posts by 1) educating on semiotics and 2) rehearsing a semiotic analysis on some aspect of pop /brand culture. What I want to cover in this blog post are TEN WAYS in which MEANING WORKS in culture, that EXIST, and would exist whether you'd ever heard the word SEMIOTICS or NOT

As for us humble semioticians: we didn't CREATE this and we don't CONTROL it. But neither can WE - any of us - IGNORE these meanings.

1. CONTEXT CHANGES EVERYTHING – MIXED RACE OR EGREGIOUSLY WHITE
What does this sign mean?

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It's hard to tell - isn't it - it largely depends whether it appears on a radar, or a piece of tech equipment, or a women's forehead or a branding message such as the AIDS red dot.
If I was to put it into this context it might help you to determine things. What surrounds a sign or cue helps to determine how we interpret that sign or cue. This is something Marshall McLuhan understood very well - he called it Figure vs Ground - most people only look at the figure – but in order to really see what is going on we need to focus as much on the Ground.  I have applied this recently to what I’ve said about mixed race in the UK identity and in general to the ‘colouring’ of our high streets, how this has become hegemonic in visual culture, and how it re-positions all white portrayals seem implicitly exclusionary by default.  A parallel to this is what is called the Overton Window a term used to describe the Ground of political discourse, and thus what determines the ‘realm of the thinkable’ politically. So as the overall discourse morphs any ‘ideology’ sounds variously bonkers or entirely reasonable.

APPLICABILITY: Doing semiotics in branding involves studying contexts, tracking the category dynamics and cultural change that will impact on the meaning of a given brand


2. ASSOCIATIVE THINKING IS UTTERLY UNAVOIDABLE – EMMA ELLIOTT’S SCULPTURE
Can you look at this without thinking of something else?

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I thought not. It is very suggestive! The human mind cannot avoid making connections.
Just as nature abhors a vacuum, this is why you have interpreted this sculpture as you have.
Whenever we see an object, we pull in meanings from other contexts. Abstract art indeed relies on this, as Kandinsky knew. I have attempted to put this together in an animated film, pulling in the associations with a Barbara Hepworth sculpture which you can view here.
When I am asked to tease out the connotations of a particular typeface or colour in a project, I aim to trace its occurrence - where that product has appeared before in culture – since that is what most customers or people do. All the cultural meanings and baggage it has accumulated will be brought into the new context. For instance, associations of Didone type with fashion. Of the connotations of pink or purple in youth branding which I have also been thinking and writing about recently – and the now problematic meaning of gold, tainted with vulgarization.
This is what I pulled out in a blog post around Donald Trump's victory speech in 2016 – his child softens your interpretation. His innocence, his youth, his awkwardness, how this tends to neutralise negativity, and what it says about the future stewardship of the President-Elect.

APPLICABILITY: Arguably, the objective of much advertising and branding, is to trigger off a cascade of positive associations in the consumer mind, which leads to brand equity.


3. BINARY OPPOSITES STRUCTURE OUR REALITY – CANADIAN FLAG
Can you define Scottishness for me?

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You almost certainly started off by positing Englishness as a foil to the Scottish, which is not surprising given the inextricable history of these two people. How about trying to define Canadianness without reference to Americanness. Pretty tough given US influence.
A whole Molson ad campaign was predicated on the indignation of Canadians who are often mistaken for American. It you look at the centralising logic of the Maple Leaf symbol it is oppositional identity to that of the partitioning, fissiparous, federal US Stars and Stripes.
How do we define the idea of blackness in identity politics, without mentioning whiteness'? It is hard to do so. Cultural critics such as Jeffrey Boakye argue that it is only ‘whiteness’ the unmarked, invisible, unquestioned hegemonic identity, that makes people identify as Black.
Arguably since both are constructs. Not even to mention male and female. Hence the idea of non-binary and the empowered assertion of a neutral position. Increasingly the fashion is liminality - the in-between, a zone which is NEITHER or BOTH - as I recently blogged on Mixed Race Identity. But even this means positing an implicit binary. Thierry Mortier has coined the equation I = f (O) Identity is a Function of Otherness. There are those who find this messy mongrelisation threatening, hence the rise of xenophobic populismbased on harking back to a nativist simplicity debunked by Akala. These are all things semiotics helps us grasp with both more nuance and with more starkness – which is a hallmark of semiotics.

APPLICABILITY: the idea of binary opposites does not just come into identity but about the way we structure brands in categories - tiers of value for instance budget vs standard.


4. POP CULTURE IS ALWAYS INTER-TEXTUAL* - LADY GAGA - ARTPOP
What is purely original? Nothing.

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Popular culture is a tissue of codes and references and creation is part inspiration, part shamelessly borrowing. Lady Gaga channelled Jeff Koons for her Pop Art album. Janelle Monae channels Fritz Lang with a Afro-Futurist twist! Black music lyric based forms like hip-hop trap or grime are based on homage and thickly layered references to other lyricists, tracks or rap folklore.

When there is a cultural event such as the debut of a new season of Game of Thrones or Childish Gambino’s This is America, the internet sets about deconstructing it. Whether it is thinking up alternative endings to favourite shows on Medium, puzzling over hidden meaning in videos or films or dissecting the transmogrification of memes on Reddit or Buzzfeed or to dig into how a song was composed via Song Exploder or Dissect or how a soundtrack was chosen for a certain film on BBC 6 Music. Inter-textuality – the belief that the texts (songs, books and art) produced within culture are inherently parasitic and build on previous work.
The novel, and subsequent film, Ready Player One is premised on a quest to decode and piece together 1980s pop references.
Memes take inter-textuality to an extreme riffing upon popular culture, often invoking a film or celebrity foible or famous catchphrase and applying it to a mundane or topical happening.
Even nations have had recognise the cultural capital that comes with pop culture reference. When Israel responded to Iran during a diplomatic spat - it did so using a Mean Girls clip.


APPLICABILITY: inter-textuality is the mix of citation, allusion, and outright homage that includes parody, spoof and pastiche and that powers social media and suffuses pop culture. Netizens are increasingly interested in disentangling the embedded references.

5. CULTURE EATS STRATEGY FOR BREAKFAST – KENDALL JENNER AD

Who signed this off? How could there have been people of colour in the room!?

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Just as behavioural economists have debunked the false conceits of classical economics, in the realm of decision making, semiotics offers a more realistic, realistic view of the basic messiness of human communication. Semioticians believe that far from unmediated signals that  send pristine packets of meaning, a premise of classic information theory, signs are mediated by culture, which unavoidably impacts on the eventual interpretation of messages. This can include corporate culture - meaning insiders are blind to what to outsiders is common sense.

Thinkers like John Fiske and Stuart Hall warn us that when we fail to see the codes of the audience, there might be a failure of transmission. This accounts for cultural resistance to trivialising of protest leading to the demise of this solipsistic Pepsi ad. In 2019 are now operating in a MUCH more complex world and we see cultural fault lines forming not only between but WITHIN societies. The so called ‘Cultural Wars’ is creating an ideological divide to go along with the and growing stratification of generational fault lines between cohorts like Millenials and Gen X, let alone Boomers. In this context brand owners may be tempted to launch deliberately polarising campaigns to trigger controversy and this court media attention – such as was the case with the British Army snowflake campaign. Or others are deliberately ‘double coded’ to appeal to two different sub-cultural constituencies simultaneously, such as We are Not an Island TV ad for HSBC starring Richard Ayoade.


APPLICABILITY: understanding the audience and dynamics of hermeneutics on the internet is more important than ever... 


6. SYMBOLS ARE MAGNETS FOR MEANING – THE 2019 UNICORN
What does this symbol mean? It’s a unicorn. I know!

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But why has the unicorn become so popular amongst the young over the last few years? Which has spawned a merchandising craze too. Well, of course, there is the social norms effect that drives sharing on social media. But there are a number of elements to it. There is the fantastical, fairy tale aspect to it that helps people return to childhood during a scary time. UK semiotician Rob Thomas wrote in 2017: “Unicorns are a semi-ironic comfort blanket in a world where being a grown-up has never been harder (look at mental health stat's!)” The unique nature of the unicorn has appealed to the marginalized – unicorns used to be associated with psychologists have pointed to the symbolism of the horn on a feminine horse and that is why it has appropriated by the LGBTQ community. And the unicorn has also become associated with start ups and venture capitalists to denote those that had achieved billion dollar valuations. Aside from that, in the UK where unicorns can appear twee, kitsch and a bit naff, it has been deployed as a satirical sign of wishful thinking – around the Brexit debate with both sides accusing each other of unicorn like delusions on this political issue. 

Symbols are magnets for meaning. This is just what they do. Just like physics says capacitors gather electrical charge; symbols gather semiotic meaning.,. Symbols syphon meanings up from the contexts in which they appear. Okay, I have to admit I stole this from Adam Alter's book Drunk Tank Pink but semiotic thinkers (such as Charles Peirce) long ago understood that symbols grow, swelled by habit and belied. And religious symbols are no different.


APPLICABILITY: symbols change meaning, whether the hijab or the hoodie – in an era of suscipicion towards belief systems symbolic meaning is an ever more contested quality


7. SIGNALS ARE CRACK FOR THE BRAIN
What does this say to you?

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Tt says that someone is typing and I am eagerly awaiting their message. I also know that if no message appears I feel bad. This is a mild version of a notifications window once you've posted a poem on there 5 hours ago. And it has STILL RECEIVED ZERO LIKES! You feel worse.

 A reminder of one of the reasons why I came off all the ‘socials’ -Twitter and Facebook. Something that Jaron Lanier says is inherent to the medium itself… These are signals. A signal is The issue with signalling is we signal all the time – we can’t help it – but also that we learn to crave the stimulus that signals provide. I am talking here about Pavlovian conditioning of the human via the variable rewards of social media, and the hijacking of dopamine levels and our reward system and its threat to our mental health through internet and smartphone addiction. And just like the detective asks us to give attention to the ‘dog that doesn’t bark’ semioticians need to be alert to the absent signal that causes alarm. It isn’t just the semioticians that study signals. Evolutionary biologists, cognitive scientists and neurological-scientists are equally convinced that signalling is key and in branding implicit signalling is stronger than ever. 

APPLICABILITY: signals are important because they affect us because in the digital economy people are all trying to get our attention and so we are primed to expect them and we crave them – because of this we drive addictions and compulsions


8. SOME MEANING IS UNIVERSAL– MONEY SUPERMARKET LOGO
Why has this Price Comparison reverted to a soft and fluffy logo?

 

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Don’t they deal in hard headed calculations of financial advantage? Er, yeah! And that is just the point. Deference to consumers and disarming scpecticm and suspicion is one of the first jobs to be done by any financial institution where it be Goldman Sachs calling sub brand Marcus or Monzo using orange and other colours to brand their credit cards. This is not less true for MoneySupermarket. Which of these shapes is more likely to mean maternal? Phil Barden cites a well known experiment to prove this. Which shape below is Kiki or Buba?
Yet some people still labour under the misconception that aesthetics is entirely subjective.  Really? Not the last time I checked.


Colour for instance or shape can influence how appealing we find a website. Is spite of some cultural nuances, blue remains universally the most preferred colour globally associated with the sky hope and openness – navy blue conveys stability. Some colour physiologically affects us as in Drunk Tank Pink takes its title from the shade of pink proven to subdue prisoners. In stark contrast, biophilia – use of plants, biomorphic shapes and natural light, is used in architecture and interior design precisely because it evokes feelings of nature and calm.
Cognitive semioticians join evolutionary biologists in studying the ways in which many meanings are rooted in how our very anatomy or physiognomy and how basic cognitive schema drive the most fundamental premises, or e.g. affects how we read visual images


APPLICABILITY: many meanings are pretty universal – and need to be respected – NOT all malleable – some things are hard wired. You don’t want to be fighting against this tide in branding – innovation is only effective if it’s also congruent otherwise it’s a false economy.


9. 'UNQUANTIFIABLE' DOES NOT EQUAL 'INSIGNIFICANT' – BRAND MUSIC NAVIGATOR
How do you measure the pleasure from your favourite track? Answer: you can't.

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We live in a world obsessed with quantification and to believe what cannot be measured can be safely disregarded. But it's not always all about the numbers. As Rory Sutherland writes, we should not allow Efficiency Optimization to crowd out Meaning Optimisation. Sometimes it is the very irrationality of the thing that creates the most significant meaning. When it comes to product design, qualitative differences are the key drivers of appeal. Contour bias and other factors - it is hard to exactly quantify curvature and colour hue and correlate this with the reaction - with careful and nuanced study we can start to create models of meaning.


How about music? How do you quantify WHY one track hits harder than another?
Semiotics can help us to explain the hidden rules of musical meaning, something which other methodologies shy away from. As an emotional language, music is harder to pin down, but we can say meaningful things about how the choice tonal character, auralised metaphor, genre markers, instrumentation, and other variables are likely to affect overall meaning.

APPLICABILITY: specialises in the messy, inchoate bring some order, models, of course this can be determined in qualitative research, but semiotics can save


10. CULTURAL INTERPRETATION IS A SKILL THAT CAN BE CULTIVATED –

Is it really true that interpretations are all equally valid?

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Not all interpretations are equally valid – you all know football pundits who convince and those who don’t.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink argued that we all have an ‘adaptive unconscioius’ that can come to incredibly rapid judgements through instinct. He argues that decisions made quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously or deliberately but that “our snap judgments and first impressions can be educated and controlled…”.


Some people argue that culture is a realm of subjectivity so that all opinions are equally valid. Umberto Eco once pronounced that that in the realm of culture more than one interpretation is always possible – but it is also not true that all interpretations are equally plausible. A
Semiotics is to a certain extent a case of harnessing, drilling instincts to read culture so that we produce more fine grained, nuanced, layered, insightful and convincing interpretations.
It is not just frameworks but a set of aptitudes, skills and a hyper-awareness that is cultivated as you complete not something you can do straight out the box in plug and play fashion. A semiotician is like a detective we find clues in culture, weigh up their relative weight but also must be a lawyer, making the case for a certain meaning based on contextual factors.


APPLICABILITY: - it is the experience curve of the seasoned semiotician, the hundreds of analogous projects they have done that accrues value, but always judge a semiotician on the the justifications and evidence they put together as well as the nuance and contextual richness
The label SEMIOTICS, just HAPPENS to tie all these things together - WHY? Because to account for meaning properly, it turns out you actually NEED pretty much ALL of them.


*I think it is important here to say that I am NOT dismissing valid questions about the place of the interpreter in doing semiotic analysis, that the place of the interpreter is SUPER IMPORTANT - it's really vital to check in your biases and assumptions in every form of analysis. However, EVERY SEMIOTICIAN I have met is striving to INFER meaning from the MEDIA OBJECTS, CULTURE AND CONSUMER CONTEXT and other objects of analysis that will be meaningful for a MASS CULTURE - rather than IMBUING them with fanciful subjective meaning where it did not exist. Hopefully, the 10 principles outlined above that we can agree underlie how we ALL make meaning, go some way to demolishing this argument.

what they know and have learned about culture, Actually, as another semiotician writes, semiotics is one of the subjects that best does this.
Some people still think we MAKE THIS STUFF UP... But honestly, some of the arguments against semiotics, YOU COULDN'T MAKE THEM UP.
YES, we need to improve in YES, we need to improve on and YES BUT - the above 10 are pretty hard to argue against.

That's enough CAPS for one day. Good night.

 

The People's Vote March: A Very British Revolution

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I went to the March in Central London on Saturday. Yes, I voted with the 48%. But this piece is mainly about humour.

As I have written in pieces before on this topic LINK HERE. Leave won the argument in the Referendum, not ONLY because of their appeal to emotion and nostalgia – as was decently portrayed earlier this year in the Channel 4 dramatization An Uncivil War. They also did so because of their superior use of humour. Think the bluff confidence of Boris Johnson poking fun at the timidity of Project Fear or a beer swilling Nigel Farage poking fun at Eurocrats.

They aligned themselves with perhaps THE totemic trait within the British character that cuts across class. Humour. And actually this sense of humour was of a piece with a jingoistic tabloid bravado - the sort that led The Sun to lead the rebuke of the European Commission with the famous headline Up Your Delors! This type of humour can be summed up by this cartoon showing US President Obama opposed by a British bulldog in April 2016.

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When Leavers bait Remainers online it is with a similar spirit – 'let’s get on with it' - 'back Britain', implicitly accusing the 48% of defeatism,  designed to position Leave in the underdog Churchillian position: the plucky, doughty ordinary bloke Brit battling with a Euro bureaucracy.

Well, if the WAS the case. Things changed this weekend. What happened? The fact that Brexit has somehow become the UK's Manifest Destiny and The Government's mission has effectively robbed the Brexiteers of their coveted challenger brand positioning they once wielded to such devastating effect. In a move of cultural jiu jitsu, that leverage is now being used against it through the most vicious and effective weapon left to the people of the UK: their own native wit. And this has proven to be a most awesome and corruscating weapon, indeed!

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There were quite a few of these.

That's right. A mass of the British people is now apparently aligned behind Baldrick as preferable to May!

British Humour as we all know is often said to be one of our defining characteristics. AA Gill writes in his book The Angry Island, that repressed anger is the underlying driver of many British traits including our love of humour writing: 'bullying is mostly what the English sense of humour is for.' It is also the place British people take refuge in during times of fear and uncertainty. Fear, uncertainty, anger, bullying. What does that remind you of? 🤔When you combine that with the knowledge that satire is a powerful weapon against powerful, we could only expect one thing. Martin Myrone, Tim Batchelor and Cedar Lewisohn writes in British Comic Art about satire:

"One of the central pillars of the British Statue may, indeed, be this belief in the carnivalesque as part of national life which is given life in the institution of satire in the media, the ‘corrective impulse’ that helps define a national culture”.

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And boy, does the UK need a ‘corrective impulse’ right about now. The punk spirit of the Bollox to Brexit campaign channels that. And we saw plenty of carnivalesque, drum and bass sound systems and a riot of word play and humour in the placards on the streets of London on Saturday. I've shared some of my favourites here. I have decided to list them by their humour type for your delectation, below. Enjoy.

1. Word Play

"Lettuce Romaine"

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"Revokey McVoteFace"

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2. Cultural References

Alan Partridge: "Give me a Second Referendum. You shit."

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Space X: "If we leave the E.U. I'm moving to Mars"

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3. Insults and Put Downs

"What happened to that twat Cameron?"

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"Ikea make better cabinets than yours"

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4. Sexual Humour

"Shove Brexit up your Backstop"

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"Pulling Out Doesn't Stop People Coming"

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5. Speculative Irony

"Chances of Brexit turning out well..."

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"A more prosperous, peaceful UK after Brexit? Do you also believe in Unicorns?"

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10 Things I Learned at Semiofest, Mumbai2

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Image: finding my first Semiofest sign, on Day 1 on the way to Santosh Desai's masterclass

So, I'm still in India, down South, in Tamil Nadu, but coming down to earth after a great Semiofest event. For those that have stumbled onto this blog, Semiofest is the world's only and best applied semiotics event. It is held annually, and we have been to London, Barcelona, Shanghai, Paris, Tallinn and Toronto. And now Mumbai. I must concede that I'm a bit biased since I co-founded the inaugural event along with Lucia Laurent-Neva and Hamsini Shivakumar. In 2012. On the internet. This year's was actually the best attended to date with up to 95 delegates on a single day. For a look at the programme, please go to this link.

Five Ways BBC Two's Re-Brand Went Right

I just ( I say 'just' I this was actually 2 weeks ago, but, er I got like, sidetracked) got the Creative Review bulletin showcasing the new BBC Two idents. So I thought I'd set down some thoughts.Creative Review reports that: "It’s the first rebrand for the channel in 20 years, according to BBC Two Controller Patrick Holland is intended to “re-invigorate BBC Two” and reflect its “constantly eclectic” collection of documentary, drama and comedy."

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