Cultural branding in practice: How to identify ideological opportunities for web design

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
P1 OPINNÄYTTEET D 2017 Johansson
Degree programme
Collaborative and Industrial Design
93 + 4
The web has become a mainstream communication tool used by companies, institutions, celebrities, and politicians to establish, reinforce, or repurpose their brand, almost bypassing more conventional branding media. Traditional branding models offer little help in directing how companies should build culturally relevant brands. Cultural branding is a discipline that aims to solve this challenge by pinpointing ideological opportunities emerging in society and building brand strategies which leverage these opportunities. The literature on the practical process of implementing the strategy is very limited, especially regarding the implementation of the strategy to digital channels. The research on cultural meanings of semiotics of digital user interfaces is also insufficient. This thesis discusses how to identify ideological opportunities to develop a cultural branding strategy. The literature section reviews how brands function according to cultural branding and what are the main differences in comparison to traditional definitions of brand. The production section examines what we can learn from (1) using a combination of Zaltman metaphor elicitation technique (ZMET) and Kelly’s repertory grid technique to interview consumers, and (2) from using Barthes’ ideas of meaning as a framework to analyze interviews to identify ideological opportunities for web design. Out of commonly known consumer research methods, the ZMET results in one of the most in-depth understandings of consumers’ unarticulated, latent needs which are required to understand cultural needs. Kelly’s repertory grid technique enables to assess the relation of these needs to myths that existing branded websites convey. Barthes’ ideas as an analysis framework enables to distinct interviewees’ responses to brands, the cultural contradictions they experience, and the underlying ideologies from the values, emotions, and attitudes more widely shared within a society. The use and the results of using this methodology are reviewed with a test case of designing a brand concept and a website for USchool, a minor targeted for Master’s degree students in Aalto University. The contributions of this thesis are two-fold: a review of definitions of brand and bridging cultural branding theory and practice through a web design case. The exemplified combination of methods and process is a systematic way to understand cultural expressions of websites, how they contradict with consumers’ identity projects, and towards what kind of ideologies consumers are gravitating instead as an alternative. The main contributions offered by the review of this thesis are (1) a comparison of cultural branding against traditional branding based on academic literature, (2) the discussion of how brands emerge and (3) how social networks function around brands according to cultural branding in comparison to traditional definitions of a brand. This thesis fills gaps in research by studying (1) definitions of brand, (2) means for implementing cultural branding strategy, and (3) means for studying the cultural and mythological meaning of websites.
Roto, Virpi
Thesis advisor
Dziobczenski Nicoletti, Paulo
cultural branding, branding, mythology, web design, ideology, ZMET, Kelly’s Repertory Grid, Roland Barthes
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