The role of visual metaphors in brand personality construction - a semiotic interpretation

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School of Business | Master's thesis
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Finnish Business Communication
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The objective of this study was to find out how advertisements can elicit perceptions of brand personality through the use of a rhetorical figure of the visual metaphor. The brand personality was understood through Jennifer Aaker's established development of five dimensions of brand personality, consisting of sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication, and ruggedness. The objective was to better understand how the meanings of brand personality can be construed from visual advertisements and what ways of visual metaphor are used to strengthen these brand personality connotations. In detail, the study analyses the types and characteristics of semiotic signs that are construed as meanings of personality that connect to a brand and how the meaning-making is culturally constituted. The study used the text-interpretive approach, consisting of a semiotic interpretation of the signs contributing to the meaning-making that elicits the understanding of advertisements as persuading for specific brand personality dimensions. The interpretation framework consisted of finding the visual metaphors (their source subjects, target subjects and visual structure), interpreting the denotations and connotations of brand personality, and interpreting the role of persons in meaning-making of the advertisements. The data consisted of 32 consumer and business-to-business brand advertisements that contained a visual metaphor and were gathered from one Finnish magazine and four English magazines. The study resulted in four conclusions from interpretations: (1) The visual metaphor indeed allows to understand the brands through the dimensions of brand personality. (2) The role of persons in advertisements is to anchor meanings of brand persuasion to interpretation of personality traits, in a similar way that written text is used to anchor interpretation in general. (3) The use of persons is hypothesised to have a "sweet spot" of enough creative deviance, yet being understandable easily enough.(4) The depiction of a person in advertisements is also hypothesised to serve as the prototype of the viewing customer, allowing to reflect the brand personality through their own personality. These findings, based on text-interpretive analysis, still ought to be studied further through reader-response studies, to learn more of the connection of the brand personality and the personality of the self and connect it with the framework of post-modern marketing.
business communication, marketing communication, brand personality, brand personification, visual metaphor, advertising, semiotics, yritysviestintä, markkinointiviestintä, brändipersoonallisuus, brändin henkilöityminen, visuaalinen metafora, mainonta, semiotiikka
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