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Perception and semiotics in branding and design

16 September 2016 / Studio

Picture this: you’ve stopped by the supermarket on the way home to buy some cough mixture to relieve the incessant wheezing that’s dogged you all day at work; but do you ever think about why you’d pick one brand over another?

As a psychology student that’s had the opportunity to work with ALL Creative™, I have learned how perception (sensory information interpreted via neural mechanisms), and semiotics (use of symbols and their effect on social interaction) influence branding success in the healthcare and wellness sector. Three examples of their impact include:

The Mere Exposure Effect

Mere exposure (a term coined by Zajonc in 1963) in a branding context states that: familiar products are more likely to be preferred by consumers. In the healthcare and wellness sector, this effect can be noticed all over your home. For example: the shampoo that you use every day coincidentally being the same as the one from that bus advert you see every morning whilst driving to work.

Similarly, think about the painkiller advert you didn’t think you’d paid much attention to the other day in-between the double bill viewing of your favourite sitcom, yet inexplicably have several boxes of in your bedside table. Thousands upon thousands of brands use this tactic, begging the question: how do branding agencies effectively utilise exposure to stand out amongst competitors?

Classical Conditioning

Classical Conditioning involves the association of a neutral stimulus with one that causes an unconditional response. Ivan Pavlov first noticed the phenomena when investigating canine digestion. These dogs would associate the sound of a bell with their next meal, triggering a salivary response each time the bell sounded.

This manner of associative learning rings true for branding also. Take the household essential: Calpol for example. A parent passing a bottle in the local pharmacy would associate the pristine pink and purple logo with the cure-all medicine that helps their child feel healthy and happy, compelling them to stock up immediately.

Shapes and Colours

My time at ALL Creative™ has highlighted the importance of shape and colour in a logo, clearly notable in the Unicough brand design. The dominant colour on the packaging is an intense red: a colour connoted in the west with warmth and energy, whilst the curved droplet on the packaging and logo is associated with a more calming and soothing demeanour.

However, these impacts can differ cross-culturally. Namely blue: a colour perceived as cold in the US, but warm in Holland, presenting a stark contrast. In any case, the emotional significance of colour and shape highlights the influence of semiotics on branding.

So is this list exhaustive? Far from it. The depth of perception and semiotics extends far beyond these three examples. However, they are undoubtedly noteworthy components that drive branding across all sectors.

So next time you’re in the supermarket faced with several brands of cough medicine staring up at you, maybe stop and ask yourself how these factors influence your choice.

For more information, please contact Beverley Law.

This is a guest post from our intern Jack Burgess who is studying Psychology at Leeds University, and wants to build a career in branding and marketing.

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