Semiotics is a cornerstone of brand equity management, since symbolic communication ties consumer needs, wants, and behaviors to the form of brand communication in advertising, packaging, and logo design. Semiotics enables the ethnographer to understand the role of consumption to satisfy consumer needs for identity, community, and meaning. Marketing Semiotics decodes the cultural codes structuring consumer myths, archetypes, and icons. We translate consumer insights into symbolic elements, such as the brand lexicon and iconography, design strategy, and stories. Marketing Semiotics applies semiotics to consumer research, design strategy, and cultural branding.
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.