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Decoding competitive propositions: a semiotic alternative to traditional advertising research.

Michael Harvey [*]

Malcolm Evans [+]

Winner of the Best Paper award

Introduction

This paper shows how innovative thinking and good client/agency communication can turn perspectives drawn from an unconventional knowledge domain to real competitive advantage. It outlines a project in which Guinness and a specialist team from Added Value used semiotics (the study of how any sign system - e.g. words, pictures, music, myth - creates meanings and evokes feelings) to develop a friendly analytical tool now used by Guinness worldwide to gain a new depth of insight into the competitive environment.

This system, the Competitor Advertising Decoding Kit, guides Guinness marketers and planners in the analysis of likely consumer take-outs from current competitive ads and helps them to decipher for each competitor the proposition that could ultimately drive these take-outs. By then mapping competitor advertising propositions, Guinness marketing and planning teams obtain a much clearer picture of the marketplaces they are operating in - and some of the main challenges and opportunities that face their brands.

Client starting point - Guinness

In 1998 Guinness created a new process to develop brand propositions. This process required an understanding of four key elements in order to create the best proposition for the brand anywhere in the world:

(1) Marketing objectives (to ensure the proposition was 'fit for purpose')

(2) Consumer needs and motivations (to ensure the proposition was motivating)

(3) Product attributes/perceptions (to ensure a credible proposition)

(4) Knowledge of competitive advertising propositions (to ensure a distinctive proposition).

There was nothing particularly earth-shattering here, just good practice rigorously applied. But Guinness discovered that while it invariably knew a great deal about the first three elements it rarely knew much about competitive propositions. This gap was clearly important, and Guinness acknowledged that a core understanding of competitive positionings (from a consumer perspective) was essential to maintain its own distinctive positioning in the marketplace.

To gain this knowledge it was considered too extravagant to commission a special study in every market of exactly what positioning consumers attributed to other brands (and existing conventional U&As did not give the richness of response needed). Therefore data were patchy, largely from ad hoc qualitative studies, and often out of date. What Guinness wanted was a fast cost-effective solution.

The first breakthrough came with a conceptual flip: from the idea of researching consumer response to the idea of directly analysing the advertising stimulus itself as a potential solution to the challenge of understanding competitive propositions. This is where specialist semiotic analysis of brand communications presented itself as a possible solution. In the client's mind was a web of sometimes conflicting thoughts and associations:

* Recollections of a French colleague at an advertising agency back in the 1980s, claiming that semiotics is a door you can use to open up any company's advertising and obtain access to its knowledge about how to motivate consumers. Do that for all the competition and you learn everything there is to know about your marketplace.

* But then there is all the confusing jargon that goes with semiotics - paradigms, metaphors, metonyms and so on. There was a story around at the time about a fairly typical presentation by a French semiologist to a straight-up, no-nonsense American pet food client on innovation in premium food for small dogs. Two hours of technical terminology and deep cultural analysis culminated in the coup de grace: 'And so we see, the dog is not a dog at all. The dog is a cat.' The client responds (names have been changed here to protect the innocent): 'Jean-Claude the dog is not a fuckin' cat. The dog is a fuckin' dog.'

* Then some direct personal experience with semiotics (again pre-Guinness) and in the spirits market. The client company on that occasion needed a worldwide model for how people choose between alcoholic drinks. The qualitative research costing came out at [pounds]650,000 (this was in 1989) and the semiotics came out at [pounds]60,000. The client opted for the semiotics. For that price they did, eventually, get what they were looking for. But it was a struggle to dig out and rework the one key matrix from a mass of theoretical background noise and relatively unhelpful detail.

So semiotics, in summary and from the buyer's point of view, covers a spectrum:

MAGIC [Left/Right Arrow] MYSTIFICATION

Where you come out as a client (prospective or actual) is likely to depend on what you have heard and the people you have worked with -- some at either extreme, others somewhere in the middle.

The real need in the case of this project, then, was for an instant, affordable way for Guinness marketers anywhere in the world to understand all competitors' positionings (as projected by advertising) from a consumer perspective at exactly the point in the process when a new Guinness proposition was being prepared. A tough brief for any agency! In the event it was the Decoder team, Added Value's semiotic specialists, who came up with the most promising ideas for a solution.

Semiotic starting point -- decoder

'Semiotically, semiotics does itself no favours.' So speaks Guardian columnist and innovation guru Guy Browning on a communications methodology that has had some communication problems of its own. This heritage (and the need to move on from it) is why people buying Added Value's Decoder often do not realise that what they are buying is semiotics. The technicalities are deliberately kept Out of view (unless clients specifically ask to look inside the methodology). Decoder is stealth semiotics.

What does this accessible/plain English version of semiotics normally deliver?

* Cultural understanding for market entry -- and cross-cultural communications platforms designed to work with the highest common factors across markets (e.g. understanding the most motivating emergent meanings of, say, indulgence across Europe today. Which will work best for your brand? What is the most appropriate cross-cultural 'language' of indulgence -- verbal, visual, design, musical cues, etc.? How is this language evolving -- what is the current pace and direction of change in the cues used to communicate indulgence?)

* Understanding the communication codes (or 'unwritten rules') of your category. Which codes are being used (or broken) by your brand and the competition, and to what effect? Understand competitors in context (evolving category codes and popular culture) better than they understand themselves. Understand where you should be going in communications terms (e.g. in advertising, packaging or website design), and how to get there.

* Broader vision and deeper consumer insight. Where qualitative research tends to play back consumer norms of today, semiotic analysis develops a more visionary perspective on where culture and communications may be leading us.

This is head-above-the-parapet research, creating a more informed context in which we can talk to consumers direct and come up with visionary perspectives that allow brands to lead the evolution of their marketplace rather than just react to mainstream public opinion.

From the agency point of view, excitement about the Guinness brief came from two main sources. First was the opportunity to work with the pioneering brand in innovative and culturally salient advertising -- past and present, outstanding not just in the context of beer but advertising in general

Equally important was the challenge to take semiotics another step on from theory and the academic world not only by demonstrating its power in decoding competitive advertising but also by doing this in a transparent and accessible way. So much so that the analysis would model a tool that Guinness marketing and planning teams could then go on to use for themselves to continuously update their knowledge base on competitive advertising. The brief itself ensured that comprehensible, hands-on semiotics was not only a nice-to-have but the main goal, the object of the whole exercise.

Groundwork -- the international language of beer

Decoder was tasked with devising a clear process to allow Guinness marketers anywhere in the world (after a brief period of training) to work Out exactly what proposition consumers were likely to be taking out of a brand's advertising -- as a major step on the way to understanding the brand's overall positioning from the consumer's point of view.

To start creating this Competitor Advertising Decoding Kit, key beer brands' advertising was sourced from six representative markets worldwide -- Cameroons, Germany, Malaysia, Spain, UK and USA -- and analysed by semiologists with expert knowledge of these markets.

After analysing the relevant TV reel and print ads, each analyst mapped out the beer codes characteristic of his or her market, then analysed advertising for the major brands in terms of codes deployed, codes challenged or explicitly broken and the overall profile of codes used by each brand -- residual (dated advertising styles and conventions), dominant (middle-of-the-road for today), or emergent (dynamic, innovative). Then the country analyst made a hypothetical assessment of core consumer take-out from each brand's advertising before translating this into the language of advertising propositions, incorporating the relative weighting in the ads of three key benefit sources: Product Attributes (What?); User Imagery (Who?) and Consumer Need (Why?). The final step was to map the brands' advertising propositions along axes spontaneously suggested by the category codes coming out of the analysis -- the conceptual and emotional 'world' of beer advertising in that particular market.

Illustrating part of this process, Table 1 shows some summary outputs for two key brands examined in the UK.

The merger of all the national data gave us, first of all, a verbal and visual snapshot of the cultural meaning of beer globally (defined against wine and spirits) -- part of the basic 'cultural software' any alien landing on planet earth would need to get hold of to become plausibly one of us.

More critically, for the Decoding Kit that eventually evolved from this research, the combined analysis gave us a map of the international language of beer -- the full repertoire of global beer advertising codes.

What is a code? Think about the following pieces of communication in isolation from each other:

* crashing wave

* sound of a cap coming off a bottle (Psssst!)

* back-lit golden liquid with bubbles moving up

* drop of condensation sliding down a glass

* drop sliding down an ice-frosted bottle

* thirst (sun, parched land, water)

* intense physical activity

* representations of thirsty people

* first big glug, subsequent release of breath and spontaneous sound of satisfaction

* energy burst

A code is what makes all these signifiers hang together in our minds and starts each of us extending that list, filling the gaps using the cultural software we have acquired as members of a culture and consumers of advertising. These are all signifiers held together by the idea of refreshment (no less than red, green and amber lights are held together by an underlying 'grammar' of traffic regulation).

If you are an alien you may be able to view these signifiers in isolation from each other. As a paid-up member of human consumer culture you should find it impossible. You should also be reaching already for the metaphorical extensions of physical refreshment into attitude, state of mind, youthfulness, etc.

It's all part of the program -- as sure as when you are channel surfing you will spot the cues that say news, soap, sitcom, documentary, car ad, snacks ad within a split second in the same way that most two-year-olds can now, almost instinctively, identify the Coke logo or McDonald's arches from a small fragment of the complete image.

The international language of beer, the Decoder analysts concluded, can ultimately be focused down into refreshment plus 25 other key communication codes. The 26 codes map Out into seven clusters. Some semblance of this map should, with minor variations, be arrived at by any team of semiologists who set out to analyse a good sample of worldwide beer advertising. Since it remains a key component of the Competitor Advertising Decoding Kit -- which so far has only been in use for a year or so and, we believe, gives Guinness real competitive advantage -- we will reveal only some parts of it here (see Figure 1).

The codes towards the left and the bottom of the map express the drinker/product relationship and social roots -- where the drinker feels a sense of origin and belonging. The codes to the right capture characteristically beer-oriented images of bonding, sociability and humour. Towards the top of the map we have outer and inner-directed expressions of aspiration, a sense of where I want to be going (rather than where I am coming from).

Each of the codes coming out of the semiotic analysis, as in the case of refreshment above, is a set of signifiers or communication cues held together by a core idea (see Table 2 for some other examples).

At this point both agency and client felt that we had a good grasp, in an international context, of how beer advertising communicates and the underlying propositions competitor brands are conveying to consumers. The main challenge, however, still lay ahead -- how to repackage what the Decoder team has learned about beer advertising and about their own analytical processes into a tool that Guinness people worldwide could now go on to use for themselves in decoding competitive propositions.

The Competitor Advertising Decoding Kit

Between this groundwork (debriefed in July 1998) and the final launch of the Decoding Kit in September 1999, there was a year of prototyping, revising, communicating problems and issues...and listening.

Some key learning experiences came out of this process:

* Semiotics isn't rocket science. On the contrary, it's the common sense of the future. As we recognise increasingly the role of communications and culture in structuring our perceptions, behaviour, even our sense of our own identity, so we have to become more code-adept and media-literate. Younger consumers are already masters (and mistresses) of instinctive semiotics -- interacting with the work of advertising creatives and continuously upping the stakes of innovation, subtlety, irony and cross-reference. They are the semiotic pioneers. As William Gibson says: 'The future is already here; it's just not very well distributed yet.'

* Semiotics is most valuable in helping us move into this future when it doesn't wrap itself in jargon (or conventional consultancy's trademark pitfalls of narcissism and spin).

* An expert is someone who has forgotten the rules, so you will find it very difficult to communicate to others how you do what you do by introspecting on yourself doing it. In this respect, communicating knowledge is probably a bit like making love to a beautiful woman (or man, for that matter). When the Decoder team, to develop the analytical tool for Guinness, retraced its steps in analysing the language of beer advertising and getting to the individual brand propositions, it was the marketers on the team who were best able to translate what the semiologists were doing into accessible rules. Conversely the semiologists, by interrogating the marketers, were able to help deduce the unspoken protocols for formulating advertising propositions.

So what is the Competitor Advertising Decoding Kit that finally emerged, and how does it work?

The purpose of the tool, as stated up front, is to help its users gain a better understanding of what competitors are communicating in their ads. It does so by guiding the development of informed hypotheses on the core consumer take-out and underlying advertising proposition in samples of current competitive advertising. The tool adopts the working assumption that the underlying advertising proposition expresses the key brand benefit and that this benefit, in the world of current beer advertising, will be based in one of three areas: Product Attribute (e.g. smooth, creamy taste), User Imagery (e.g. individuals who don't conform to the norm) or Human Needs (e.g. gives you a sense of belonging).

In practice, Guinness marketers use the tool when developing a new advertising proposition for a Guinness brand, at which time an understanding of competitive advertising propositions is crucial or when a competitor launches a new campaign; to understand their new proposition and the implications for Guinness brands. Otherwise it is also used as part of the annual planning cycle, when Guinness local market teams review all competitive advertising.

The system works by guiding teams of two or three people through an analysis of current campaigns for competitive brands. Each local market team ideally includes one marketer/consumer planner experienced in the beer market, another who is more in touch with young adult culture, and a third person who is a non-marketer (e.g. a sales person more in touch with the trade environment). The team is taken through a two-stage process (see Figure 2).

Stage 1. Consumer take-out analysis

The key breakthrough in moving ahead from the original groundwork here was in understanding that interpretation (which experts do spontaneously, firing on all cylinders at once) needs to be broken down into component parts.

Here the Guinness team members work individually, each looking at examples of current advertising for two or three competitive brands. The objective at this stage is to think deeply about the advertising and pay attention to detail, blocking the natural temptation to jump to conclusions too soon, suspending any specialist marketing knowledge and going 'through the looking glass' to adopt the consumer's point of view.

* At this stage the system first prompts the user to think separately about executional details along 12 different dimensions of the advertising -- including the people (celebrities, consumer types, who they are meant to appeal to, what they tell us about the brand), genre (realism, fantasy, surrealism, abstraction), music (styles of music used and their associations in popular culture), colours (which ones predominate, what they are communicating).

* The aim here is to take the time to deconstruct a brand's advertising, to dig into all its richness and become conscious of a palette of creative stimuli that may, in many cases, be working on consumers below the level of consciousness.

* Having deconstructed the advertising for a particular brand, the next stage of guided analysis is to arrange the material gathered from the ads in a hierarchy and funnel it all down to the essentials -- the key ideas and feelings being communicated, for example, the implied target and the area in which key brand benefits, on a preliminary assessment, appear to be operating.

The code cards

At this point in the process the user will view the ads for this brand again, review the preliminary hypotheses on consumer take-out and enter a phase of assisted interpretation using the code cards supplied as part of the Decoding Kit. The key breakthrough in moving on from the original groundwork here was to transform and streamline the original international language of beer advertising map (Figure 1) into a more user-friendly tool. This is a pack of themed cards designed and produced by the Brown KSDP design agency. The cards are something like a cross between Tarot and analytical mini-mood boards, capturing 21 major codes of global beer advertising (slimmed down from the original analysis' 26).

As well as enriching the user's broad understanding of the underlying 'language' of beer (images, words, music, etc.), the code cards serve an immediate practical function in understanding likely consumer take-out from specific ads and campaigns.

Thus the marketer using the Decoding Kit can review the themes printed on the card backs (one theme per card) and when he or she encounters one that matches something in the preliminary analysis of likely consumer take-out, flip over the card in question to test the interpretation against the communication cues reproduced on the front of the card (e.g. words, images, music, personalities) that are normally used to communicate this theme. Conversely a quick scan of the words and images on the fronts of the cards will allow the user of the system to spot any features of the competitive ads they have had difficulty interpreting and flip over the relevant card to spot the idea or theme that these cues normally communicate in beer ads.

The review of ads against the code cards and subsequent centring/focusing of thoughts on likely consumer take-out completes Stage 1 of the analysis of a competitive brand's advertising. When each member has completed this part of the process for their assigned competitive brands, the whole team gets together in Stage 2 to review the individual data and work out the likely propositions driving the ads that result in these consumer take-outs.

Stage 2. Proposition hypotheses

Here the Stage 1 learning is shared among the team, the main messages and consumer take-outs for competitive advertising agreed and these findings translated into advertising propositions for each of the competitors analysed in the market. The Stage 2 process follows key steps for each competitor:

(1) Begin to develop the proposition by pulling out the key benefit-driven proposition sources (product attribute, user imagery, human need), revisiting the preliminary work done on this in Stage 1.

(2) Rank these potential proposition sources in order to identify the key driver behind the brand's advertising, i.e. the clearest, most motivating consumer benefit (what the brand is doing for the drinker).

(3) From the detailed analysis of the ads, assess the supports being asserted or demonstrated for this proposition (why should consumers believe it?).

(4) Draft the likely proposition (core benefit is...) and supports (...because...).

(5) Finally, assess the competitive proposition against a checklist of six key success criteria including relevance to target and distinctiveness in the marketplace.

The Decoding Kit in action

At the final pre-launch trial of the Decoding Kit in the summer of 1999, an international Guinness team looked at some current UK TV ads for Fosters ('He who drinks Australian thinks Australian' -- the French execution where a man helps a woman re-stack her shopping; the German on the telephone asking his kidnapped wife where his golf-clubs are; and the Italian trouser-maker making a rapid exit from a family gathering before being kissed by the godfather).

* The Stage 1 consumer take-out analysis focused on a number of key themes including Australian-ness, 'real man' machismo, putting down women, an implied drinker who puts his sense of masculinity before anything else, irony and visual/cinematic sophistication (what felt like snippets of classical film genres, possible visual quotes from actual films of the late 1970s and 1980s).

* A review of the code cards confirmed some of the spontaneous analysis (regular guys, mainstream humour, classic sexual relationships) but also cued elements of new thinking into the analysis -- particularly around refreshment (and how literal refreshment is also communicated metaphorically via attitude, fresh humour, etc.) and modern local culture, a code that offers a vicarious kind of rootedness, authenticity and belonging (how we can all now be virtually Australian, Irish, American, Jamaican, etc. and what the various permutations of co-opted identity signify emotionally).

* The proposition hypotheses stage of the analysis addressed product attribute (refreshing), user imagery (refreshing attitude and humour, the Australian male) and human need (feeling masculine), before focusing in on user imagery as the most likely core of the consumer take-out. The first shot at translating this into a likely advertising proposition was something along the lines of 'Drinking Fosters shows what a refreshingly real man you are', with the irreverent Australian attitude as a key component in delivering this proposition.

The immediate reaction to the Decoding Kit was that it definitely worked. Fosters provided an example of fairly straightforward advertising, so, in this case, the code cards did not have a major role to play in helping decode a complex or potentially obscure meaning. However, even in a relatively straightforward case such as this, a process that facilitates discussion and insists on attention to detail and evaluation of alternative paths of interpretation or prioritisation establishes a mind-set in which people think systematically about what competitors are doing and avoid jumping to conclusions too quickly -- straplines, for example, are rarely if ever used to communicate an advertising proposition directly.

Coincidentally, a chance encounter with someone from the advertising agency shortly after this trial run brought some independent corroboration of the Fosters advertising proposition: a slightly hazy recollection, but something like 'Being a Fosters drinker gives you access to a positive laid-back attitude' (with Australian-ness, again, obviously a key supporting idea).

The emphasis may be a bit different but the two versions of the proposition are clearly occupying the same cultural terrain. And the Decoding Kit comes complete with a warning that users should not expect to have decoded the precise wording of the actual competitive advertising proposition every time. In an imperfect world, advertising rarely communicates perfectly what it is intended to communicate to consumers.

This imperfection may, however, be viewed as a strength of the Decoding Kit rather than a weakness. Alluring as it may seem at first glance to have a window into the intentions or 'mind' of the competitive brand via the advertising, it is ultimately more conducive to real competitive advantage to view the advertising as a mirror -- and gain real insight into what consumers see reflected there.

So the hypothetical competitive advertising proposition, produced by a kind of reverse engineering from likely consumer take-out, is more useful in terms of understanding and mapping out the marketplace than wouldbe access to the actual propositions driving competitive ads. Thus the Decoding Kit brings to Guinness marketers on a day-to-day basis one of the key benefits of specialist semiotic analysis -- the advantage, in many cases, of understanding competitive brands and what they communicate better than the competitors themselves do.

Current state of play

The Competitor Advertising Decoding Kit has now been distributed throughout the Guinness world and has added a new rigour to brand proposition development. Using the kit, two or three Guinness marketers working together for half a day produce analyses far more sophisticated than the old advertising agency 'Competitive Review', which concentrated on content or likeability rather than any significant insight into what goes on in consumers' heads about the positioning of brands. The findings of this ongoing work may not be as accurate or robust as full-blown advertising research, but they are fit for the purpose and highly cost-effective.

From the agency point of view, methodological information shared and made more accessible has been learning gained. The semiotic approach behind the international language of beer advertising map and the code cards (identifying the components and structure of this communication 'genre') can be applied to advertising in any other category -- or to any other medium in a brand's communications mix (e.g. the codes of packaging, websites, POS, retail outlet design, sponsorship, direct mail, etc.). A major buzz for the Decoder team arrived with the dawning grasp of this principle -- and the potential extension of this work on beer and advertising to the quest for competitive advantage in other categories (automotive, financial services, food, pharmaceuticals, telecoms, IT, personal care, household, etc.), to other elements of the brand mix and to the relationship between these different components of communication.

There has also been some fascinating incidental learning about the world of beer advertising and the differences between markets:

* German beer ads, for example, are mostly about authenticity, heritage, purity, implied national superiority and exclusivity -- beer is allowed to communicate cultural signifiers of German-ness that have been taboo in mainstream political discourse since 1945.

* UK beer advertising, in contrast, is centred very much in the area of bonding and humour -- particularly in the irony and wacky surrealism that is wedded to the fading culture of laddism. Whassup?, all the rage one day then played out the next -- a symptom of this advertising style's current decline.

* Party and fiesta codes around beer in Spain and Latin America -- serving the role played by humour in expressing bonding and emotional release in other markets (and drawing beer codes closer to those of soft drinks).

* Beer drinking as overt aspiration and badging (e.g. the cosmopolitan culture code) is a characteristic of beer advertising mainly in developing markets, where beer in general and/or international brands in particular come to signify modernity and sophistication (v. local brews).

* In the UK and USA new trends filter in via inner-directed values (individualism, freedom) rather than outer-directed (overt badging, display). 'Cool' is essentially what cannot be defined, captured, copied. When your dad says things are 'cool' they're not cool any more (not even the word 'cool'). So inner-directed is the new outer-directed in code and media-savvy markets.

Conclusions (provisional)

For anyone who has not previously heard of semiotics, Guinness's Competitor Advertising Decoding Kit is a good introduction to a discipline that helps unlock the power of culture and communications in shaping consumer perceptions and behaviour today. For anyone who has heard of semiotics, the system may come as a surprise -- moving its application to marketing and research on from a hitherto niche, specialist, sometimes obscure form of analysis towards greater transparency, relevance and interactivity. This is only the beginning. The spirit of experiment and collaboration is starting to spin off its own unpredictable offspring.

Guinness recently briefed a team of UK marketers and planners to decode examples of Japanese beer advertising using the kit and English translations of the language. These were assessed against readings produced locally by a Japanese team. The result was around 80% accuracy in the UK assessment -- with the 20% of understanding lost mainly through a failure to recognise the meanings and associations circulating around Japanese celebrities used in the ads. If semiotics can offer a cost saving against more conventional forms of research, what emerges here may begin to challenge some conventional semiotic assumptions (e.g. that you need to be fully immersed in a language and culture to understand its communications). It all depends, of course, on what's fit for purpose, and on the trade-offs between relative certainty on the one hand and cost/speed/convenience on the other.

Another informal project currently in hand involves three teams looking at the Whassup? ads to evaluate their significance in terms of consumer insight -- a Guinness team using the Decoding Kit; some semiotic experts (who have 'forgotten the rules'), and a mixed team of researchers and marketing people from outside both Guinness and Added Value (using their common sense without access either to the kit or to formal semiotic training). There are no assumptions or prejudgements about the findings. Whatever comes out will be fed into the development of the Guinness Decoding Kit and the next cycle of applied semiotic thinking within Added Value and Brown KSDP's Decoder methodology.

Other possibilities arise from the as yet untapped technological potential of a system like the Guinness Decoding Kit. Its physical design, in its current incarnation, is a key feature contributing to a user-friendliness and emotional warmth that the term 'semiotics' could never convey. Its conceptual content, however (rich in words, sounds, images and perpetually updating along with innovation in advertising codes), points ahead from the semiotics of Tarot, board games and instruction manuals to the world of online and multimedia.

Watch this space...

Malcolm Evans

Added Value & Brown KSDP

Malcolm is currently Director of Semiotic Insight at Added Value & Brown KSDP, carrying out cultural and communications analysis for major international brands. Malcolm has published extensively on semiotics, including a book, titled Signifying Nothing, on Shakespeare and the international Shakespeare industry. In addition to this year's Best Paper prize, he received another UK MRS Conference award in 1993 for Best Methodology.

Michael Harvey

GuinnessUDV

After an early career in market research, Michael moved into advertising. In 1997, he became Global Planning Director for Guinness and is now Global Planning Director for the newly merged GuinnessUDV He has won a Gold in the APG Creative Planning Awards, won the Best Use of Research prize at the Marketing Design Awards and is one of the co-authors of the latest edition of the APG's How to Plan Advertising.

(*.) GuinnessUDV and (+.) Added Value & Brown KSDP
                Semiotic analysis of UK beer advertising
                         - some summary outputs
Carling Black Label                    Stella Artois
- Key codes                            - Key codes
  heritage/roots; beer enjoyment;        parody; humour;
  irreverent masculinity;                heritage; beer
  sporting achievement                   enjoyment
- Brand-specific execution of codes    - Brand-specific execution
  nationalism; 'Rule Britannia'           of codes French
  (Dambusters, Union Jacks, 'best-       language, music, cinematic
  selling beer in Britain'); strength    references; idyllic France;
  (4.1%); tabloid attitude; Carling      'reassuringly expensive'
  Premiership
- Proposition source                   - Proposition source
  Why: Belonging                         What: Best ingredients
                                          = best beer
  What: Strength                         Who: Discerning drinker
  Who: Lad user                          (Why: Personal indulgence)
- Substantiators                       - Substantiators
  * Brewed to 4.1%                       * Premium (reassuringly
                                            expensive)
  * Football sponsorship
  * Patriotism
  * Popularity
Advertising proposition                Advertising proposition
  (hypothesis) My Carling confirms       (hypothesis) Stella Artois
   me as one of the lads.                 is the ultimate reward.
             International language of beer advertising --
                signifiers for three other sample codes
Cosmopolitan style                 Alternative humour
* Modern city life                 * Self-deprecating humour
  - style bars                       - twist in the tail
  - bright lights, big city
  - market savvy                   * Irony, cynicism
                                     - defining style clans and sub-
* Western (v. local) clothing and    cultures
  lifestyle
  - Western music                  * Parody
  - Western attitude                 - making fun of mainstream
                                     humour and 'serious' genres
* Beautiful people                   - reinterpreting other brands
  - style                            and equities
  - confidence, self-assurance
  - narcissism                     * Surreal inversions of reality
                                   * Alternative comedians
* New generation (developed
  markets)                         * Send-up of advertising
  - understatement                   - marketing speak
  - MTV visual codes                 - ad parodies
  - new music
  - Irony
Cosmopolitan style                 Totems of the tribe
* Modern city life                 * Bonding focal points
  - style bars                       - dances, music
  - bright lights, big city          - teams
  - market savvy                     - couples, family
                                     - hobbyists
* Western (v. local) clothing and
  lifestyle
  - Western music                  * Workplace and after work
  - Western attitude               * Nation and icons
                                     - flags
* Beautiful people                   - music
  - style                            - humour
  - confidence, self-assurance       - funny foreigners
  - narcissism
                                   * Looking alike
* New generation (developed          - uniforms
  markets)                           - animal allegory
  - understatement                   - lizards, frogs
  - MTV visual codes
  - new music                      * Regional identity
  - Irony
                                   * National/regional beer


[Graph omitted]

[Graph omitted]
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Harvey, Michael; Evans, Malcolm
Publication:International Journal of Market Research
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2001
Words:5559
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