Advances in Brand
Semiotics and Discourse
Series in Communication
Table of contents
List of figures v
List of tables ix
International Journal of Marketing Semiotics
& Discourse Studies
Chapter 1 Methodological challenges in the empirical
application of semiotically informed
multimodality theory to branding research 1
John A. Bateman
University of Bremen, Germany
Chapter 2 Accounting semiotically for new forms
of textuality and narrativity in digital
brand storytelling 33
Cinzia Bianchi & Ruggero Ragonese
University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy
Chapter 3 Narrativity approaches to branding 49
F. Xavier Ruiz Collantes and Mercè Oliva
University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
Chapter 4 How QDAS (Qualitative Data Analysis
Software) can support the analysis
of social media brand communities
and consumer engagement 91
Qeludra B. V., Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Chapter 5 There is light at the end of the engagement
funnel: a discourse analytic account
of brand co-destruction in social media
brand communities 117
International Journal of Marketing Semiotics
& Discourse Studies
Chapter 6 Branding Brexit: a big data textual approach 147
Franco Zappettini and Kay L. O’Halloran
Liverpool University, UK
Università della Svizzera italiana, Italy
Carnegie Mellon University, USA
Chapter 7 The intimate relationship between food and
place branding: a cultural semiotic approach 179
Francesco Mangiapane and Davide Puca
University of Palermo, Italy
Chapter 8 Branding industrial heritage in the wake of
the cultural turn: the case of Santralistanbul 203
Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, Turkey
International Journal of Marketing Semiotics & Discourse Studies
This volume seeks to contribute to the ongoing theoretical discussions and
empirical studies in branding related research, by highlighting how distinctive
semiotic and discourse analytic perspectives may accentuate our understanding
of established and emergent branding streams.
Although, arguably, the main disciplinary territory wherein branding
research emerged and has been thriving ever since is marketing, brands, by
dint of their conspicuousness, global cultural value (Torelli & Cheng 2011),
and paramount importance as intangible assets, have been scrutinized from
within multiple disciplines, with semiotics and discourse analysis ranking
prominently among them. This volume does not approach brands as entities
cloaked with a suspicious veil that is undergirded by a phantasmatic zero-
degree of signification resting with oversimplified and unduly commodified
‘functional attributes’ (e.g. Lischinsky 2018), and concomitantly with attempts
at subsuming their culturally salient and resonant signifying ramifications
under untenable concepts such as commodity fetishism. The chapters that
make up its fabric explore constructive pathways that are geared towards
demonstrating what specific discourse analytic and semiotic perspectives,
tools, and methods can do for brands, rather than against them.
While paying heed to the inherent multidisciplinarity of branding research,
yet with an intent at justifying the pertinence of semiotics and discourse
analysis for marketing research as flagship discipline, the chapters making up
this volume engage in a fruitful dialogue with narrowly focused branding
research streams, most eminently with regard to brand image and brand
equity, cultural branding, food and country-of-origin branding, place and
destination branding, digital and social media branding, political branding,
brand storytelling. In continuation of the Handbook of Brand Semiotics
(Rossolatos 2015) which was positively endorsed by fellow semioticians, but
also in anticipation of regular advances that will be published on the occasion
of the stepping-stone at hand, we endorse a pan-branding approach, namely
that everything and everyone may be branded, from sand (aka Kotler) to
Adam Sandler (in his capacity as celebrity) and beyond.
As regards the dual orientation of this volume, it merits noticing that
although semiotic and discourse analytic perspectives, in their own respect,
have been propounded and consolidated within distinctive disciplinary silos,
their interdependency and similarities may hardly be overstressed. For
example, for Greimasian structuralist semiotics, (surface) discourse has been
a key facet of the seminal trajectory of meaning (Greimas 1987). Fontanille
(2006) revamped structuralist semiotics as semiotic discourse analysis which
was labeled as a synthetic approach, in recognition of the later expansion of
Greimasian structuralism into a social scientific terrain (Greimas 1990), but
also of post-Greimasian advances. Hjelmslevian structuralism has exerted a
massive conceptual influence on both Greimasian structuralism and social
semiotics, Hjelmslev’s (1969,1975) glossematics has been instrumental to the
development of Halliday’s SFL (Bache 2010), while Hallidayan SFL and social
semiotics have been of paramount influence on Fairclough’s CDA perspective
(Ledin & Machin 2018). On a similar note, Peircean semiotics is an integral
aspect of Wodak and Reisigil’s HDA perspective (Reisigil 2018). The evolution
of discourse analysis, according to van Dijk (1985), on the one hand, passed
through semiotics in the 1960s as a text-centered discipline and began to take
shape in the first half of the 1970s with the advent of initially scattered fields,
such as speech act theory, stylistics (as renovated rhetoric) and conversation
analysis, among others. The permeating thread among the formative stages of
these emergent fields of research was discourse in use or what was described
by Greimas in his conceptualization of the trajectory of meaning as surface
discourse (i.e. prior to reducing it to semionarrative structures; see Rossolatos
2014; Badir 2018). The aforementioned interdisciplinary interdependencies
have been reflected in research that has been hosted over the past 10 years in
the International Journal of Marketing Semiotics & Discourse Studies. In any
case, “disciplinarity can be seen as one of the ways in which academic life is
controlled and policed, though it may also be an (always ambiguous) defense
against external pressures of a kind that ought to be resisted” (Johnson &
Onwuegbuzie 2004, p. 23).
Finally, in contrast to positivistic research that draws on consciously elicited
associations, but also to experimental psychological research that views
situated language use as an epiphenomenon of latent psychological processes,
semiotic and DA analyses are principally preoccupied with interpreting how
latent and unconscious meanings emerge in situated language use. By
adopting a largely linguistic constructivist epistemological posture, both
disciplines are more inclined to recognize the ontogenetic power of language,
rather than viewing it as an effect of latent cognitive processes (quite the
contrary). Although some strands in both semiotics and DA do combine
cognitivism with more textually oriented readings, such as cognitive semiotics
and van Dijk’s sociocognitive DA approach, both DA and semiotics remain
textually oriented approaches at heart.
The above, nevertheless, does not imply that in their largest part, semiotic
and discourse analytic perspectives do not possess their distinctive
competencies. A preliminary systematic literature review of the ways whereby
DA perspectives have been applied in marketing research (Rossolatos 2023),
though, does point to significant avenues for furthering such inroads. In
greater detail, and without any intention of casting stones, but in all earnest
hope for enhancing the robustness of interdisciplinary cross-fertilizations,
quite often the following have been observed while adapting DA perspectives
into marketing research.
First, adaptation to branding streams is pretty scarce, with the bulk of
studies focusing on consumer research (without implying that branding is
independent of consumer research). Second, the import of conceptual
models is occasionally performed on a top-line and schematic level, in
oblivion to the plethora of nuanced subordinate concepts and principles.
Third, a lagging effect is observed with regard to advances in specific semiotic
and discourse analytic streams, most eminently evinced as an almost
dogmatic fixation on otherwise antiquated concepts such as the semiotic
square, as well as in the troubling routine of providing catch-all literature
reviews that approach semiotics as a ‘paradigm’, while canvassing a broad
spectrum of fundamental tenets from dominant schools such as Peircean and
structuralist semiotics. The outcome of this fixation is that, on the one hand,
salient and more contemporary perspectives in semiotics, such as social
semiotics, but also various strands of cultural semiotics, recede to the
outskirts of an interdisciplinary mosaic, while, on the other hand, that a
significant portion of the detailed application of semiotic and DA concepts in
the same streams, but outside of the marketing discipline, pass under the
radar. In a nutshell, the preoccupation with referencing a select few
interdisciplinary intermediaries, and their largely watered-down adaptation
of the conceptual complexity of both DA and semiotic perspectives, has
resulted in not keeping pace with the advances in the source disciplines, thus
rendering the importance of the produced research marginal outside of its
disciplinary silos. We are concerned, here, with the usual phenomenon of
advances in different speeds. Therefore, there is a marked need for stepping
outside of one’s disciplinary comfort zone, to speed up the process whereby
concepts and methods from the source intellectual domain are adequately
reflected in the target domain. This is further complicated by the fact that
both DA and semiotic perspectives are in themselves interdisciplinary at
heart. As shown repeatedly by van Dijk, DA has incorporated a versatile roster
of linguistic and other perspectives across the humanities and the social
sciences, some of which were noted earlier. Likewise, what became recognized
as ‘structuralist semiotics’, constitutes a mélange of a plethora of perspectives
spanning linguistics, literary studies, anthropology, and psychoanalysis
(Rossolatos 2014a). Fourth, an occasionally intuitive employment of DA as
conceptual background is noted, in the absence of further qualification in
concrete perspectival terms. For example, studies that may have used the term
‘discourse’ in the abstract and/or in the keywords, in fact, employ it in a more
intuitive, and mainly qualitatively oriented interpretive/analytical manner, such
as inductive, thematic analysis, or even grounded theory. This is also evinced as
a discrepancy between the extent and depth whereby specific DA streams have
been advancing (for example, media discourse analysis or MDA or computer-
mediated discourse analysis or CMDA, or psychoanalytic discourse analysis-
see Rossolatos 2018) and their application within marketing research. Fifth, the
occasionally identified discourse strategies need to be defined in context, as
their use may be identical in nominal terms, albeit differing in their
manifestation, especially when seeking to demonstrate how their use covaries
with the employment of distinctive lexical and grammatical resources. This will
also allow for comparative studies that adopt or revise previously coined
discourse strategies, thus contributing to the formation of a research wall.
Finally, despite the fact that the application of CAQDAS (or QDAS) is almost a
mainstay in DA studies (Djonov & van Leeuwen 2018), in interpretivist and
mixed methods (Bazeley 2018) marketing research, it has been applied on an
embryonic level, with the exception of studies which have not been published
in the mainstream marketing literature (e.g. Rossolatos 2014b, 2018). In this
respect, there is a marked need for moving from traditional interpretive analysis
that is laden with selectivity bias, especially as regards the use of verbatims as
exemplars, to a more systematic approach with the use of CAQDAS.
It is precisely such inroads that the present team of semioticians and
discourse analysts, most of whom have been wearing both disciplinary hats
on different occasions, intends to open up for the scholarly community of
potentially interested interdisciplinary researchers.
In light of the above precursory remarks about the mission and the objectives
of this volume, here below follows an overview of the hosted chapters.
Bateman’s opening chapter Methodological challenges in the empirical
application of semiotically informed multimodality theory to branding research,
by assuming as its point of departure the experiential turn in branding theory
and practice, offers a detailed argumentation as to the need for adopting
multimodality as an integral conceptual armory and methodological framework
for brands that wish to furnish seamless and rich experiences to their consumer
franchise as part of their core promise and DNA. In this context, multimodality
is clearly distinguished from multisensoriality, while its relative merits are
highlighted through a critical engagement with the latter. On a broad scale,
meaning does not work on or emerge from the senses in an unadulterated
fashion, as the material that impinges on the senses is always already
embedded in a semiotic web of meaning. As Bateman contends, it is rarely the
senses themselves that are responsible for the production of meaning, but
rather the particular semiotic uses made of sensory possibilities, while sensory
distinctions do not provide sufficient information for characterizing semiotic
modes because semiotic modes commonly cross-cut sensory distinctions.
The discussion essentially harks back to the fundamental requirement for
attending to both how a brand structure is projected, as well as how it is
perceived by its intended target audiences, with the crucial difference that
here we are not concerned with perceptually decoding brand meaning, but
how the latter emerges within immersively lived experiences. Attending in a
piecemeal fashion to perception, as the associationist perspective, for
example, would be inclined to achieve in the face of a brand name that
shelters a plethora of brand-identity elements, simply leaves a huge
managerial gap with regard to the actual sources whereby specific image
associations, equity, and value emerge. In the case of brands as experiences,
and not simply experiential branding (as an offshoot of event marketing), a
multimodal framework attains a systematic approach to how consumers
become immersively conditioned by constellations of modes in intermodal
interaction. This approach, of tremendous implications for the design of
brand experiences, on the one hand, accomplishes significant strides
compared to what might come across as dry, formalistic descriptions in a
structuralist vein. On the other hand, it also raises fundamental questions as
regards the potency of conscious elicitation methods in encapsulating
intermodal interactions, as against interpretive, ethnographic, and auto-
ethnographic work. Moreover, it raises questions as to the meaning and
import of materiality in a multimodal framework, and whether the former
may be reduced to the latter, as traditional social semiotic theory suggests.
Bateman effectively tackles such often aporetic questions, by offering a
framework for parsing materiality as the substratum of identifiable modes.
In Chapter 2, Bianchi and Ragonese undertake a sweeping conceptual
excursus into structuralist and post-structuralist semiotic theory and
narratology, while discussing how new forms of narrativity and textuality may
account for digital brand storytelling. In this context, they challenge
traditional distinctions between enunciator and enunciatee, as well as the
fixed boundaries of texts, while accommodating digital brand storytelling
under Eco’s notion of ‘possible worlds’, and substituting the role of the ‘reader’
with that of an ‘active user’ and ‘producer’ as co-creator of endlessly deploying
brand meaning. In these terms, the brand identity-driven demand for
semantic coherence and syntactical cohesion succumbs to the self-referential
circle of mobile semantics whose metanarrative dimension posits the narrative
as its own topic.
In continuation of the inquiry into the multivocal landscape of the ‘new
narrative turn’ where narratives are increasingly approached as being
constructive of meaning and culture (Epp 2011), in their chapter on Narrativity
approaches to branding Ruiz Collantes and Oliva take a long detour into the
semiotic and narratological underpinnings of brand storytelling approaches.
The authors argue for the importance of addressing the original concepts and
theories that are often obliterated in interdisciplinary adaptations. By
comparing and contrasting how narrative approaches have made inroads into
branding research with the original theories and conceptual frameworks from
which they stem, they identify areas for improvement in the existing brand
storytelling theory, while putting popular adaptations in perspective. The
chapter is divided into five sections: the first one addresses models that are
common currency in contemporary storytelling applications to brands. The
second section focuses on explaining why and how narratology is an integral
aspect of structuralist semiotics, although often obliterated both in marketing
semiotic approaches, as well as in brand storytelling ones. The third section
scrutinizes the fine-grained details of anthropological and psychoanalytical
perspectives that have informed archetypical models and approaches to
branding. The fourth section engages genealogically with the anthropological
and cognitive psychological theories that have informed consumers’ narratives
with regard to brands’ consumptive facets. The final section engages in a critical
comparison between the various approaches that are laid out throughout this
chapter, with an emphasis on the relative merits of narratively informed
The ensuing three chapters focus on new media and how brand meaning
shapes up in the context of brand communities, a topic that is on top of the
branding research agenda in Web 2.0. Chapter 4 has an applied orientation,
offering step-by-step guidance on how to apply CAQDAS or QDAS micro-
analytics to social media brand communities’ (SMBCs) verbal and
multimodal data. In addressing the ‘hows’ of consumer engagement against
the background of the core capabilities and functionalities of major QDAS
programs such as Atlas.ti, NVivo, and MAXQDA, Friese distills her extensive
experience as an academic researcher, but also as a practitioner of QDAS, with
working experience in the companies that produce and market these software
programs. The chapter has been composed in issue/solution mode, aiming at
supporting researchers who seek to implement discourse analytic
methodological approaches. The exposition focuses on sentiment and
content analysis, exploring linguistic categories, the representation of attitude
and knowledge status, searching for contextualizing cues, the types of
interaction that take place, and the roles and relationships that are expressed.
Despite the initial proclamations in the marketing literature about the
consumer brand engagement (CBE) opportunities that lie ahead for brands in
the face of the co-creative potential of Web 2.0, recently the bleak picture of
SMBCs has been repeatedly canvassed by drawing on concepts such as
negative brand engagement and co-destruction. Similar constraints in the
broader democratizing potential of the medium have also been voiced from a
CDA point of view (see Bouvier & Machin 2018). While arguing that effective
dimensionalization and focalization as regards specific thematic threads and
engagement levels are essential for understanding and managing the negative
aspects of brand engagement in SMBCs, in chapter 5, Rossolatos puts forward
the Depth of Brand Engagement Funnel (DOBEF). By shifting focus in
identifying CBE levels in SMBCs from attitudinal/behavioral antecedents/
outcomes towards the content of interaction, a nuanced perspective is offered
as regards the depth of interaction, while addressing posted comments not
only in terms of valencing, but even more importantly of valorization. A
computer-mediated discourse analytic (CMDA) approach is adopted, by
employing a mixed methods research design, along with a netnographic
approach as regards data collection, while data analysis/synthesis proceeds
with the aid of the CAQDAS software atlas.ti.
The micro-analytic DA endeavors that were deployed in the previous
chapters are succeeded in Chapter 6 by a big data CDA approach that sheds
light to how Brexit was branded by UK’s Conservative and Labour political
parties, in largely divergent ways that align with each party’s political vision
and fundamental principles. By drawing on the capabilities of the Multimodal
Analysis Platform (MAP), a cloud-based platform for searching, storing, and
analyzing online media texts, Zappettini, Serafis, O’Halloran and Jin unearth
the major discursive strategies and their realization paths whereby the parties
appropriated Brexit to meet underlying political agendas. The exemplary
analysis that is offered in this chapter is also corroborative of what has been
termed by Thurlow as the pseudo-sociality of the institutional use of social
media (see Tannen & Trester 2013), by effectively translating tacit into explicit
knowledge (Krafft, Sajtos & Haenlein 2020).
The last two chapters of this volume are situated in an interdisciplinary
terrain between cultural studies and branding while being concerned with
cultural heritage branding, allegedly one of the most promising branding
streams, inasmuch as a research stronghold across disciplines.
In chapter 7, Mangiapane and Puca recruit a bewildering array of structuralist
and cultural semiotic concepts and case studies for demonstrating how the
image of food and places can and has been mutually enhanced in brand
strategies. By adopting a dynamic processual outlook to place branding as an
essential complement to brand identity approaches, this relationship is
explored in multiple instances and instantiations, beginning with the semiotic
transcription of how ‘geographical indications’ (GIs) have been employed as
branding devices in the cases of the ‘Balsamic Vinegar of Modena’ and the
‘Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena’. The following case focuses on
Noma restaurants and their contribution to the consolidation of
representations about the so-called ‘New Nordic Cuisine’. Then, the authors
offer a semiotic account of how the visual brand identity of Michel Bras
restaurants is permeated by an identity that is edified on the ingredients
favored in Bras’ recipes. Finally, with reference to the Sicilian Caponata, it is
shown how food brands’ narrative structure contributes to a synthetic recipe
where ingredient branding is overdetermined by the recipe’s communitarian
consumption mode. These are all remarkable examples of how cultural
heritage crystallizes as a complex process of heritagization (Ascione 2018) and
a series of practices that are heavily influenced by regional cultural politics,
regardless of whether this localization concerns a city (Lucarelli & Berg 2011)
or an entire nation (Hao et al. 2021). From a discourse analytic point of view,
taste naturalization strategies presuppose the effacement of nominalization
and the invention of a body politic based on food as originary metaphor.
While continuing within a cultural heritage territory, the volume concludes
by shifting from theorizing the intertwined semiotic web between food and
place branding to empirically researching how meaning shapes up for the
heritage site of Santralistanbul. In this chapter, Doğan accounts for the
museumification of Santralistanbul by adopting a conceptual framework
informed by social semiotics of multimodal spatial texts, in combination
with a visual auto-ethnographic methodological approach. In this respect,
Santralistanbul is viewed as a mnemotope whose exhibits do not carry
simply representational qualities, but once assembled and reconfigured
through their experiencing, they are invested with organizational meanings that
are further accentuated on an affective level via visitors’ bodily engagement.
Doğan’s multilayered reading strategy, thus, affords to demonstrate the
contribution of a nuanced stream of social semiotics to branding theory and
research, while opening new avenues to our understanding of how museums
may be branded, and how brands become museumified.
Ascione, E. 2018. ‘Food and cultural heritage: preserving, reinventing, and
exposing food cultures’. In Le Besco, K. and Naccarato, P. eds. The Bloomsbury
handbook of food and popular culture. London: Bloomsbury, pp. 301-314.
Bache, C. 2010. ‘Hjelmslev's glossematics: a source of inspiration to Systemic
Functional Linguistics?’ Journal of Pragmatics, 42(9), 2562-2578.
Badir, S. 2018. ‘Semiotics and discourse Studies’, Gragoatá, 22(44), 1049-1065.
Bazeley, P. 2018. ‘Mixed methods in my bones: transcending the qualitative-
quantitative divide’, International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches, 10(1),
Bouvier, G. and Machin, D. 2018. ‘Critical Discourse Analysis and the
challenges and opportunities of social media’. Review of Communication,
Djonov, E. and van Leeuwen, T. 2018. ‘The power of semiotic software: a
critical multimodal perspective’. In Flowerdew, J. and Richardson, J. E. eds.
The Handbook of critical discourse analysis. London: Routledge, pp. 566-581.
Epp, A.M. 2011. ‘A new narrative turn: methodological advances for consumer
research’. European Advances in Consumer Research, 9, 85-89.
Fontanille, J. 2006. The semiotics of discourse. New York: Peter Lang.
Greimas, A.J. 1987. On meaning. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Greimas, A.J. 1990. The social sciences: a semiotic view. Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press.
Hao, A.W. Paul, J. Trott, S. Guo, C. and Wu, H.H. 2021. ‘Two decades of research
on nation branding: a review and future research agenda’. International
Marketing Review, 38(1), 46-69.
Hjelmslev, L. 1969. Prolegomena to a theory of language. Madison: University
of Wisconsin Press.
Hjelmslev, L. 1975. Resumé of a theory of language. Madison: University of
Johnson, R.B. and Onwuegbuzie, A.J. 2004. ‘Mixed methods research: a research
paradigm whose time has come’. Educational Researcher, 33(7), 14–26.
Krafft, M. Sajtos, L. and Haenlein, M. 2020. ‘Challenges and opportunities for
marketing scholars in times of the fourth industrial revolution’. Journal of
Interactive Marketing, 51, 1–8.
Ledin P. and Machin, D. 2018. Multimodal critical discourse analysis. In:
Flowerdew, J. and Richardson, J. E. eds. The Handbook of critical discourse
analysis. London: Routledge, pp. 60-76.
Lischinsky, A. 2018. ‘Critical discourse studies and branding’. In Flowerdew, J.
and Richardson, J. E. eds. The Handbook of critical discourse analysis.
London: Routledge, pp. 540-552.
Lucarelli, A. and Berg, P.O. 2011. ‘City branding: a state-of-the-art review of the
research domain’. Journal of Place Management and Development, 4(1), 9-27.
Reisigl, M. 2018. ‘The discourse-historical approach’. In Flowerdew, J. and
Richardson, J.E. eds. The Handbook of critical discourse analysis. London:
Routledge, pp. 44-59.
Rossolatos, G. 2014(b). ‘Conducting multimodal rhetorical analysis of TV ads
with Atlas.ti 7’. Multimodal Communication, 3(1), 51-84.
Rossolatos, G. 2014(a). Brand equity planning with structuralist rhetorical
semiotics. Kassel: Kassel University Press.
Rossolatos, G. ed. and co-author, 2015. Handbook of brand semiotics. Kassel:
Kassel University Press.
Rossolatos, G. 2018. Interdiscursive readings in cultural consumer research.
Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Rossolatos, G. 2023. Discourse analytic applications in branding research:
literature review and future directions (forthcoming).
Tannen, D. and Trester, A.M. eds. 2013. Discourse 2.0: language and new
media. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Torelli, C. and Chen, S. 2011. ‘Cultural meanings of brands and consumption:
a window into the cultural psychology of globalization’. Social and Personality
Psychology Compass, 5(5), 251–262.
Van Dijk, T. 1985. Handbook of discourse analysis III: discourse and dialogue.
Orlando: Academic Press.