Talking so they listen: How the commercial world uses semiotics

On 2 May 2014 the School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics hosted a symposium led by one of the School’s corporate partners, The Lab. The Lab is a brand strategy and market research agency that helps shape the stories of Australia’s leading brands, from Australia Post, to Bird’s Eye, to The Age.

The symposium began with a presentation by Mr Paul Labagnara from The Lab. Paul introduced his firm’s approach to cultural analysis grounded in academic methods, focusing on the emergent field of Commercial Semiotics. He explained how Commercial Semiotics seeks to apply the semiotic theories developed in academic contexts as tools to formulate easily digestible cultural narratives that can be harnessed by brands.

The presentation was followed by a round-table discussion featuring Paul’s colleagues Mr Daniel Bluzer-Fry and Ms Sarah Lorimer, together with LLCL academics Dr Howard Manns, Dr Louisa Willoughby and Dr Chris Worth. The panel shared their ideas about how semiotics work across academia and business to help shape the stories of Australian culture.

All participants then formed groups to engage in a workshop involving the construction of ‘semiotic squares’, a basic tool of analysis in Commercial Semiotics. The groups produced squares unpacking the symbols and messages behind several themes from popular culture and marketing.

This symposium is part of an ongoing collaboration between The Lab and the School of LLCL which encompasses joint research projects, consulting and internships for students.