Social Constructionism and the Corporate Brand: Semiotic Analyses of Print Adverts

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Abstract

Over the years, brand-building arguments have focused on process models; that is, brand-building and formation processes developed from historical and cultural foundations of the brand visionaries. They are then translated to the vision statements of corporate brands and the internalization of brand values in those who represent it. However, the question of meaning in the brand building process is often leftout in the models spread across the extant literature. The authors, therefore, adopt a social constructionist approach as the theoretical basis for building the corporate brand. This attempt culminated in a proposed model embedding in social constructionist tenets and applied to corporate branding. In an attempt to validate the theoretical arguments, the authors carried out field interviews with brand custodians of two Nigerian banks. Semiotic analyses of samples of the banks' print advertisements were also carried out to understand how the banks' construction of meaning informs their brand building process. The findings revealed consistencies between the origin and socio-cultural derivations of meanings and brand communication as an important brand-building component. Recommendations on how this process can be adopted and operationalized in industry were therefore made.

Keywords: Social constructionism, Semiotic analysis, Brand meaning, Brand myth, Corporate branding

1. Introduction

Scholars have made several attempts to examine the subject of corporate branding with the view of presenting a more coherent understanding of the brand building process (e.g. Stephen, 1991; de Chernatony & Harris, 2000; Harris & de Chernatony, 2001; Karreman & Rylander, 2008). This has led to the development of brand management and brand building models. Some of the most notable contributions found in the branding literature are contained in the following works: de Chernatony & Dall'Olmo Riley (1998), Keller (2001), de Chernatony & Segal-Horn (2001), Rust, Zeithaml & Lemon (2004), and Burmann & Zeplin (2005). The conceptualizations, which develop therefrom, are based on studies - field interviews of brand custodians - as well as observations of approaches and strategies used by successful brands in industry. These conceptualizations have made significant contributions in terms of explaining the brand building process from various perspectives. However, the question of how reliable this dominant process is as the bedrock of brand-building and development, continues to elude the branding literature.

de Chernatony & Dall'Olmo Riley (1998a); for instance, present a double-vortex model which is representative of the decision steps of management for an effective and efficient brand building process. These steps incorporate "vision", "mission", "values", "culture", and "heritage". The model also presents an interface between input and output functions of the brand (see also, de Chernatony & Dall'Olmo Riley, 1998b) expected to be well garnered by brand custodians. However, the question of which underlying principle will guide brand custodians in operationalizing the brand building process remains elusive in de Chernatony & Dall'Olmo Riley's (1998) proposition. Similarly, Keller (2001), tends to focus on building the brand based on the equity generated by its customers by presenting the CBBE model; a relationship building model aimed at unearthing the vast, collective stock generated through customer perceptions. Essentially, Keller's position presents an alternative to earlier authors (i.e. a customer-centric brand development model) rather than a deeper proposition as to the social theory origins of the CBBE model.

As it is typical of trends in academic debates, other authors continued in the same direction by focusing on how best to operationalize brand-building models. For instance, reactions have tried to establish the difference between brand management and brand equity (see Rust, Zeithaml & Lemon, 2004). …