The word “logo” comes from the Greek λoγoς – “word”. A logo is an icon, symbol, or graphic element used to signal a trademark or brand.
The Latin word “imago” means ‘image’ – it denotes the public image of a person or an organisation.
Theme of the course
According to the cultural theorist Douglas Kellner (2003a, 2003b), we live in a world of ‘media spectacle’. Media spectacle refers not only to the entertainment industry, but “involves everything from film and broadcasting to Internet cyber culture and encompasses phenomena ranging from elections to terrorism and to the media dramas of the moment” (Kellner, 2003a). This culture of the ‘spectacle’, in which media play a crucial role, has permeated every area of our life and has led to an ‘entertainmentisation’ of the economy (Wolf, 1999). It is no longer the traditional industries who dominate economic life but more and more the entertainment industry (television, film, theme parks, video games, casinos). Even traditional industries tend to merge business and pleasure with the aim of creating a ‘spectacle culture’ and introducing a ‘fun factor’ in (the experience of) their products, their image and even in their business environment. The economy has become an ‘experience economy’ (Kellner, 2003b):
Buying, shopping, and dining out are coded as an ‘experience,’ as businesses adopt a theme-park style. Places like the Hard Rock Cafe and the House of Blues are not renowned for their food, after all; people go there for the ambience, to buy clothing, and to view music and media memorabilia. It is no longer good enough just to have a web site, it has to be an interactive spectacle, featuring not only products to buy, but music and videos to download, games to play, prizes to win, travel information, and links to other cool sites. (p. 3-4)
In this crowded and noisy ‘marketplace’ in which we live, corporations have to compete by communicating their brands, by creating strong ‘images’ and speaking ‘through logos’ – not only in direct relation to their products, but also in films, on television, on the streets, on the radio, on our clothing, through celebrities, and on the internet. Living ‘in the era of the media spectacle’ means ‘performing the scripts of media culture’: we increasingly construct our own identity through relying on the strong identities promoted by the logos, brand images, trademarks and constructed personalities of celebrities. According to Gabler (see Kellner), Ralph Lauren is our fashion expert; Martha Stewart designs our sets; Jane Fonda models the shape of our bodies; and Oprah Winfrey advises us on our personal problems.
‘Logo’ and ‘imago’ have always been crucial concepts in marketing and advertising theories and practices, but they have also been subject to fierce debates in the cultural, political and economic sciences and have, some time ago, even become the leading concepts of the anti-globalisation movement. Naomi Klein’s book No-Logo (1999) can be considered as a land-mark in the critique on the effects of marketing and advertising on culture and society. According to Klein (2004) a transition has occurred since the 1970s and 1980s which skyrocketed in the 1990s:
[It] was the idea that if you wanted to really be successful in a highly competitive marketplace, simply having a mark of quality on your product isn’t enough to give you an edge. In a marketplace where it’s so easy to produce products, where your competitors can essentially match you on the product itself, you need to have something else. You need to have an added value, and that added value is the identity, the idea behind your brand. And this is spoken of in many different ways, ‘the story behind the brand.’ I don’t think we can understand this phenomenon just in terms of how easy it is to produce products. I think it also has to do with a reaction to a culture in the ’80s where people were longing for some kind of deeper meaning in their lives (Klein 2004).
Corporate brands, logos and images fill the gaps which used to be filled by community and religion. Starbucks means much more than just coffee. As Klein argues, Starbucks likes to promote its brand as a community, as offering a ‘third place’ to the public, as a space that is neither public nor private, neither home nor work, but a place where people gather.
The discussions on the social and cultural effects of marketing and globalisation led to new and provoking terminologies like ‘experience economy’, ‘(anti)globalisation’, ‘media events’, ‘media spectacle’, ‘hyperreality’, ‘media convergence’, ‘infotainment’ etc. These are terms that bear witness to tensions between the marketplace and culture, ‘image’ and ‘identity’, ‘the spectacular’ and ‘real experience’.
To study issues relating to the construction and communication of public and personal identities in this culture of the media spectacle, this course is subdivided into four workshop themes with a different take on the topic of logo and imago. The first workshop introduces the general topic of the course, logo and imago. Concepts such as ‘sign’, ‘symbol’, and ‘cultural branding’ will be theorised in order to clarify their analytical potential and methodological implications. In order to provide a (methodological) framework, you will be introduced to semiotics. The second workshop will allow you to analyse historical TV advertising, and to investigate the use of persuasion and rhetoric in advertising. The third workshop introduces the concept of discourse and different methods of discourse analysis. Since the specialisation Media Culture also studies contemporary media developments and changes in culture caused by those, the fourth and last workshop focuses on viral media and marketing.
Kellner, D. (2003a). Engaging Media Spectacle. M/C: A Journal of Media and Culture, 6. Retrieved from: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0306/09-medias pectacle.php.
Kellner, D. (2003b). Media Spectacle. London: Routledge.
Klein, N. (1999). No logo: no space, no choice, no jobs: taking aim at the brand bullies. New York: Picador.
Klein, N. (2004). The Persuaders. Interviews: Naomi Klein. Frontline. Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/persuaders/interviews/klein.html.
Wolf, M. J. (1999). The entertainment economy: how mega-media forces are transforming our lives. New York, London: Times Books Penguin Books.