Talking so they listen

May 23, 2014

Semiotics Symposium
MAY 2014

Just recently we were fortunate enough to share an afternoon talking and practicing semiotics with our co-conspirators from the School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics, Monash University.

It is not often we get the chance to stop and think about how we think!

However, this afternoon was one where I had to pinch myself and think about how lucky we are to be able to collaborate with such talented people.

About 40 of us enjoyed the musings of Dr. Chris Worth, Dr. Louisa Willoughby and Dr. Howard Manns  (all from Monash Faculty of Arts) combined with Daniel Bluzer Fry and Sarah Lorimer who participated in a panel discussion about the application and challenges of semiotics in both commercial and academic circles.

It was interesting to learn about the amazing breadth of topics and challenges semiotics can be applied to.  Everything from Howard exploring the codes of clothes, through to Louisa trying to define the codes of our Australian language.  Linguistics, narrative and visual codes all have different uses, and applications across culture, giving us more food for thought in how we use the three levels when considering brand challenges. 

It became clear that in both academic and commercial worlds ensuring that outputs are captured in simple formats are crucial to people ‘understanding’ the research.

Perhaps the most entertaining application of semiotics was the story of the humble sweater-vest and the different meaning associated with it over time. Howard took us through the example of the sweater-vest, a long time marker of being a geek in the US, but overtime it also developed a secondary meaning, being appropriated to the gay community.  He used the example of Rick Santorum, in his campaign for the Republican nomination, who wore sweater-vests, no doubt hoping to appropriate the intellectual WASP values associated with the article of clothing.  This backfired  when his beliefs and messages around the rhetoric around his anti-gay marriage views were contrasted with his appropriation of a key symbol of clothing associated with exactly this group. 

We also spent our time working together to explore the semiotics of 3 different topics:

1  How FMCG companies portray mums in communications.

2  How the idea of ‘Natural’ is encapsulated by the cosmetics and beauty categories 

3  And finally, how are Western Millennials being portrayed by the media.

Debating how Millennials are portrayed in modern media

Dr. Howard Manns and team debating how FMCG firms portray the mum

Dr. Christopher Worth in full flight!

Professor Rita Wilson, calm in the flurry of deciphering how cosmetics brands convey the idea of ‘Natural’.

We will share the outputs over the coming weeks.  Each meaning map created revealed fascinating perspectives on the topics. They could definitely help to generate disruption from a communications perspective or just connect more powerfully.

We truly are fortunate to be able to share these types of initiatives with our counterparts at Monash and would like to thank all the students and academics who made the time to participate. In particular Dr. Jeremy Breaden who arranged the day and to Prof. Rita Wilson, Head of School for not only just being amazing, but for your energy and commitment to collaborating with The Lab.