Publications

Marketing Semiotics works at the cutting edge of marketing science. Laura Oswald writes papers and speaks at conferences on current thinking on cultural branding, consumer behavior, and the science of signs. The sampling of publications highlighted represent the depth and breadth of Oswald’s thinking on meaning in the marketplace and its importance for understanding consumers, positioning brands, developing innovation, and designing smart, relevant retail spaces, packages, and web interfaces.

Marketing at the Edge of Culture

New!  Creating Value, The Theory and Practice of Marketing Semiotic Research, Oxford  University Press 2015.

Creating Value explains how brands draw actual market value from the cultural myths, social networks, and intangible experiences consumers invest in marketing signs, symbols, and rituals. It guides readers through the process of managing brand value by means of consumer ethnography, cultural analysis, design research, and media strategy.

Creating Value extends the discussion begun Marketing Semiotics: Signs, Strategies, and Brand Value (2012) to post-structural debates related to ethnographic performance, multicultural consumer identity, the digitalized consumer, and hetero-topic experiences of consumer space. By applying semiotics to the everyday world of the marketplace, the book makes sense of the semiotics discipline, which is often mystified by technical jargon and hair-splitting debate in the academic literature. The book also provides practitioners, professors, and students of semiotics with a practical guide to the methods used in semiotic research in a wide range of contexts, from brand strategy and advertising to retail design and multimedia marketing.

 

“Marketing Semiotics: Signs, Strategies, and Brand Value,” Oxford University Press 2012

In this book, Laura Oswald walks the reader through the step by step application of semiotics to various stages of the strategic planning process, from research to analysis and creative development. By presenting actual business cases, Dr. Oswald demonstrates the effectiveness of marketing semiotics for creating value for her clients.

Articles

“The Place and Space of Consumption in a Material World,” Design Issues, (Spring 1996): 48–62.

In the minds of scholars of consumer culture, the marketplace has transcended its functional role as a place for the exchange of goods between producers and consumers, and as a symbol for the economic infrastructure shaping material life. The marketplace has become an imaginary/symbolic site for staging the post-modern self in consumer culture. Shopping is the new paradigm for social interaction, identity formation, and culture production. Shopping is a means to “see and be seen,” to enhance one’s persona, and find escape. This article emphasizes the dialectical relationship between retail design and public place and the internal, psychological spaces of consumers’ minds.

“Culture Swapping: The Ethnogenesis of Middle Class Haitian-American Immigrants,” Journal of Consumer Research 25 (March 1999): 303–318.

Douglas and Isherwood underscore the role of consumption in the construction of identity and society: “consumption is the very arena in which culture is fought over and licked into shape” (1979, p.57). In this paper I underscore the role of consumption in the construction of Haitian-American identity, the instability of that construct, and the importance of “context shifting” or deixis for theorizing the movement of ethnic identity between several worlds at once. Throughout, discussion focuses on the semiotic dimension of goods – their value as signs and symbols for social inclusion or exclusion. This paper also inverts the equation and focuses on the commodity value of cultural symbols: from dashiki to pita bread, consumer goods enable transitory excursions into ethnic cultures. Findings have implications for all consumers, since immigration and globalization have deconstructed the ideal of a unified national culture with the insistent presence of the “other.”

“Branding the American Family: A Strategic Study of the Culture, Composition and Consumer Behavior of Families in the New Millennium,” Journal of Popular Culture 73, no. 2 (November 2003).

In another paper I report on the representation of the American family in popular culture. The paper draws upon secondary research that we conducted to develop creative strategy for the launch of a new mini-van. The paper delves into the evolution of the social organization, consumer behavior, and culture of consumers over a forty-year period, beginning in 1960.

“Marketing Hedonics: Toward a Psychoanalysis of Advertising Response,” Journal of Marketing Communication, Volume 16, Issue 3 July 2010, pages 107 – 131.

In this paper I advance a psychoanalytic theory of advertising response to theorize the intersection of brand positioning, the semiotics of gender, and consumer desire in advertising discourse. Researchers traditionally focus on the iconic representation of desire in advertising imagery. However, by drawing upon Lacan’s theory of scopophelia — the passion to see — the author focuses on the dialectical implication of the spectator/consumer’s psychic drives in the visual semiotics of advertising discourse. The consumer identifies with the brand discourse primarily by means of projective identification with the voyeuristic gaze of the camera referenced in the image, and only secondarily because of perceived parallels between consumer lifestyle and the content of the advertisement. By way illustration, the author analyzes the positioning of consumer desire in homoerotic advertising for Calvin Klein and Dolce & Gabbana, which draw upon resistance discourses in contemporary art to hold the consumer in a passion play of alternative sexualities and subject positions.

“Branding China: Interviews with Women in Shanghai,” CGBL ONLINE: The eNewsletter of the Center on Global Brand Leadership, March 2002, http://www.globalbrands.org/newsletter/cgblonline.html.

In this paper I examine the limitations of Western luxury advertising to engage affluent consumers in the People’s Republic of China. I base my approach on a theory of brand literacy drawn from a theory of language acquisition. I illustrate how semiotics, a social science discipline devoted to the study of signs and meanings in cultural perspective, can be used to identify the cultural tensions between consumers and brands in emerging markets and provide direction for correcting the problem. In the following sections, I review the basics of brand equity, illustrate the role of marketing communication for brand strategy, and outline some of the challenges facing Western companies as they target consumers in developing consumer societies such as China. I then present a case in which marketing semiotics research in Shanghai exposed differences between the ways Chinese and European consumers perceive luxury and luxury advertising.

“Semiotics and Strategic Brand Management,” Semiotix, April 2007, http://www. semioticon.com/semiotix/semiotix8/index.html.

The contribution of brand meanings and perceptions to profitability – the Coca Cola brand is valued at over $70 billion – testifies to the power of symbolic representation to capture the hearts and minds of consumers by means of visual, audio, and verbal signs. In this paper I discuss the importance of the semiotic — or symbolic dimension of brands for building awareness, positive associations, and long-term customer loyalty, and contributes to trademark ownership and operational advantages such as channel and media clout. Consequently, managing brand equity means managing brand semiotics.

“The Semiotic Paradigm in Consumer Research,” with David Glen Mick, in Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods in Marketing, ed. Russell Belk, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd., London, 2007.

The importance of meaning in the marketplace is indisputable among marketing experts today. It influences an array of marketplace activities, such as product design, branding, advertising, and retailing. In a general sense consumer culture is the product of the consumer’s relationship to messages of all kinds, from advertising and the organization of retail space to the cultural cues internalized through group participation and ethnic identification.

In this book chapter, David Mick and Laura Oswald review theories of semiotics in the marketplace and illustrate the applications of semiotics for strategic planning and marketing communication.

“The Role of Advertising in Developing Brand Literacy among Affluent Chinese Consumers,” in Cultural Marketing Management, ed. Lisa Penaloza, Nil Ozcaglar and Luca Visconti, 2010, chapter 8.

In this paper I examine the limitations of Western luxury advertising to engage affluent consumers in the People’s Republic of China. I base my approach on a theory of brand literacy drawn from a theory of language acquisition. I illustrate how semiotics, a social science discipline devoted to the study of signs and meanings in cultural perspective, can be used to identify the cultural tensions between consumers and brands in emerging markets and provide direction for correcting the problem. In the following sections, I review the basics of brand equity, illustrate the role of marketing communication for brand strategy, and outline some of the challenges facing Western companies as they target consumers in developing consumer societies such as China. I then present a case in which marketing semiotics research in Shanghai exposed differences between the ways Chinese and European consumers perceive luxury and luxury advertising.

“The Structural Semiotics Paradigm for Marketing Research: Theory, Methodology, and Case Analysis.” Semiotica (2015) [1/4]

Brands are semiotic systems that create value in the marketplace by differentiating competitors in a category, forming emotional connections with consumers, and aligning the company’s symbolic equities with contemporary cultural trends. The author aims to expand the current state of semiotics for marketing beyond advertising research to the whole gamut of media and consumer touchpoints in contermporary marketing, from strategic communication to retail design and consumer behavior.  The importance of this paper is not limited to marketing, but raises important issues about connections heretofore ignored between semiotics, business, and the production of value in the marketplace.