Pursuing the Meaning of Meaning in the Commercial World: An International Review of Marketing and Consumer Research Founded on Semiotics
104 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2004
From product design and packaging to advertising and retailing, marketers are continually seeking to strategically facilitate meanings that contribute positively to brand images, purchase likelihood, satisfaction, and the like. For their part, consumers are continually acquiring, using, sharing experiences, and disposing in substantial accordance with the meanings they attribute to products, ads, purchase sites, and so forth. However, meaning was underprioritized in marketing and consumer research until the last two decades, partly because it is one of the most complex phenomena to theorize and investigate. As researchers focused more on meaning, hundreds of books and articles drew upon the doctrine of semiotics, which is the study of communication and meaning in terms of the nature and processes of signs (both verbal and non-verbal). The burgeoning scholarship, not surprisingly, was eclectic, fragmented, far-spread, and written in numerous languages, leaving many uncertainties about the contributions of semiotics. In this project, we collected and integrated relevant worldwide research, and we assessed what semiotics has provided for advancing knowledge on meaning in marketing and consumer behavior. We focused on the manner in which semiotics addresses and, in some instances, resolves important intellectual questions about meaning at each stage of an expanded version of McCracken's (1986) model of meaning movement in consumer society. We discuss at each stage the trends and variations in the use of semiotic paradigms, methodological approaches, levels of analyses, geographic origins of scholarship, emphases on different substantive topics, and future research needs. Overall, our review uncovers a profusion, maturation, and rising value of semiotic research on marketing and consumer behavior since the mid-1980's. We finish with a discussion of the continuing intellectual challenges in the area, and we draw some encompassing conclusions on the nature, merits, and future of semiotics in marketing and consumer research.
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