Creative Semiotics
Intelligent Communications problem solving.
We decode consumer culture, so you don’t have to.
Your springboard to more inspiring creative briefs.
Culture and brands 24 /7. We’re always decoding.
We review brand imagery, making the invisible visible.
Semiotics - your brand meaning operating system.

Creative Semiotics is a boutique consultancy founded in 2010 by creative strategist Chris Arning. Our mission is to make visible the meanings embedded in brand communication to help business owners better manage the meaning of their brands. We use semiotics, in concert with other methodologies such as behavioural economics, to reveal the truth about visual culture and as a springboard to creative concepts. We have worked with clients as diverse as BMW Mini, Netflix and BBC and the Estonian Government. We specialise in tackling the sort of upstream, highly strategic [and often intractable] business problems that other methodologies cannot solve.


Chris Arning specialises in semiotics and cultural insight, with over 15 years of international experience as a planner, qualitative researcher and semiotician. He has lived in Madrid, Toronto and Tokyo and speaks both Spanish and Japanese.

As Head of Semiotics at Flamingo Research he designed and led semiotics projects for companies as diverse as Unilever, Pepsico, Pernod Ricard, O2, Manchester City FC and the World Gold Council. Chris has also moderated groups across four continents.

Chris set up Creative Semiotics Ltd, a boutique semiotics consultancy in 2010. He has since worked for clients as diverse as SABMiller, Boots, Radio Centre and the BBC.

Chris is passionate about educating clients in the benefits of semiotics. He is the Founder of the Semiotic Thinking Group on Linked In which numbers almost 4000 members and is originator and Co-Founder of the Semiofest conference billed as ‘a Celebration of Semiotic Thinking’ which just celebrated its 5th year in Tallinn Estonia. He teaches a course module Brands and Meaning on the Global media and Communication Masters at University of Warwick. He tweets @semiotico on Twitter.
He has a BA in History from UCL, MA in International Relations, Diploma in Strategic Marketing from Chartered Institute of Marketing and studied semiotics in Toronto.

Our Logo

The crowdsourced Creative Semiotics logo is an example of deliberately embedding meanings into brand identity via signs. The desired brand values of the consultancy are authenticity, innovation and internationalism - the logo is a condensation of these.

The Creative Semiotic logo is a modified and contemporized version of a West African symbol nkyimkyim. The original Adinkra symbol signified versatility, dynamism and change. This is its spirit but it is also significant that strength that is also open to many other interpretations. It has been interpreted as a Mayan rune, a hexagram from the i-ching, or a heavily pixellated early arcade game character.

The most powerful brands are complex and imbued with multiple connotations for customers. You may notice if you look more closely that the logo also cunningly contains the letters C & S for Creative Semiotics embedded within it.


  • MINI wanted to understand how its British origins could help build a more meaningful narrative for the brand. Through a 3 region study Chris uncovered a key revelation: what makes Britain so creative, edgy and aspirational are its inherent paradoxes (small yet influential, traditionalist yet subversive). This insight directly impacted a strategy for MINI. The study also helped us develop a nuanced way to communicate Britishness without the telephone boxes and Union Jacks. A revelatory experience for us and the clients alike and a piece of work we’ve returned to time and again.

    • Ben Essen
    • Planning Director, Iris Worldwide
  • We commissioned Creative Semiotics to look at the complex area of musical meaning. Chris and his team created a set of parameters which were used to deconstruct objectively the meaning of music for brands. These provided fascinating outputs around which we built a practical, interactive tool to help planners and brand managers explore the world of music for brands at a more strategic level. Chris was easy to work with and his semiotic analysis brought structure, rigour, and insight.

    • Mark Barber
    • Planning Director, Radio Centre
  • Chris has provided valuable support to UK Trade and Investment - the UK governments international trade support organization - at several events for UK creative sector businesses. Chris provided smart insights into the values associated with 'Britishness' in global markets - and how UK brands can leverage them to gain commercial advantage in international markets. He's enthusiastic about inter-cultural communication and a great person to work with.

    • David Moody
    • International Trade Adviser, UK Trade & Investment
  • We have involved Creative Semiotics closely in our innovation stream. He has done a great job in the insight derived through semiotics and in his work with designers and visualizers bringing to life new brand ideas. I would not hesitate to recommend him.

    • Bronwen Diemont
    • Marketing Capability, Brand Proposition SABMiller
  • Semiotic research is a powerful tool that helps us to better understand and codify different aspects of the categories in which we compete. The fundamental elements that it reveals are immediately understandable and applicable to new concept development, packaging, and even product innovation. In a recent project, semiotics was the 'key' that unlocked the consumer insight around which our entire concept is now based.

    • Joe Gottschalk
    • Senior Director, Consumer and Market Insights, The Wrigley Company
  • We briefed Chris to conduct a semiotics study across three regions, the output of which was to inform not just the fabric conditioners brands but the broader Unilever Global laundry category. Chris delivered a piece of work that exceeded our expectations, with an original and inventive approach to the brief. The learnings changed the way we thought about the topic, leading to tangible implementation of recommendations.

    • Maeve Bayles
    • Global Brand Manager, Unilever
  • We briefed Chris to run a semiotics study on the UK chocolate market. The results were really insightful, have provided us with a vital reference point and are foundational for our new marketing plans. Chris's presentation was really impressive, and the project outcomes were accessible and actionable.

    • Laura Koenig
    • Consumer & Market Insight Market, Lindt & Sprungli
  • I recently worked with Chris on a global spirits project looking at cognac packaging codes and was impressed by his engagement and dedication to the project. His semiotic analysis of packaging codes was of the highest standard while being pragmatic and addressing the challenges and questions of the client.

    • Antje Weissenborn
    • HTP Concept, Berlin

Our Process

Interpreting Briefs

Working out what a client wants vs what a client needs

Literature Review

Grounding analysis in relevant background reading

Sampling Material

Assessing what material needs to be examined

Descriptive Inventory

Detailed description of visual or other features

Theory Selection

Different tools might be applied to different problems

Abductive Inference

Making robusts interpretations and connections

Code Classification

Sifting and sorting material creating taxonomies

Category Brand Mapping

Creating maps (trajectories, semiotic squares)

Strategic Options

Deriving commercial opportunity areas from the work


Sometimes the analysis ends in tangible visualised options