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. 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. 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.
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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...
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