On Creating Value with Semiotics

Creating Value is Laura Oswald’s follow up to Marketing Semiotics with much more emphasis on the different applications of semiotics in marketing and market research, as well as an attempt to rethink some aspects of semiotic theory and how they relate to brands in the modern world.

In terms of theory, Laura Oswald argues that we need to shift perspective away from traditional cultural analysis and its emphasis on a (semi) permanent structure of cultural values, towards something more dynamic and more focused on how brands create meaning and value at the intersection of category codes, cultural trends and the real-life practice and behaviours of brand users.

The book includes multiple examples from a diverse range of marketing issues including advertising semiotics, brand metaphors, servicescape semiotics (application to service and retail), cultural branding and ethnographic research. I personally found Creating Value an easier read than Marketing Semiotics, both in terms of ease of understanding and practical application.

Laura Oswald starts by laying out the most basic application of semiotic analysis to understanding how a category’s values are codified in the colours, shapes, fonts and packaging of different products (brands) in a category, discussing how they offer a shorthand language for the value proposition offered by one category that distinguish them from products in a different category.

She also argues that metaphors are not simple deviations from standard brand tropes, but rather represent rich and multiple meanings that can be attached to brand. She takes this one stage further to say that brands are often metaphors in themselves, substituting products for emotional benefits including status, identity and relationship.

In Brand esSense, I discuss the symbolism of retail spaces and Laura Oswald gives some great examples of how architecture, décor, furnishings, signage, merchandising and consumer technologies convey meaning (especially brand meaning) in a retail environment.

Overall, this is good reading for anyone interested in understanding the use of semiotics in marketing applications and is definitely a much easier read than Marketing Semiotics. For those new to the topic, there are definitely easier to read introductions to semiotic analysis – I would recommend one of Marcel Danesi’s introductory texts such as Why It Sells [or since this review was written, one of Rachel Lawes introductions]. However, anyone already practicing semiotics will find many interesting ideas and examples in Creating Value.

[Having just reviewed Doing Semiotics, I retrieved this 2016 review of Laura Oswald’s earlier books from the old InspectorInsight website.]


Creating Value: The theory and practice of marketing semiotics research by Laura Oswald

Marketing Semiotics: Signs, strategies, and brand value by Laura Oswald

Semiotics in Marketing by Rachel Lawes

Semiotics in Retail by Rachel Lawes

Brand esSense by Neil Gains

Why It Sells by Marcel Danesi

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