It is obvious that marketers speak with their consumers. They inform them and build awareness about what they offer. They also shape their liking (getting them to regard their offering in a positive way or develop some kind of affection or agreeableness) and preference (greater liking over competitive offerings). It is presumed that preference is essential for the development of an intense urge or desire or want for something. The desire or craving is that moves consumers to stores.
Marketers in other words deploys all its apparatus to cultivate desire or craving for their brands. This play of desires shifts the locus of marketing from physical existence into the realm of imagination. Consumers are conditioned to live in surreal world of their fantasy. The production capacities in most of the industries far exceed what can be absorbed by markets. It is pretty challenging for marketers to keep their cash registers ringing. But consumers simply do not need so much as industries are designed to produce.
Needs are connected to survival. Their satisfaction is essential for us to defend our existence. A want is rooted in a need but its fulfillment is not essential for survival. For instance, food is needed for survival but people want Maggi or KFC. Wants operate at a level higher than mere survival. Their satisfaction makes existence better. Imagine how marketers make consumers want a Parker pen or Nike sports shoe. This breaking away from mere existence to ‘betterment’ bestows marketers with price control. Desires are purely imaginary and provide marketers with handle to shift consumers from real world to fiction or illusion. The brands are transformed into materials that consumers use for constructing their make believe world. Desires are affect- laden and germane to psychological fulfillment.
At the heart of a play between the consumer needs, wants and desires on the one hand the products on the other lies the battle for meaning destruction and creation. A glass of water if it continues to stand for what it actually is (H2O) is likely to operate as thirst quencher and essentially satisfy defensive function. Its inherent meaning needs to be subverted or emptied and should be filled with something more wanted and desired. Most marketing communication is given to meaning destruction, modification, and creation. Brands in many cases therefore signify what they are essentially not but become in human imagination. The inherent connection between the signifier (brand) and signified (product) is made arbitrary by which marketers gain control in market for meanings. Consider some examples: Is Close Up toothpaste or fantasy of a close-up with an opposite sex? Is Levis is a pair of rugged denim trousers or casual American outlook? Is Benetton all about colorful clothes or a unifying ideology?
In meaning construction and communication, three types of signs are used: indexical, iconic and symbolic. The indexical signs directly connected to the signified (the smoke connects to fire, tiger footprints connect to its presence nearby and smell is indexical of presence of flowers; the release of pheromone in the air by an insect is indexical sign of sexual activation). The connection here is either physical or causal. An ad of Land Rover showed a vehicle’s body spattered with mud and dirk allover. This signaled that his vehicle has been driven off road. A uniquely wrapped box signifies as if it is a gift.
Icons are another set of signs. In this mode the meaning is perceived through resemblance. The comic series of India Today TV uses cartoons of different politicians, these are icons. A portrait or picture is an icon. The captured images in an ad are collection icons. The pictures of printer or speaker on computer screen are icons. Typically in ads pictures, caricatures and drawings are employed iconic mode to connect signifier with signified. The last of all signs are symbols. Symbols are found in mathematics. These neither work through resemblance as in case of icons or direct causal or physical connection as in case of indexical signs. The relationship between the signifier and signified is fundamentally arbitrary. It is rather learned. For instance, the Mercedes signifies status and Marlboro stands for rugged independence. These relationships are learned. Here the signifiers are not constrained by the signified. It is free and independent is choosing it’s signified.
Marketers often attempt to break away from icon and index mode in order to transform his or her brand to assume a meaning which is not a derivative of its product. The people smoke a Marlboro or drive a Harley or own a Patek Phillipe because of an arresting desire that these brand have developed. A product’s appeal cannot be stretched beyond a limit. The pressures to transcend appeal beyond the attribute and benefit paradigm draw marketers to develop symbolic brands. The symbolic brands are like words in a language which are carry meanings which are interpreted by an active participation of interpreter.
It is behind the superficial appearance of physicality of brands the real meanings are transacted in marketplace. Brands talk to consumers and consumers talk to others and self through brands.