9. Moschino Ready-to-Wear 2015: a Semiotic Analysis

*Note: topic was altered slightly upon discussion with Tutor


For the final paper, I was inspired by the Moschino S/S 2015 Ready-to-Wear Fashion Show. In the paper, I want to use a semiotic approach to three of the looks to understand how the Moschino logo is being manipulated the pop-culture references made in the show enhance the iconic brand. Here is my structure.


  • (add about gender theory/satire/women’s image)
  • Show, the Brand, Jeffrey Scott, Context of Fashion Week
  • RQ: How does the use of the Moschino Logo in the 2015 Ready-to-Wear Spring and Summer Fashion Show enhance the iconic brand’s image by referencing popular culture and the Iconic Barbie Doll?
  • TS: Through changing the logo to mimic the font used by Barbie and my using the logo in combination with text alluding to pop-culture toys, the logo enhances the iconic brand image by making it fun and satirical.
  • Describe Structure
  • Purpose: The aim is highlight how signs in luxury fashion reflect society.
  • Relevance: Through both understanding our society and its signs, we can better understand how the fashion choices we make reflect the world.


  • History of Pop-Culture (Jeffrey Scott’s American influence on the brand)
  • Iconic Barbie

Semiotics: what are they?

Semiotic Analysis: Three of the runway looks:


  • Photos via: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2015-ready-to-wear/moschino/slideshow/collection#28


Start specific –> general

word count: 2,500-3,000


8. Thinking Critically

The last blog post incorporated quite positive views on media and how we interact with it. In this post, we will think more critically on these ideas and considering social media platforms more. For example, while Wikipedia is non-profit, Facebook and YouTube are profit driven (Van Dick & Nieborg, 2009, p. 856). This drastically changes the intentions of the different platforms. At the end of the day, these sites are businesses.  As last time, the audience will be considered here are well.

Image result for social media

In particular, we will be criticizing the idea of participatory culture as defined by Henry Jenkins. A participatory culture integrates the users, audience, fans and consumers in the creation of the culture and content (Fuchs, 2014, p. 52). Wikipedia is an example of this as it is a platform where the users can contribute to the content and means of sharing information. Social media, is by these means, an expression of participatory culture (p. 54). This of course relates to spreadable media as the user places such an important role and are even empowered by the experience (p. 53).  However, when it comes to profit driven platforms, the context of capitalism becomes to big of an influence to ignore in such media analysis.


Beginning with the criticisms by Fuchs (2014), we become aware of the problems with the association participation has with democracy. participation is a democratic principle, but when it comes to social media the participation is not equal. This is expressed in many ways, for example with the lack of visibility (p. 60). In general, some participants are more or less active so there is also no way to standardize this. Tied to this, is the problems with the economic principles of media. What the previous readings overlook is the capitalist context must be brought to awareness. Often times, ownership is overlooked. This is a big issue as this can not only create a monopoly or monopolizes a social media platform, but can get advantages over the regular users (p. 55-57). This is done through having a research advantage which leads to having more means to create.

Not only this, but the idea of digital labor is brought up by Fuchs (2014, p. 61). This idea is that the creations the users post, share, create and/or modify no longer are done for pleasure or leisure, but as a job. The problem with social media is that these users are working for them for free and are arguably being exploited (p.63). As much as I agree that they are taken advantage of, I am hesitant to relate this to a forced doctrine as they can stop any time–nobody is forcing their hand.

To wrap up Fuchs (2014), I must also mention that he is critical of popular culture. This is because it exploit the ideologies of the people (p. 65). This is done because the power social media holds can enforce certain ideologies on people.

In search for more information, I also came across a reading by Van Dijck and Nieborg (2009). This reading was an analysis of corporate manifestos. This was done to deconstruct the commodity culture we are a part of (p. 855). How these were written were often very persuasive and incorporated pronouns like “we” to make the reader feel connected (p. 858). However, they really promised too much. Looking at this review really showed the exploration phase corporate, social media platforms impose on us.

Taking these factors into consideration, I do look more critically at the actions of large corporations like Facebook and Twitter as they have so much control over their users and what information they can take. For example, what really bothers me is that users are not equally visible. Take Kylie Jenner’s cosmetic line for instance. Without spending a lot of money on advertisement, she shared her line over platforms like Facebook, snapchat and Instagram. This spread her brand and saver her lots of money. It even got other users to share their make-ups looks further. However, it was only so successful because she had the following to reach such a wide audience.

Image result for kylie jenner cosmetics snapchat

The above image is a promotion Snapchat by Kylie.

Companies, regardless of the product they are trying to show, simply do not have the visibility that such a celebrity has and have a lot harder time promoting and selling their product. Not only does this apply to business ventures, but to any other content-creator. You might be a great photographer, but without having enough views, your art will have a lot harder time circulating. Therefore, it is important to keep a critical eye on corporate, social media.

Reference List

Fuchs, C. (2014) Social Media: A Critical Introduction. London: Sage. (chapter 3)

Van Dijck, J., & Nieborg, D. (2009). Wikinomics and its Discontents: A Critical Analysis of Web 2.0 Business Manifestos. New Media & Society, 11(5), 855- 874.

7. “Sinking” about Viral, Spreadable and sticky Media

Viral media, spreadable media and stickiness are interesting theories accounts of how to look at the distribution of media in society.

Let’s talk about viral media. This concept was brought to attention by Douglas Rushkoff (1994) where he made the argument that media is “not like a virus, but is a virus” (p. 9). This is because viral media has the expansive power like a germ, it spends and attacks. They way it works is that it makes the body, in the case of media we would be the cells, make making us look and interact with it all the time. Like any virus, we are not immune to it and do not choose to be infected by it. In addition, it is dressed like a Trojan horse. To clarify, this means that the message is hidden within the media, its exterior being what entertains us (p. 5). Likewise, we do not have resistance to it.  When we are infected, a power struggle between us and the message it try to portray. These hidden messages are the ideas, issues and agendas of the producer. This media spreads though networks just like actual viruses, where popular culture brings it to attention (p. 10). This later is how viral media changes the norms of society once it has passed through data-sphere.  It speeds incredibly fast and depends on popular culture to live on; it infects use just as rapidly as it spreads.

To break this down further, there are three main kinds of viral media. They are made as publicity stunts, band-wagon viruses and self-generating viruses. For the last kinds, their production is interesting as they become self-corrective (Rushkoff, 1994, 10-12). 

However, the entire notion of the virus inevitably seems negative, to me the correlation with a negative, human or computer viruses is not able to be separated from the new term.  Not only this, but it is a bit outdated and does not go deep enough into the analysis. Simply put, it is outdated.

The slogan from Jenkins et al. (2013) about media is rather that “if it doesn’t spread, it’s dead” (p. 1). This correlates to the theory of spreadable media which focuses more on a hybrid model of circulation. By this, the authors mean they analyze both the top-down and bottom-up approach (p. 2). Part of this means that the production of media is decentralized (p. 38). This is because there is a blurred line with the role of the audience as they both are the consumers and shapers. The shaping of media is done by the consumers as they continue to respond, react, recreate and modify the spreadable media. This give the media its power (p. 20). In addition, this approach specifically looks at the social logics and cultural practices established already to see why shareable media has become such a big role in media and in daily life (p. 2).

This was created in response to viral media due to the shortcomings found. It differs by stressing the role the user-generated aspect of media (Jenkins et al, 2013, p. 12). This approach is a lot more wholesome. However, one must also consider the aspect of stickiness in regards to media.

Stickiness aims to make a brand or idea stay, or stick, to the consumer to try to establish brand loyalty. In other words, the content tries to hold the attention of the audience Jenkins et al, 2013, p. 4). This is more of a passive agent opposed to the active agent of spreadability. In addition, it is more centralized, created as a top-down method. This would also encourage its researchers to look at factors such as how many views a video gets. However, it links to spreadability because the idea must stick before being folded into something new.

The example I chose today was one of my favorite commercials shown to me by my cousin. The setting is the German Coastguard office where a new employee is starting his first day and gets a distress message from ship. In this message, they alert the Coastguard that their boat is sinking. He misunderstands the “sinking” for “thinking” and respond with, “What are you thinking about” in a German accent. The joke is that Germans often have trouble learning to make the “Th” sound and instead use an “S” sound. Then the commercial cuts to the closing frame, where you find out it is an advertisement for an English language course.

Considering the stickiness, one can see that just this view has almost 2,500,000 views which proves just how much the media content stuck and kept the consumers’ attention. Not only this, but you will find many copied of this video online.

Along with my search, I found some responses and recreations. In these, the media has lost its message of advertising the language center to become humorous home videos. However, it shows just how spreadable the commercial was as so many people changed and recreated the video.

How do you think you have shaped media?

Reference List

Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Introduction: Why Media Spread. In Spreadable media: creating value and meaning in a networked culture (pp. 1-46). New York; London: New York University Press. Retrieved from http://nyupress.org/webchapters/jenkins_intro.pdf.

Rushkoff, D. (1994). Introduction (pp. 3 -16). In: Media virus! Hidden agendas in popular culture (1st ed.). New York: Ballantine Books.

6. The Art of Persuasion

Persuasion can be a powerful tool, but as the comic strip bellow show, force is not a part of it. Rather, persuasion, in particularly with advertisements, is more about properly communicating your ideas in a coherent way (Simons, 2011, p. 7). Therefore, this blog post will seek to dissect the meaning of persuasion, rhetoric and look at the ethics within advertisement.

Simons (2001) defines persuasion to be a form of “human communication designed to influence the autonomous judgements and actions of others” which is in a sense changing how the receiver thinks, feels or acts (p. 7). Again, I would like to assure you that this is not an act of forceful imposition, but rather predisposes people to see truth and falsity slightly different way, from a slightly different perspective (p.8).  So in regards to truth, that means it would just be affecting how their sense of what is true as facts are so highly debatable.

However, such communication may also have some grey areas, which are cases were the intention is hard to desirer (Simons, 2001, p. 9). After doing some historical and philosophical research, I have found that most other the time the intentions are what worries people as it has the potential to be a corrupt art. Aristotle comes to the defense of persuasion and rhetoric as it is an instrument “for giving effectiveness to truth” (p. 4). Not only this, but Socrates characterizes persuasion in two ways: one where is seems overpowering and the other where it achieves power with the others. This is because truth is a powerful thing that can only be shared through communication is it is communicated persuasively to them.

Before moving onto understanding persuasion in the context of advertisement, we must also mention rhetorics. Rhetoric is a theory of persuasion dating back all the way to Ancient Greece (Sonesson, 2013, p. 7). Through persuasions tactics, you are trying to get people to see your way through particular methods. these methods can be defined as invento (which is when you find out what you want to talk about), disposito (the ordering of that particular discourse), elocutio (stylised elaborations such a metaphors), actio (pronouncing the discourse) and memoria (the memorisation) (p.8-10). This traditional way of using the methodology has been the basis for rhetorics to change further over time, in particular with icons and advertisement.

In the readings, Absolute Vodka was used as an example of how a Swedish brand got rid of its tries to its home country and used European cities to persuade people to consider them more of an European brand. In addition, the Swedish brand IKEA was used to demonstrate how advertisements used rhetoric to change international consumers’ ideas of Sweden. For example, instead of portraying more negative stereotypes, the quality, design and positive characteristics were highlighted (Sonesson, 2013, p. 20). Therefore, in regards to ethics, I think advertisement and rhetoric should be allowed as falsehood is not created, but rather a different way to consider the truth or different side is being justified. Let’s look at an example:

Anyone who knows me, knows I am not a fan of McDonalds or fast food in general. I do not think it is healthy and a look down at advertisements targeted at children. However, I wanted to choose a brand I did not like to show that persuasion in advertisement is ethical. In the image above, we see the famous rock ‘n role hand-sign. Everyone knows it, in particular older generations that grew up with the rebellious spirit of rock music. This is therefore playing on the topos of American rock history and the edginess and coolness that came with the time. On top of this hand, the typically logo for McDonalds has been painted on in the colors every identifies with the company. Not only this, but the form of the had also mimics the shape of the red box of fries you get when purchasing them. The finders almost perfectly resemble the fries as well.

Now, the advertisement is not trying to show that their fries taste like someone’s dirty hand, but rather it plays upon the ethos of the rock ‘n roll spirit, showing that their fries rock, or are as good as, the cool music the viewer will be familiar with. The slogan “Rock ‘n Fries” also draws upon this notion and also demonstrates that by eating their product, you will also be more rock-like, cool and maybe even that you have good musical taste.

This rhetoric is ethical in my opinion as it is not promising a falsehood, but rather changing your perception of the brand and how it can make you in turn feel. By drawing upon certain characteristics and points of view, an argument can be better understood and delivered to a bigger crowd. Advertisement just tends to do a very strong job of this, it just depends on how susceptible someone is and if they think critically enough. However, there is an argument to be made that if the intention is unclear and that they too drastically manipulate the perspectives, the form of persuasion would be unethical.

Reference List

Simons, H.W. (2001). The Study of Persuasion. In: H.W. Simons with J. Morreale & B.E. Gronbeck, Persuasion in Society (pp. 3-24), Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Sonesson, G. (2013). Two strands of rhetoric in advertising discourse. International Journal of Marketing Semiotics, 1(1), 6-24.

5. Semantics in TV ads: Medical Cigarettes?

Today’s blog post will be all about advertisement and how semantics works to analysis it. This will be done by giving a brief introduction and then going into an example of a TV advertisement from the 50’s/60’s. In doing so, we can learn more about the methods used to promote Old Gold cigarettes.

As you can imagine, advertising is a powerful tool of persuasion. In fact, it has been a very active part of our society. Back in the late 1440s, with the invention of Guternberg’s printing press, advertisement was made more popular. And it has only progressed over history, with major leaps taken in the mid-19th century (Tungate, 2007, p. 10). This was when consumer goods were at a record high at the time and newspapers had means to share commercial products. A big factor the came with this evolution was the ever-increasing role of agencies who learned to play with the psychology of their audience, call upon social norms and exploit certain characteristics of the products they wanted to highlight (p. 20-30). This of course yields a great financial return if done successfully in the right economy (p. 29).

During the Great Depression following the 1929 crash on Wall street, the economic setting played a big role in advertisement. Innovation was the only way to make the hard sell. This, however, made certain advertisement agencies project even further into success if they managed it correctly. This lead to new and original methods that kept advancing until the 50s and 60s–which leads us to our application:

Below are many examples of advertisements from the 50’s/60’s. The clip we will be analyzing can be found at the 5:58 minute mark until the 6:52 minute mark. This clips in particular are interesting too look at as they were created during the age of consumerism as it was after the postwar boom.

In this advertisement, the company Old Gold is presenting its cigarettes. The clip opens with a male host gesturing at a TV where a box of matches and a box of branded cigarettes are dancing. Notice here that that faces of the dancers are not shown, but rather most of their legs. What is narrated twice by the host is that one should get use them are a “treat instead of a treatment”. It ends by panning out of the TV and back to the room where the host is standing. As TV had only recently become a common household object, the use of that advertisement platform has a big influence on the consumptive powers.

The reading by Machin (2007) describes the methodology of understanding such semantics in advertisement. A big role in this field would be the role of the actors chosen to be portrayed. This is done by looking at how the viewer sees, how the participants can be categorized and how the actions and agencies are interpreted.

Applying the first step, let’s consider the viewers position. One can notice that the host is making direct contact with the camera, making the viewer feel as if they are being spoken to directly. This man is friendly and seems to be very casual in talking to you, making you feel as if you are being recommended something by someone who understands you. This is of course enhanced by the angle, which has been chosen to be at eye-level of the host (Machin, 2007, p. 110-117). Not only this, but ending the slogan and commercial with a close-up also increases intimacy.

Now let’s consider the categories of the people being portrayed. Regarding the dancers, the commercial is also sexualizing the situation by making the women dancing also representative of a treat by having their bodies exploded, but head covered.  They are a team and mimic each other and wearing similar costumes. This is how they are categorized together. However, note the non-represented. The commercial chosen, and many at the time, were solely with white people (Machin, 2007, p. 118-121). Therefore, the representation is lacking quite a bit and plays very much to the unjust behavior of society at large.

Lastly, consider the effect it has. Besides the inequality being hinted at, the main affect comes from the slogan. Now we know that cigarettes are not acceptable as medicine, but they were portrayed to be so at the time. This idea is also very important to consider because many of the first advertisements in the US were in fact medical (Tungate, 2007, p. 7). By portraying cigarettes to being a replacement to medical treatment in a way where a trustworthy man is recommending a fun and jovial pack of dancing cigarettes, makes it very powerful at the time. With work or the household causing stress, appealing to adults through offering a relief can be very tempting. All in all, we might think it is a bit ridiculous now, but I understand the methodology they were using.

Reference List

Machin, D. (2007). Introduction to multimodal analysis. London: Hodder Arnold. (chapter 6: “Representation of social actors in the image”)

Tungate, M. (2007). Adland: a global history of advertising. London and Philadelphia: Kogan Page Publishers.


4. The Museum Discourse

In the last blog post we learned all about discourse analysis I. However, today we are moving onto the second variation. The two methodologies overlap a lot and might be hard to differentiate. While doing my research, I found that what they both have in common in that concentration on the detentions of power and knowledge (Rose, 2001, p.164). When looking closer, you can find differences in the many characteristics of these two forms of discourse analysis.

The characteristics of discourse analysis II, however, is more concerned with the institutional reiteration of these productions (Rose, 2001, p.164).  Foucault first started this methodology when he researched institutions such as prisons, hospitals and asylums (p.165). In these situations, there were clearly a power/knowledge hierarchy that came along with modernity. How prisons punished and ruled over the prisoners until they became “docile bodies’ shows this (p.166). At the time, panopticon (a prison design) was one method used as disciplinary measures.

Base on this, Foucault found the two ways institutions work: through their institutional apparatus and their technologies. When the term apparatus is use, it means the form of power/knowledge used by the institution while the technologies refer to the use of this power. These are linked to the regime of truth as it is the result of these institutional components (Rose, 2001, p. 166).

To apply discourse analysis II, I went to the Suermondt-Ludwig Museum (named after the patrons) in Aachen, Germany. It was located just outside of the old center of the city and was displaying medieval art (mainly Roman Catholic art) and Flemish artwork. The building itself is done in the Renaissance Revival style and has the traditional interior with ornamental and stucco accents scattered throughout. Here is the entrance and one of the more lavish rooms displaying the architecture. Please note that the main exhibition spaces were not this over-the-top. These characteristics relate to the institutional apparatuses described by Foucault (Rose, 2001, p.166).

Doing an analysis of the displays and architectural layout can help us understand how the institution is imposing a certain experience on the guest. On way in which the discourse was upheld was by keeping with the convention of having the paintings hung in an orderly way as well as having them separated by period and style (Rose, 2001, p. 173). Another example would be the obvious way through the different pieces of art we numbered in a clockwork order around the room in the first section of the entrance. The numbers correlated with a sheet of paper which help the labels and the basic information about the piece. This removed the labels from the wall, but kept with the conformity created over the last two centuries in art galleries and museums (p. 170). This technique is how the institution prioritized its information (p.178). It was more about the art than the context. In addition, the numbering imposes the narrative the museum curators want you to understand. Through these methods, the social positions and social subjectivities were enforcing. When visiting this museum, we became aware you were just a visitor and not a patron or curator (p. 173).  This was also done by not including a lot of information about the art periods, the artists, the methods, etc. This was quite surprising, but then again also made sense considering the target audience would most likely be already informed the art history.

Another way the institution created a discourse was though placing the chairs one could sit on while looking at the art. This and how the art was displayed falls more into the category of institutional technologies. Throughout the museum, display cases, open displays, minor reconstructions and simulacra were all used. The majority of the paintings were framed and hung. These different techniques made the art distinguished and seemingly truthful. Not only this, but it also links to the spatial organization of the displays as it puts them all in relation to each other and how one should view them (Rose, 2001, p. 176). Regarding the chair in the photo bellow, this is how the particular “eye” of the visitor was also enforced (p.182). The chairs were only in front of certain pieces and gave them a heightened importance. This is an institutional clue to the visitor. However, it was also a way of hiding the huge heaters in the center of the room bellow.

Additionally, there was an excessive amount of surveillance going on, which relates to the idea of docile bodies, and one section banned photography. An additional way regulation was added in was through ticket cost. The friend I went with was over 21 and was no longer a student which meant he had to pay 8 euros to get into the private museum. Luckily for me it was free. Regardless, surveillance played a big part in the experience as it was a way to enforce the social order (Rose, 2001, p. 166).

Institutional discourse proves that museums are not neutral institutions.

Reference List

Rose, G.(2001). Visual methodologies: An introduction to researching with visual materials. London: Sage. (Chapter 7: Discourse Analysis II: Institutions and Ways of Seeing).

3. The Starbucks Discourse

By now, I think we all know this sign:

Yes, this is the logo for the iconic brand of Starbucks. What is interesting about this company is the discourse surrounding it; this will be the topic for today’s blog post. Discourse analysis I will be the focus in order to do this. Looking at a general explanation for discourse will help.

Discourse was created by Michel Foucault to bridge the gaps previously left open of visual culture. This focused a lot on the human subject, mainly looking at the various practices an institution that were part of being human (Rose, 2001, p.135). By doing this, discourse was defined as “a particular knowledge about the world which shares how the world is understood and how things are done it in” (p.136). This means that one must look at the surrounding principles to understand how conventions and perceptions are established. Furthermore, it is the complexity of structures of cultural convention that must be considered. This includes looking at communication, aesthetics, race, gender and so many other factors of society. Art can therefore also be understood as a discourse. Not only this, but one must also consider intertextuality, which is when discursive images and texts depend on others and is passed on.

Another key part of discourse is power which was very much a concern of Foucault. This is because power became a very productive force. For example, rule created by a particular institution would be very big part of society. Furthermore, Foucault makes the claim that power is not just at the top of society, but also seen in the oppressed part of lower society (Rose, 2001, p.136). Additionally, one must keep in mind that power, just like discourse, is everywhere and having the knowledge is power in itself because it highlights the truth. However, finding a particular methodology for discourse analysis is problematic as there are so many different ways to approach the subject.

Discourse analysis I is mainly characterized by looking at text, intertextuality and context. Connecting this to my previous blog post, it also has a lot to do with semantics. In doing this, one must first look at the structure an organization and then consider the social context of those chosen statements. This differs from the discourse analysis II as the latter is more concerned with the institutional practices of the subject (Rose, 2001, p. 139-140).

Generally, the importance of discourse analysis is a flexible method to look critically at knowledge production and how society interacts. However, this flexibility can be too open and finding connections and causality might still be too difficult (Rose, 2001, p. 160-162). Now let’s apply this to Starbucks.

Starbucks is a discourse of its own. This is because it created a whole new way of drinking coffee by making it an experience–particularly an authentic experience. This was first by making using the focus of global/local and the producer/product to the brand’s advantage (Elliott, 2001, p.373). The global company tried to make all of its stores all unique, but that proved hard to do. So rather, they played on concepts of the global culture. An example of this would be their unit of size. “Venti” and “Grande” do not really correlate to sizes, but it makes the coffee experience seem more authentically European, specifically Italian.

Additionally, the source of the beans are also important to consider in the discourse. This is because instead of organizing the beans by taste, they do it by location. By enhancing this, they call upon beans of former colonies and lesser developed countries and portray them as exotic and erotic. For example, the beans from Java are described as “erotic” and “wild” while others are referred to as “full-bodied” (p. 376-378).  Therefore, the consumption of Starbucks become very symbolic purchase of an exotic location. However, using this worldly concept has made the brand Orientalist as it is sexualizing the foreign products as well as draws upon the Western, and very stereotypical, knowledge of exotic locations and reducing the countries from individual to general characteristics (p. 378). This can also be seen in combining locations when describing the beans to come from Arabia. All of this, leads to the experience of Starbucks to be a global culture of foreign goods mixed with western culture. Such as the map in the photo below shows. This helps the visitor feel, through their western perspective, that they are quasi drinking their idea of Columbia or other location.

Over the years, the marketing strategies of Starbucks has also changed as the rise of competition and local cafes has spread. As the discourse of Starbucks became more evident and more people became critical of the oriental views as well as the capitalist nature of the global company, the brand made a change from the myth of authenticity to a story of local representation (Elliott, 2001, p.379). This has led to more unique Starbucks stores:


Whether you are a coffee-lover or not, an analysis of such a major company really gets you thinking. Maybe you can start to spot other discourses around you. Without a doubt, I can tell you they are there.

Reference List

Rose, G. (2001). Visual methodologies: An introduction to researching with visual materials. London: Sage. (Chapter 6: Discourse Analysis I).

Elliott, C. (2001). “Consuming caffeine: The discourse of Starbucks and coffee” In: Consumption, Markets and Culture, 4(4), pp. 369-382.

2. Free People and their Cultural Branding


For today’s class, we had to research cultural banding. I thought the topic was very interesting as it has become such an integrated part of consumer culture, lifestyle and marketing.

Douglas Holt (2004) is an important figure to discuss as he coined the terms cultural branding and iconic brand. To him, cultural branding is when a products value is derived from its image and self-expression of the consumer which is very much formed from the perception of the individual (p. 5). This is closely correlated to an iconic brand as these are products that embody the goals and admirations of the consumer (p.4). For a brand to become an icon it needs to use cultural branding. This establishes an identity value, the way in which it is a vessel of self-expression (p.3).  In addition, such success has also been more common as “breakthrough performances” rather than communication on a consistent level (p.10). Along with this comes many principles would be along the lines of establishing a community, creating an iconic status, forming a persuasive myth, making abstract associations, considering the historical context and other ways. The significance of these is of course the strategies they use to achieve economic success.

The strategies used in cultural branding are often combinations of various other methods which set them apart from a brand’s competitors. Once an axioms are established, the strategist can begin with targeting the desired audience, changing the position of the company, creating brand equity, establishing brand loyalty and communicating (Holt, 2004, p.7). This communication is properly done when a vision for the brand is established and either integrated into the advertisement, product or suggested lifestyle. The economic motivations of this are wide. Not only does this establish a brand, but it creates loyalty and interest in the company. Additional motivations of establishing a strong brand would be that the consumers’ loyalty would continue to by the products despite any reduction of advertisement. An example of this would be Tide as it has become such a house-hold name (Klein, 1999, p.34). This is of course related to the brand’s reputation, status value and other benefits (Holt, 2004, p.10).

Now to apply these notions to the wholesale brand of Free Peoplegreater understanding can be created.  The myths the brand played upon were the notion that it was an apparel brand made for free and courageous spirits, intelligent women and nature-loving bohemians. This lead to the target audience to be “a 26-year-old girl, smart, creative, confident and comfortable in all aspects of her being, free and adventurous, sweet to tough to tomboy to romantic” (Free People, 2017, para. 6). The brand not only has everyday wear, but also athletic wear part of their Movement collection. They have a wide range of options and many designers that appeal to their target audience. To apply this to the research done by Naomi Klein (1999), I will now look at the latest campaign and the BLDG 25 blog.

Already, one can tell that Free People does a good job at demonstrates Klein’s  (1999) concerns of how impactful advertisement can be. Looking at it, the advertisement is much more spiritual and not scientific. This can be reflected at the lifestyle they create for the models and consumers using their target audience as inspiration. In addition, since the brand as so many different designers sold at their stores, they avoid labeling and rather use the bohemian style to promote their clothing. Let’s look at the latest campaign for Summer 2017.

The campaign is done in combination with the National Park Foundation of the USA. With the slogan of “Love your Parks” it transports the viewer to nature and an active adventure. This is very much related to the re-branding Corona did when they created a more laid-back brand (Holt, 2004, p. 18). In the images below, you can also see the active nature imbedded in the brand as well. This very much related to Klein’s (1999) notion of “selling pieces of your brand as if it was the Berlin Wall” (p. 74).

Another way they have marketed their brand is through their BLDG 25 blog which alludes to one of their magical warehouses in Philadelphia. This blog not only promotes the clothing, but also music, “diy” ideas, beauty and sport ideas and other inspirational people and concepts. This relates to Klein’s (1999) idea of collaborating with external names, sponsors and labels such as musicians (p. 68).  Not only this, but they also promote festivals and other events were they find external sponsors. This added lifestyle aspect is shifting the attention from the quality of the products to the image.

Free People is, to me, a very interesting brand to analysis. I very much life the brand, but I see the manipulation they have over me by appealing to my ideas.  To me, this is a strong example of cultural branding.

Reference List
Free People. (2017). Free People Home Page. Retrieved from:
Holt, D. B. (2004). How Brands become Icons. The Principles of Cultural Branding. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard Business School Press. (Chapters 1 and 2) (SB HF 5415.153/ SW HF 5415.153)
Klein, N. (1999). No Logo: no space, no choice, no jobs: taking aim at the brand bullies. New York: Picador. (Chapter 1 and 2) (SB HF 5415.152/ SB HF 5415.152)

1. Signs: Everyone can understand them


In order to understand the world, we need to understand the signs. These are the spoken, written and drawn objects and words of everyday life. The study of these various signs is called semiotics, or the analytical approach to understanding the messages signs communicate (Berger, 2010, p. 3). According to researchers Branston and Stafford (2010), meaning is produced though this (p. 12).

Society and semantics combine because it is the culture of a specific people that build and create the meanings of the various signs they use (Berger, 2010, p. 12). Media does this on a large scale by functioning as a “conveyor belt” of meaning sent to the viewers and readers (Branston & Stafford, 2010, p. 11-12). Two of the most important figures to consider are Saussure and Peirce (Berger, 2010, p. 5). Their combined theories have allowed us to better understand signs, icons, indexes and symbols within the field of cultural studies.

Signs have already been mentioned earlier as the basic unit of semantics, however, there is more to know if proper understanding is desired. For one thing, Saussure places important societal roles on sign as they express certain ideas specific to the culture. For him, signs have to parts: the signifier and the signified. These are the images used and the concept the figure represents (Berger, 2010, p. 5). In other words, there is the physical gesture or image and what it immaterially wants to represent (Branston & Stafford, 2010, p. 12). However, as they change over time, one has the option to study them both at that given time (synchronically) or as they change and develop (diachronically). Also keep in mind that signs can also be understood and interpreted in what they are not (Berger, 2010, p. 6). Let’s look at the example below.

The image above is a common sign known to us all: the baby changing station. The images shown are signifiers for the particular bathrooms with baby changing tables included, called the signified. The people shown with the child and changing the child’s diaper do not directly show the facilities or the parents changing the diaper, but the signs help communicate that.

Peirce’s approach to semantics broke these signs into three different categories: symbols, icons and indexes. Symbols are described as signifiers by convention, needing to be learned (Berger, 2010, p. 6). For example, we do not understand a white flag to mean surrendering, but is symbolic reference is learned. This is because the symbol has some deeper meaning constructed by society. Signs, however, are more used for the depiction of something.

Let’s return to the idea of a white flag seen bellow in the image of Auggie Doggie. The continuous use and almost habit of a truce flag as made it a symbol. No matter how young or old the viewer is, this symbol is understood, making it very successful in society.

An iconic symbol is one which resembles the object or idea is stands for. They are often motivated by one particular part of the signified. This means it is more specific and less arbitrary (Branston & Stafford, 2010, p. 13). In short, it is what they resemble (Berger, 2010, p. 9). An example can help clarify this concept.

The icon of the television is an appropriate example of this particular sign. The close physical characteristics of this cartoon-like depictions closely resembles that image of an old TV with antennas and buttons. While small differences may occur the specific similarities such icons have with real TVs allows for the audience to understand what the icon is.

Indexes are also a clerical term to understand signs in society. These signs are related to the causal links between what is depicted and what it stands for (Branston & Stafford, 2010, p. 14). To reiterate, and index signifies through the connections it drives you to make. In this case, the individual object or occurrence is connected to an individual object. (Berger, 2010, p. 9-10). For example, a dark cloud is an index for a rainstorm as the image signifies the causal relationship between the changing weather.


Image result for dark clouds cartoon


Return to the idea of using these in research we can compare two sources to see how to properly use them in cultural analysis. In a text by Berger (2010), he goes about suggesting semiotics can be used in research as a way of looking at culture. This is related to the codes we put signs into. The collection of these codes in our lives tell us how to life our lives, what to eat, what to wear and so on. Through observation, these codes can become visible and we can internalize them—even though they go unnoticed. This can lead to understanding cultural behavior. It is here where concepts of the individual unconscious, collective unconscious and cultural unconscious need to be interpreted to be able to see the framework they create for us (Berger, 2010, p. 24).

Comparing this to a reading by Branson and Stafford (2010), their type of semantic research seems to focus more on structuralism. This is when researchers question how meaning is constructed in different ways and areas. Through the study of signs, they suggest that how they come to significance is more important (Branson and Stafford, 2010, p. 12).

Reference List

Berger, A. A. (2010). The objects of affection: semiotics and consumer culture. London: Palgrave Macmillan. (chapter 1: “The Science of Signs, pp. 3-31)

Branston, G., & Stafford, R. (2003). The media student’s book. London/New York: Psychology Press. (chapter: “Semiotic Approaches”, pp. 11-17)