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Symbolism: Branding and Advertising


I will mainly focus on symbolic traits with relations to advertising but in order to do so we must first look at the Brand perspective. The symbolic values of branding are very strong and come in on many levels.

In order to understand and further investigate this topic, it is important to first define the meaning of symbolic and symbolism.

The Oxford dictionary definition for symbol is

“Sign; thing representing or typifying something”

A marketing dictionary defines symbolism as:

“Symbolic value and meaning are intangible, and the benefits are obtained only when the receiving person or group understands and share the same meaning as the person who is gives it”

In short symbolism is what we define or identify with different symbols and their associations.

These symbols can range from definitive logos like the NIKE tick or Brand names like SONY. The meaning of each symbol differs from person to person and from culture to culture.

Marketers spend millions of pounds every year to create and support brand images.

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Every brand image is based on a brand concept or a brand specific abstract meaning. In it general form, a brand concept can be either symbolic or functional. Functional brands satisfy the immediate and practical needs while Symbolic brands satisfy symbolic needs such as those of self-expression and prestige.

Branding has its own associative values, for example “Rolex” watches are seen as very prestigious and extravagant timepieces while a “Casio” is also a timepiece but is seen with less prestige and value.

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A “Rolex” timepiece can fetch large sums of money even for the cheapest model while a “Casio” at its most expensive is still worth a fraction of the price of a “Rolex”. The “Rolex” can be said to be a Symbolic brand while the “Casio” is more of a functional brand.

Product CategoriesSymbolicFunctional


Sports ShoesNikeConverse


Ice CreamHaagen DazsWalls

Brand equity based on symbolic values and meanings is becoming more important. People often define their own existence in relation to others, having a desire for a personal identity so that they can better understand their status and role in life. In order to achieve this personal identity, people relate to and compare themselves with others around them with material possessions in a process known as symbolic interaction. After all we are what we have and posses.

Symbolism and Branding:

It is important to first understand the symbolic aspects associated with the brand before we can move on to the use of symbolism in Advertising. A product that has a strong brand association will always have that brand definitive identity no matter what happens to it. Unless the brand is tarnished, the positive values are passed down to the product, which is a large contribution to its selling point. The choice of symbolic values and meanings to associate with brands is crucial in the creation of consumer values. There are many types of symbolic variables that can be used with brands examples of these are traits such as “down to earth”, “honest”, “trendy”, “upper class” etc.

One important point to note is that the choice of symbolic value to portray a product or service should not be random. The decision must be carefully and deliberately made such that the values and meaning reflects the recognised needs of the target market. The wrong choice of symbolic value and meaning will lead to the decline or even demise of a brand and once a wrong decision has been made it has a serious impact on the brand image.

According to Goodyear’s model which describes the six stages of the brand life:

Type of brandingStageDescription

Classic BrandingUnbrandedProducts appear as commodities and supplies make little effort to distinguish their goods from others.

Brand as ReferenceThe brand is a name used for identification purposes.

Brand as PersonalityThe brand is given a personality through the addition of emotional appeal.

Brand as IconThe brand becomes synonymous with it associated values and meaning and becomes an icon for the consumer. E.g. Rolls-Royce or Rolex

Post modern BrandingBrand as CompanyThe value of the brand extends beyond the product to even cover all aspect of the company

Brand as PolicyThe company brand moves beyond commerce and becomes involved in social and political issues.

After having examined the different stages of branding so that we can appreciate it associated values and meaning with the product. We can then explore the symbolic traits within advertising. Advertising a brand name will always incorporate its already well establish values and status but it is the content of the advertising campaign that we are interest in.

Symbolism and Advertising:

The symbolism in branding and that of advertising is somewhat different, symbolism in branding deals with association and reputation i.e. Volvo = Safe, BMW = luxury. While the symbolism in advertising looks at imagery, characteristics and the on screen portrayal of people. Example

·Male: father, lad, brother, and masculine.

·Female: Mother, housewife and feminine.

The focal point of this dissertation is on how symbolism is used to sell products, how companies target the correct audience. After identifying the correct symbolic traits in the branding of the product, it is then important to correctly portray these traits in a successful advertising campaign. The symbolic traits in advertising can incorporate one or many of the following aspects: stereotyping, storyline, music, colour, humour, sex and even location to name but a few. The uses of symbolism to mean something rather then another is very common, the use of location to create warmth or distance, the use of music to further enhance class and status or to even heighten sense and emotion. Advertising campaign tends to differ from product to product and differ between one brand to the next.

This dissertation will attempt to identify the traits commonly used to advertise and promote products on a symbolic level, the use of symbolic traits to advertise and further enhance a Brand.

The Problem:

To identify and discuss traits used in advertising on the symbolic level to further enhance/increase sales and its brand status.


·Trait: Humour & Sex

oAdvertising Campaign FCUK

·FCUK Fashion

·A Great FCUK

·Sexy as FCUK

For each Trait identified different advertising campaigns will be used as examples to illustrate how each trait is used and to what effect.


What make traits symbolic?

Identify symbolic factors

Symbolism and Advertising

How is it use?

Is it effective?

To what extent?

Research Plan:

This dissertation will be conducted over a period of nine months from early January to September. The dissertation will be conducted in three different phases each consisting of three months.

Phase 1: January to March

At this phase the background research and the literature review will be conducted on both symbolic branding and symbolic advertising. The work done during this phase will lay the groundwork for the next two phases, as it this here that the traits will be identified and discussed in detail. The correct advertising campaigns will then be assigned to each trait ready for analysis in the next phase.

Phase 2: March to May

At this phase the traits should have already been identified and advertising campaigns assigned to each one. Interviews and focus groups will then be conducted to find out what give each trait their distinct characteristics. Questions regarding the advertising campaign will be asked. The intention of these questions will attempt to probe into the successful uses of each trait in relation to the campaign in the view of the interviewees.

Phase 3: June to September

After the data collection has been gathered from the interviews and focus groups, the data will then be analysed and then summarised into their common association and common uses in terms of the identified traits.

This dissertation will be conducted with a combination of both primary and secondary data.

Primary data:

Interviews –

The interviews will be conducted on a one to one basis, where questions regarding advertising traits, association and symbolism, questions about branding and it associated with traits will be asked.

The aim of the interview is to get the interviewees opinions without any interference or outside influences so that questions answered is purely they opinion.

One point to note about the interview method is that it is just one persons opinion and these opinion will tend to differ from one person to the next which are all dependent on cultural background and up bringing. The interviews conducted will mainly address issues regarding branding symbolism and what it means but will also address advertising symbolism. The advertising issue will look at what traits means to the interviewees.

Focus Groups:

The focus groups will be conducted in order to determine which of the identified traits are being used and to what success. Each trait (which were identified in the first phase) will have an advertising campaign attached to it, which will be presented to the group for discussion. Advertising Campaigns like the “FCUK” and “BMW” will be used to stimulate discussion. These discussions and comments will then be recorded for further review and analysis to see what each group thought about each trait.

Secondary Data:

This dissertation will also use a collection of secondary data, which includes:


·Academic textbooks



·Trade magazines

The use of secondary data is very important to identify works that have already been conducted/studied in this particular field. Secondary data will be used in the research and literature review, it will help to suggest ideas and a point in the right direction. Secondary data provides an area to focus on in terms of exploration, it is easy to obtain and it can also be used to validate and support the findings of the primary data. The down side to secondary data is that it was not originally designed for the purpose at hand but rather has to be adapted to fit it. Secondary data is not always reliable, it can contain errors and it could potential be inaccurate. Secondary data can be and often is biased, the methods used to obtain them are not always stated so it cannot always be taken lightly and must be critically reviewed.

The research method for this dissertation will be more Qualitative then Quantitative, which will look at exploration into the symbolism of branding and advertising, the intention here is not only to recognised but also try to understand why it is so. To recognised the traits is not enough, we also need to understand why it is so. The analysis of secondary data defines the marketing research problem and develops an approach on how to solve it. In comparison to primary data, secondary data are collected rapidly and easily, at a relatively low cost and in a shorter time. The differences between primary and secondary data can leads to some distinct advantages and disadvantages with their uses.


PurposeFor the problem at handFor other problems

ProcessIndividually tailored Rapid and relatively simple

CostHighRelatively low


Source: Malhotra

Although it is rare for secondary data to provide all the necessary answers
to a research problem, secondary data can help to:

·Diagnose the research problem

·Develop an approach to the problem

·Developing a sampling plan

·Formulate an appropriate research design e.g. identifying the key variables to measure

·Answer certain research questions and to test hypotheses

·Interpret primary data with more insight

·Validate qualitative research finding

Literature Review:

The objective of the literature review is to develop a deep approach to the academic study. The literature review summarises, comments on and critically reviews existing work on the topic. It is necessary to set the scene and to identify which direction the exploration is developing. This can be achieved by identifying the area that needs further clarification and validation or even highlight the flow of the investigation.

The literature review will also reveal appropriate methodologies which will be used to confirm the correct approach, the review will not only cover the topic itself but also associated concepts, a source of theoretical ideas to help establish the conceptual context of the study. Importantly the literature review is more then just a simple review of the literature, it is a critical analysis of the theoretical and empirical studies.

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Symbolism: Branding and Advertising. (2016, Jun 28). Retrieved from

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