Theorists Fuchs (2014) and Van Dijck and Nieborg (2009) both criticise the wholly positive views of other media theorists whilst discussing Web 2.0 and “participatory culture” (Jenkins 2012; 2006). They call for an increased awareness of the corporate nature of social media platforms and its exploitation of users for profit. Social media and the Internet are multi dimensional tools, by balancing the culturalist and economic theories one will gain a proper understanding of their complexity.

Fuchs is a new Marxist theorist who is very critical of Henry Jenkins theories of “participatory culture” and his positivity towards the Internet and social media as a whole. Participatory culture is a term that is often used for designating the involvement of users, audiences, consumers and fans in the creation of culture and content (Fuchs 2014, p. 52). Wikipedia is an example as the users add and evolve the informational site. Uploading photos on Facebook and the interaction between the users is another example (Fuchs 2014, p. 54). Participatory culture creates a pooling of skills and resources, creating a collective intelligence that emerges as an alternative source of power.

Fuchs criticises Henry Jenkins for only using a culturalistic understanding of participatory culture and ignoring “participatory democracy” (Fuchs 2014, p. 55). Jenkins also ignores questions of ownership of the social media platforms, profit, class and distribution. He criticises Jenkins for not being theoretically grounded and ignoring the fact that corporate platforms mediate the cultural expressions of the Internet users (Fuchs 2014, p. 56). Fuchs believes a truly participatory democracy must also be an ownership democracy (Fuchs 2014, p. 56). He criticises Jenkins for overstating the creativity of Internet users. Creativity helps exploit consumers and the data they generate. Fuchs believes creativity the foundation for exploitation (Fuchs 2014, p. 61). YouTube is an example of corporate ownership and creative exploitation. Most of the money the advertisements generate goes to the shareholders, not the content producers. “As long as the corporations dominate the Internet, it will not be participatory” (Fuchs 2014, p. 61). There will be no peace while one party has an interest in exploiting the other for profit.

According to Fuchs, other theorists are too one dimensional in their theories of participatory culture, Fuchs hopes to add depth to the theory by combining political economy and culturalistic theories. By adding participatory democracy to theories of participatory culture, Fuchs includes the exploitive nature of social media platforms and the downsides of the Internet.

Van Dijck and Nieborg (2009) agree with Fuchs on their criticisms of previous social media critics. They believe the profit-orientated nature of social media platforms needs more attention. They unravel the effects of corporate social media platforms, which attempts to endorse a notion of public collectivism and commodity culture. A co-creation model of collective creativity has replaced the conventional hierarchal business model. In doing so these corporations combine collective and commercial modes of production (Van Dijck and Nieborg 2009, p. 856). What Jenkins highlighted as positive is just another business model, according to Van Dijck and Nieborg. They believe Jenkins echoes a corporate discourse and accuse him of being a naïve and not forming a critical model. Jenkins also received funding from institutions, which could have altered his positive perspective.

A key aspect of Web 2.0 business models is creating culture that is supposedly defined by the users rather then the producers (Van Dijck and Nieborg 2009, p. 858). Dijck and Nieborg criticise ideas that the web is simply a mass collaboration that helps create culture. They discuss the firms that have harnessed this creative labour in order to spur growth and wealth (Van Dijck and Nieborg 2009, p. 860). They also discuss the personification of the anonymous user as one of the same, which Fuchs overlooked. Each creator of content had different motivations and desires, there is no generic “you”, describe by other media theorists (Van Dijck and Nieborg 2009, p. 860).

By bringing attention to whether a site is corporately owned or not, Van Dijck and Nieborg hope to highlight the motives of such sites. In avoiding the language of labour economic and consumer markets (Van Dijck and Nieborg 2009, p. 864), discussions on the Internet and social media platforms are incomplete. They also discuss the sharing of personal information. Every time you click on a website, you provide platforms with personal information and interests. This aids the “co-creation” model without you even knowing it and is exploitive. The emphasis on cultural content and creation overshadows the economic value of data (Van Dijck and Nieborg 2009, p. 866).

Both the critical perspectives of Fuchs and Van Dijck and Nieborg highlight the importance of a combination of culturalistic and economic understandings of social media and Web 2.0, as it is a multi dimensional tool that should not be simplified as either wholly positive or negative.


The face-paced nature of media sharing has been hard to theorise within the academic community. Rushkoff theorises media as a virus (Rushkoff 1994, p. 7). He asserts that it spreads itself through the Internet, altering our opinions and the way we act around each other (Rushkoff 1994, p. 11). Jenkins et al. (2013) is critical of this theory. They believe this theory leads to confusion and does not include the audience’s activity and agency (Jenkins et al 2013, p. 20). They coined the term “Spreadable Media” to counteract this. They use “spreadability” to refer to the potential for audiences to share content and the technical resources which make it easier to circulate said content (Jenkins et al 2013, p. 3). Through this theory, the audience is given agency, and the nature of information being constantly transformed and repurposed through communication is highlighted (Jenkins 2008, p. 2). They also theorise the “sticky” model of media sharing, which refers to the need to create content that attracts audience attention and engagement (Jenkins et al. 2013, p. 4) and the mechanisms that motivate people to spread media. A combination of both “spreadable media” and “sticky media” is needed to create a successful advertisement campaign.

Dove’s “Body Evolution” video campaign is a prime example of “sticky media” (Jenkins et al. 2013, p. 4) being made “spreadable” (Jenkins et al 2013, p. 3) in order to create a successful campaign that connects certain social values to a brand. The advertisement begins with a plain haired, blotched skin girl looking straight at the camera. Camera does not shift from the head to shoulder view for the entire commercial. The video proceeds to speed up as people encircle her, applying makeup and doing her hair. She is photographed and placed in Photoshop. The “toolbars” of Photoshop are shown to symbolise the application but the frame does not change. Here she is edited and the frame panes out to a billboard advertisement for an anonymous make up brand. “No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted” is displayed on the screen.

Dove’s intent is to show the reality of models, that foundation is not all you need to look like the models on television. Dove is a toiletries brand that specialises in cleaning products, such as hair care, soap and facial care rather than makeup and beauty products. Their desire to separate themselves from make up brands is clear in these video campaigns. No products are shown on the campaigns, instead they are advertising are message they wish to connect to the brand about self-esteem and natural beauty. Jenkins (2008) asserts this is a clever advertising model that helps encourage spreading of their media by attaching certain values to their products (Jenkins 2008, p. 73). It also helps to bolster female comradery and articulate experiences and values one identifies with, now connected to Dove (Jenkins 2008, p. 73).

Some comments on the video display the success of the campaign, whilst others show the downfalls of spreadable media, as it can be changed and altered, attaching negative connotations to the brand (see video below).

Of course, with all viral campaigns, parodies were created of the Dove campaign. This is the reason while Rushkoffs theories of “viral media” is inadequate. Although “viral media” (Rushkoff 1994, p. 7) captures the speed of media it does not adequately account for how content circulates through participatory culture. These media models promise a pseudoscientific model for audience behaviour and does not describe the situation in which people actively assess and spread media (Jenkins 2013, p. 20). People are active participants in making meaning within networked media (Jenkins 2013, p. 20). The parody shown above highlights the exclusion of people of colour in the advertising campaign. This creates negative connotations associated with Dove, for being white-washed and exclusionary.

This advertisement is a mixture of spreadable and sticky media. It can be easily shared through the platform of YouTube, which makes sharing embed material on social media sites instant and simple (Jenkins 2013, p. 13). There are multiple videos in this campaign, this particular video was shared millions of times and often copied by young women at home. Thus, the video became spreadable media for Dove to share their message of real beauty and body confidence, tapping into the anxieties of many women across multiple communities. Even through women’s “at home” videos, the media is reshaped and repurposed but the message is still clear making the media content sticky. The brand achieved a deep engagement within a niche community (Jenkins 2013, p. 22), displaying the success of the campaign.


Simon (2001) defines persuasion as “human communication designed to influence the autonomous judgements and actions of others” (Simon 2011, p. 7), it is used to influence opinion and truth with communication. It can be exploited but also is important for giving effectiveness to truth (Simon 2011, p. 4). It deals with matters of judgement, what facts are more relevant, how one should interpret them (Simon 2011, p. 4). The study of persuasion is called rhetoric in academic circles (Simon 2011, p. 14). It relies on linguistic communication, promoting a clear point of view and intent to influence others. It is a practice rather than an effect and is still persuasion whether it succeeds or fails (Simon 2011, p. 8).

Persuasion can be detected by using the methodology of dual perspectives of the audience and the persuader (Simon 2011, p. 12). This is useful because, firstly, we can learn how to assume the role of the persuader and their motives. Secondly, we learn how they assimilate themselves as apart of the audience, imitating how they think, feel and act. Thirdly, dual perspectives highlight ethical issues behind persuasion (Simon 2011, p. 13).

Debate on the ethics of persuasion and rhetoric is extremely old. Seen in Ancient Greek scholarly circles, whether it is corrupt or a necessary force to gain power and influence (Simon 2011, p. 4). Aristotle argued rhetoric gave effectiveness to truth, and helped guide ordinary citizens (Simon 2011, p. 4). Plato asserted it was a corrupt art, gulling the ignorant without imparting real truth or knowledge (Simon 2011, p. 4). Simon asserts persuasion is not always a form of coercion and does not always have monetary influence (Simon 2011, p. 7). It does not always pressure on to conform or submit. It is not inherently evil. People use persuasion for charity, community activities and helping friends (Simon 2011, p. 12). The ethical debate of persuasion deepens when ones intent to persuade isn’t clear (Simon 2011, p. 10). Do news reporters intend to slant the information given? Do parents intend to impose their own worldviews on children? He does assert however that the frequent shifting between perspectives is designed to be unsettling, encouraging you to make a choice. Everybody has been deceived by persuasion, through evasion, exaggeration and pandering (Simon 2011, p. 13). Simon’s asks if this is inherently immoral or apart of the human condition.

Sonesson uses the concepts of persuasion and rhetoric to look at publicity marketing and how certain brands use different cultures to attach certain values to their products. He highlights the peculiar qualities of publicity, including its reliance on presuppositions at the same time trying to convince the audience it is new and better (Sonesson 2013, p. 12, 14). Sonesson applies a dual perspective on interpretation of rhetoric, describing it as the theory of argumentation and persuasion (Sonesson 2013, p. 7). It is a communication with concerns itself with the relationship to the creator and the receiver (Sonesson 2013, p. 13). He introduces his analysis with the different associations with the word rhetoric. He aligns his definition of the concept of rhetoric with Ancient Greece, similarly to Simon. He defines the concepts of rhetoric as the art of persuasion (Sonesson 2013, p. 7).

Sonesson uses the example of Vodka and European values to provide examples of rhetorical figures (Sonesson 2013, p. 15). The bottle of Absolut changes as they celebrate different parts of Europe. Here we see iconic symbols of a place: columns for Athens, street lanterns for Naples etc. Thus, Absolut has taken “the important step of abandoning the taxonomy of figures, instead defining some general principles, which may account for all instances of figurative rhetoric.” (Sonesson 2013, p. 15). This form of publicity gives Absolut a European aura, and takes advantage of all the romanticism and depth of European culture attached to it. It attaches certain values to the product, by simply adding a small decoration to the bottle (Sonesson 2013, 17). It relies on rhetoric, stereotypes and knowledge’s take for granted (Sonesson 2013, 21). He applies his theories describe to selling fast food in Turkey and selling “Swedishness” in the brand of Ikea (Sonesson 2013, 19), despite Ikea’s company design being more German-like.

Another example of this use of persuasion and rhetoric in publicity and branding is the Australian beer, Victoria Bitter. Victoria Bitter harnesses the “working Australian man” to sell their beer. Using Australian stereotypical blue-collar jobs, the advertisements shows men surf life saving, mining, farming and playing rugby, they connect themselves their audience of the “real” Australian men. It incorporates Australian values such as mateship and competitiveness within the ad. A red filter on the ad symbolises the blazing hot Australian sun, inducing a “hard earned thirst”. Not a single women is shown on the ad, again asserting this is a real mans beers. Attaching the beer to these Australian values creates a legendary, iconic aura around the beer.


Using Machin’s (2007) semiotic methodology on angles and perspectives within visual images and video, one can assess a 1960s Newport Cigarette Commercial, which plays on the fears and anxieties of the average, white American citizen of the time. Interestingly, these anxieties and aspirations appear to be similar to modern day American society. Machin applies a semiotic method to focus on the depiction of people in visual communication (Machin 2007, p. 109). He analyses how the viewer is encouraged to relate to and assess the visual image. He looks at the editing of the photo, how it is cropped and included within the photo to analyse the message the viewer or consumer is supposed to receive. This is the methodology I will apply.

The ad begins with an angle of interaction (Machin 2007, p. 113) of the viewer behind a man, looking on as he watches TV. This suggests anonymity, the man is your average white, middle-class worker. This use of stereotypes aligns the protagonist to the viewer. He is a direct reflection of what the viewer is doing whilst watching the ad. The angle changes to show his face, again the viewer is connected to him through the use of a horizontal angle (Machin 2007, p. 113), creating a direct engagement to the man himself. He is alone, sleeping in an average looking living room, intended to create familiarity with the viewer. He is homogenised by costume and appearance, but his body posture is tired, bored and slumped (Machin 2007, p. 110). Culturally, he is categorised (Machin 2007, p. 119) to look similar to those who watch television in the 1960s. This is intended to create a relationship with the viewer; he is one of “us”.

Cheerful music is heard as the Newport Cigarette commercial plays on his TV. The television is zoomed up to, yet the television itself and its buttons are still included in the frame, to remind us we are watching the television with our homogenised male. A happy, young attractive couple jump out of the television. They are tanned, slim and cheerful, a goal of many white, middle class people in the 1960s, playing upon common anxieties and aspirations. They stand over the common man, indicating a hierarchal power with the use of a vertical angle. The viewers’ stay on the common mans level, again indicating a power hierarchy (Machin 2007, p. 114).

The woman is zoomed up on, singing “the smoothest tasting menthol cigarette” with a smile. The close up angle suggests engagement with the viewer, she is individualised, a portrayal of who you can be through use of the cigarettes, playing on identity anxieties of the consumer. She is looking down, not directly to the camera, indicating an offering of goods and services rather than a demand through her gaze (Machin 2007, p. 110). Her downward look, suggested by Machin (2007) to imply negative connotations, instead implies a hierarchal power to the average male. She is happier, better and more attractive through using the product.

To conclude the narrative like ad, the couple jump back into the television screen as the average man lights up a cigarette, he smiles and waves appearing more alive and happier. She winks back at him, now at a horizontal angle to the viewer, her gaze directly on the viewer indicating a demand rather than offering of the goods (Machin 2007, p. 110). We have used the product and are thus on her level of power and hierarchy. The wife appears far away in the background, questioning “What’s going on?” as the younger woman winks at him in the next close up frame. The ad uses distance (Machin 2007, p. 116) to imply sexual connotations of the product; the average older man wins the younger, doll-like woman.

This analysis of advertising can also be applied to Marling’s (1996) discussion on Betty Crocker ads. Marling discusses manipulative advertising in the creation of the post war image for the brand and its visual symbol. Betty Crocker, whilst still being a fast food company, still included the actions of motherly (and dutiful wife) home cooking. Marling summarises this stating, “Her whole demeanour, according Freudian consultants, seemed to ask, what can I do to help you? Thus, it can be seen through the analysis of early television ads, the evolution of the ad to play on consumer anxieties and satisfaction rather than the product itself. This achieved through “expedient exaggeration” (Tungate 2007, p. 38) of consumer anxieties and wants.


Rose summarises the research method Discourse Analysis II as focusing on the production by institutions and the human subjects they produce. It looks at how “visual images and objects are produced in particular ways by institutional apparatuses and technologies” (Rose 2001, p. 169). This differs from Discourse Analysis I, which focuses more on the meanings of visual images and texts.

Rose gives the example of the “archive” to illustrate the method. The archive is an institution, which classifies certain information. Rose questions the meanings placed within the archive and illustrates how archives embody power in the collection of certain things. The rules of what should be included in the collection all help produce institutional knowledge and power.

This method comes from Foucault and his theories on discipline, knowledge, power and docile bodies. It demonstrates how docile bodies’ discipline themselves (Rose 2001, p. 166). The panopticon is a perfect example, used as a machine for altering minds through self-surveillance. Surveillance is an efficient form of producing docile bodies and social order. Discourse Analysis II “concentrates most on the sites of production and audience, in their social modality” (Rose 2001, p. 167), which is important to remember in comparison to Discourse Analysis I, which focuses texts and visual images. Discourse Analysis II works around the “insistence on the power relations articulated through these practices and institutions” (Rose 2001, p. 168). Some criticisms of method are the lack of interest in apparatus’ that do not fit into the surveillance theory and the lack of reflexivity (Rose 2001, p. 168, p. 185).

Foucault uses the terms “institutional apparatus” and “institutional technologies” inconsistently (Rose 2001, p. 166). The term “institutional apparatus” is “the forms of power/knowledge that constitute the institutions” (Rose 2001, p. 166). Examples Rose gives are laws, morals and regulations and the discourse that articulates this (Rose 2001, p. 166). The term “institutional technologies” can at times be difficult to differentiate from apparatus (Rose 2001, p. 166). They are the techniques and tools used to practise this certain knowledge/power (Rose 2001, p. 167). Technologies are erratic sets of tools and methods, according to Rose (Rose 2001, p. 167). Photography is an example, appearing as a truth it can be altered to propel power and knowledge of the institutional apparatus. Institutions such as hospitals, prisons, websites, art galleries and museums can be studied with the discourse analysis II. Any institution that dictates knowledge and power using institutional apparatus’ and technologies can be studied by this method. Maastricht University, being an educational institution, can also be studied.

Disciplining surveillance methods are used by Maastricht University in order to educate its students on its particular views and morals. The University is divided into separate faculties, disciplining the students to focus on one area. This is similar to the used of classification systems in archives, museums and galleries. These institutional apparatus’ (discourse on education and classification systems) are enforced using institutional technologies. One example that can be examined is the classroom layout. There are multiple different educational layouts within Maastricht University and the FASoS Faculty. Classrooms, study areas, lecture halls and cafes are all designed for a different purpose of discipline and surveillance.

Classrooms are organised for the PBL learning method. The teacher sits among the students, indication no one is in charge and all are learning together. This in turn helps dictate the social positions (Rose 2001, p. 173) created by Maastricht. The teachers feel more approachable, despite being the experts in the field. By giving more power to the student through facilitation, they are disciplined into saying the ‘right thing’ and are thus produced as docile bodies. As discipline is produced by pressure to say what is correct, surveillance is by the students themselves.

Lecture rooms contrast to this as they are for direct teaching. The students are not supposed to speak or distract. This is seen through the layout of chairs and the room, all facing towards the lecturer and Smart board. Whiteboards and PowerPoint presentations also illuminate the apparatus. Whiteboards are designed to write during class and PowerPoint’s are observed. In lectures, everything is supposed to be taken as a direct truth, in PBL we are supposed to question and challenge each other, illustrating Foucault’s regimes of truth.

Like art galleries, Universities remain excluded to some groups in society, those who don’t receive the marks or cannot afford it. Better universities are in wealthier areas therefore rent and living expenses are higher. This also helps in creating power and knowledge regimes within institutions. It can be seen by applying Discourse Analysis II to Maastricht University that it aligns with Foucauldian theories on power/knowledge, discipline and surveillance.


The definition of discourse is “groups of statements which structure the way a thing is thought, and the way we act on the basis of that thinking.” (Rose 2001, p. 136). It is a form of language that has laws within the institutions that it is circulated. An example given by Rose (2001) is medical discourse, which has its own forms, rules and spaces that it is spoken. Medical discourse produces its own knowledge (Nead 1988 as cited in Rose 2001, p. 136). Discourse also produces subjects, doctors nurses etc (Rose 2001, p. 136). To simplify, there is meaning and knowledge behind each word spoken, it is not simply the word itself.

Discourses do not have to be specialised like medical discourse, and can be articulated through a variety of images, texts and speech (Rose 2001, p. 136). Foucault pioneered this understanding of discourse and discourse analysis. He stated that discourse is a form of discipline and power (Rose 2001, p. 137). Discourse is associated with power because it is productive, disciplining its subjects to a certain understanding and appropriate behaviour, creating human subjects. (Rose 2001, p. 137). Identity, a sense of self and our relation to the surrounding world is created through discourse (Rose 2001, p. 137). Discourse analysis I, used by Elliot (2001), “tends to pay rather more attention to the notion of discourse as articulated through various kinds of visual images and verbal texts” (Rose 2001, p. 140). It is used to display how certain images construct specific views of the world and is concerned with the social modality of the image (Rose 2001, p. 140).

Elliot (2001) uses discourse analysis methods to analyse marketing of coffee and its representation of global culture (Elliot 2001, p. 369), involving Starbucks coffee in her case study. Elliot discusses how Starbucks market their product to create a new life style and induce excitement in the coffee bean. Elliot also discusses the “interpretive repertoire” of marketing, as consumers ingest contradictory discourses of foreignness (Potter 1996 as cited in Rose 2001, p. 156, Elliot 2001, p. 369). This discourse aligns with “the complexity and contradictions internal to discourses” (Rose 2001, p. 156). They have structures but are not necessarily logical or coherent.

Rose states that “discourse analysis is to be concerned with the discursive production of some kind of authoritative account” (2001, p. 142) and with the social practices embedded within the discourse. This can be seen with Elliot’s analysis of Starbucks symbolic marketing of their product. Elliot uses starting points of academic texts on globalisation to begin her discourse analysis (Rose 2001, p. 142). By looking at symbolic analysis’ and other disciplines, she asserts the need for a discourse analysis of Starbucks and globalisation. She moves onto to using iconography methods to analyse the effects of Starbucks on cross cultural consumption and globalisation. Iconography is “the subject matter or meaning was, for Panofsky, to be established by referring to the understandings of the symbols and signs in a painting that it’s contemporary audiences would have had” (Rose 2001, p. 144). Through understanding the symbols and multilayered text of coffee, one can analyse its effect on the global scale (Elliot 2001, p. 371) becoming integrated as a key part of Western consumer identity.

Elliot looks at how marketing of coffee has changed through historical advertisements (Elliot 2001, p. 372). Through this analysis of advertisements, Starbucks use of symbols and discourse can be compared and contrasted. They personify the beans, creating an otherworldly sense (consuming culture in a cup) (Elliot 2001, p. 373), from Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Indonesia and New Guinea, to Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen. This discourse is combined with Starbucks array of trademarked blends. Starbucks asserts it “creates” its blends (Elliot 2001, p. 373). This contrasts with its otherworldliness, yet is tied together within Starbucks advertising. Thus, the “interpretive repertoire” is created (Potter 1996 as cited in Rose 2001, p. 156) and hosts a great symbolic power (Elliot 2001, p 374).

Elliot goes further into Starbucks advertisements harnessing otherworldliness with how coffee is described, as “”magical”, “intriguing”, “fleeting” and “elusive” (Elliot 2001, p. 378). This combines “Starbucks’ sense of the exotic and its Western gaze with the mysterious and primitive to create a coffee profile with multiple meanings” (Elliot 2001, p. 378). She gives countless other examples of discourse and visual images Starbucks has used to create their iconic brand, controlling coffee and all its cultural behaviours. Methods described by Rose are used by Elliot to analyse Starbucks’ discourse on coffee in order to market its product.


Holt uses Oxford’s definition of a cultural icon, “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol, especially of a culture or movement” (Holt 2004, p. 1). Cultural icons are shorthand to represent important ideas, a compelling symbol of ideas and values that a society deems important (Holt 2004, p, 1). This idea of a cultural symbol is as old as society itself. The economic motives that are tied to cultural symbols however, is more recent. As society advanced and communication and production moved to a mass scale, cultural icons developed economic motives (Holt 2004, p. 2). They are successful due to identity myths” (Holt 2004, p. 2), consumers use cultural icons to address desires and anxieties. Addressing cultural anxieties is the most successful economic strategy, making a consumer believe this anxiety will be soothed if the product is bought (Holt 2004, p. 8).

Economy is about making things until the 1980s when it became about making brands with the success of Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and Microsoft. These brands, according to Klein (2009), are constantly competing to occupy unmarked space in private and public lives. Institutions like schools and concepts of identity are all free game (Klein 2009). Economically, branding made sense as it made corporations smaller and more manageable. Advertisements involving inventions of new products were joined with advertisements of better versions of products. As the market became flooded with uniform mass-produced products that were virtually indistinguishable from one another, branding become a key economic tool to set a product apart from the others. Thus, food became associated with names, Campbell’s Soup, Heinz Ketchup are just a few examples. This strategy helped create a connection to the product, an emotion and loyalty.

A successful brand, however, does not automatically become a cultural icon. A brand becomes a brand when consumers associate meaning to their name, logo, slogan etc (Holt 2004, p. 3). Brands become cultural icons when they have “identity value” (Holt 2004, p.3), meaning they hold values which consumers use to construct their identities. Wearing Nike means to be athletic; buying Apple is to be hip and young. Holt coined the term cultural branding to describe this phenomenon (Holt 2004, p. 5). Most consumer brands use this economic strategy to market their product, Holt assess this in his socio-cultural analysis of six different brands (Holt 2004, p. 6). Cultural branding helps separate brands from their economic motives, giving them authenticity and credibility and making the consumer feel wanted and apart of something (Holt 2004, p. 9, p. 36). Cultural brands also use abstract associations, and insisting consistency as one of their many economic strategies (Holt 2004, p. 38).

An example of cultural branding is Redbull energy drink. Redbull has associated itself with action, adventure and bravery. Using sponsored events and flashy stunts, Redbull has harnessed cultural anxieties of not living life to the fullest in order to get people to buy their product. Thus, to drink Redbull is to be a daredevil, an action hero. The two bulls going head to head alludes to strength and bravado, tapping into common Western masculinity anxieties. Almost every event and stunts involve men.

“Redbull gives you wings” is the slogan, harnessing the idea that Redbull makes you brave, unstoppable. Note the iconic symbol being described as a indexical symbol.
Redbull sponsored event, linking their product to action, adventure and daredevil qualities.
Taking the slogan “Redbull gives you wings” literally, Redbull sponsored an event for a man to fall to earth from space.


The basic definition of semiotics is a sign, according to Berger (2010, p.3), it is “defined conceptually as something that stands for something else” (Berger 2010, p. 3). This is evident in the word semiotics itself, which comes from the Greek word for sign, semeion (Berger 2010, p. 4). Modern semiology, fathered by Ferdinande de Saussure, works on the understanding that social and cultural phenomena, such as objects and events, holds meaning beyond their material being (Berger 2010, p.4).

Berger defines a sign simply as something that stands for something else (Berger 2010, p. 3, p. 11, Branston, G., & Stafford, R 2003, p. 12
). It is the unity of the signifier (the word or object) and signified (the prescribed meaning) (Berger 2010, p.3). This relationship is entirely socially constructed, according to Berger (2010, p. 5). Berger asserts that similar things can be understood as different to different individuals, depending on their social and cultural background (Pierce 1958 as cited in Berger 2010, p. 9).

Icon is one of Pierce’s “three types of signs” (Pierce 1958 as cited in Berger 2010, p. 9). These include icon, indexes and symbols. Icons signify by resemblance. An example of an iconic sign is photographs (Berger 2010, p. 10). They are drawings of the things that they stand for (Branston, G., & Stafford, R 2003, p. 12). Examples of this are signs of smoking areas, gendered toilets and dog areas.

Symbols signify by connection and have to be learned (Pierce 1958 as cited in Berger 2010, p. 10). An example of symbolic signs is a flag, which symbolises a nationality or geographic location (Berger 2010, p. 10). More contemporary semiotic academics such as Saussure, believe that symbols are never completely arbitrary (Berger 2010, p. 14). Symbols always have some kind of bond to the signifier, although we must learn that bond. Seeing a red light does not naturally produce us to stop, we must learn the meaning behind the colour of the traffic lights. Symbols are not only socially constructed but help construct culture. They shape our behaviour in many areas such as religion, nationality and status (Berger 2010, p. 15). This differs from iconic signs as they hold some resemblance to the signified. A picture of a rose is iconic, the word “rose” is symbolic (Branston, G., & Stafford, R 2003, p. 14).

Index’s signify by causal connection (Pierce 1958 as cited in Berger 2010, p. 10, Branston, G., & Stafford, R 2003, p. 14). Smoke generated from fire is an example of an indexical symbol, as they are physically connected (Berger 2010, p. 10). Smoke coming out of an exhaust pipe is an indexical sign of a broken car, a runny nose a indexical sign for a cold. This differs to symbolic and iconic signs, as there is a causal connection, it is not simply a learned connection or a resemblance. One leads to the other.

Signs and semiotics can be studied to different ways, synchronically (at a given point in time) and diachronically (as they develop over time) (Berger 2010, p. 6). Semiotics is used widely in cultural studies, in order to understand historical developments and understandings. It is also commonly linked to Marxist theories and psychoanalytical theory (Berger 2010, p. 11). Semiotic theory is used as a research method to offer understanding into how people consume media and how find meaning in everyday life (Berger 2010, p. 11). Berger gives the example of semiotic analysis research method with the Acura motorcar. The name is based on a series of codes and representations (Berger 2010, p. 27).