Semiotic model of meanings

Persil, Omo, Daz, Ariel-they all ‘clean’ clothes by eliminating all the signifiers of dirt.

As the anthropologist, Mary Douglas, put it “dirt is essentially disorder”1 . So stains, dirty marks and smells are ‘soaked’, ‘lifted’, ‘enzymed’, ‘floated’ away, leaving only the cleanliness of the ‘not-dirty’ garments. The world then feels re-ordered. This is why women express such a deep satisfaction at the sight of clean washing on the line.

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It is a symbol of an ordered domestic economy.Cleanliness, it is said, is next to Godliness-and certainly the unstainedness of clean white clothes references the purity of heavenly hosts, white from top to toe, floating around on fluffy white clouds and backlit with the shining white light of goodness. But the ‘whiteness’ only gets its cultural power from the belief that the ‘white’ angels were the ones who did not fall through the dirty earth to be scorched and blackened by the fires of hell. In structural terms, the whiteness values of detergents are working on these two paradigms of associationsCleanliness vs Dirtiness Godliness vs Evil  Persil for years demonstrated this particular notness principle with a campaign in the UK featuring two children, one wearing a bright white (clean) shirt or skirt-and the other an identical garment, only in not-white grey.

The ads carried the enduring slogan Someone’s mother doesn’t know… Behind the line lay the shared cultural meanings of dirty disorder and sluttish mums, hinting that it might be your child in the not-white, not-clean (not-Persiled!) garment that has to be saved from an evil home.Later on, Radion would re-awaken the notness of evil dirt with its powerful and effective ‘odour’ campaign, bringing to consciousness the culturally abhorrent whiff of bodily excretions that lies behind our eagerness for freshness.

Fresh teeth, breath, armpits, clothes, toilets-they all rely on a cultural horror of our evil psyche manifesting itself in ‘dirty’ smells. What is important here is that these oppositions are understood all over the world. The material form of what is considered ‘dirty’ will change; fallen angels are connected particularly to the Judeo-Christian traditions for example. But all cultures will have ‘disorderly dirt’, which brands can remove, thereby re-ordering the consumer world once more.The moral is this.

Find what is most worryingly dirty in a culture to build the cleanliness brand values of detergents and cleaning personal care products for that market. In international ads, focus on a shared symbol of dirt. And, for goodness sake be sure you don’t accidentally allow a culturally-specific symbol of dirty disorder to drive a global campaign. What feels dirty in the USA ain’t the same as European ‘dirt’. But if you only research consumer attitudes to ‘cleanliness’, you’ll never find out.Hidden Oppositions Not all oppositions are as obvious as clean/dirty. Sometimes you have to tease out the notness. De Beer’s long-running campaign A diamond is forever of course evoked the passion of undying love and deep cultural ideas of the exchange of tokens as a symbol of exchange of commitment.

 But let’s just examine the notness of ‘forever’. Not infinite, but finite. How long, then, will this love last? A year, two years; until the children come; only if we have children; in some societies, only if we have boy children; until I grow old and can not longer attract him; until I lose my youthful virility and can no longer satisfy her; until he/she finds someone else?I would want to argue that the international success of the de Beers campaign may be due as much to shared anxieties about the way relationships end and the talisman-like protection of the diamond against the break-up of marriages as it is to the gem as a symbol of romantic love. The unsentimental lyrics of ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ sees the whole thing very clearly. As if to hammer home the lurking opposition between the infinite romance of ‘forever’ and the reality of the messy ending of love the song spells it out mercilessly ‘We all lose our shape in the end. But square-shaped or pear-shaped, these rocks won’t lose their shape.

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’.The Good To Talk campaign empowered women to use the phone for longer chatting-and it gave men permission to communicate in a warmer, more caring way. The advertising strategy was a brilliant interpretation of the myth by the agency, AMV. The subsequent campaign featuring Bob Hoskins and focusing on the way women continually demonstrate that ‘it’s good to talk’ worked a cultural step-change in British phone usage Most importantly of all it created a cultural space ready and waiting to be filled by the mobile phone Mobile phones-Small Talk steps out of the shadow Mobile phones have made Small Talk culturally respectable: one could really say that the power-base has been reversed and that chatting, phatic noises and informality is now the norm of phone-talk. Leaving Big Talk to Casualty’s A&E department.

It’s interesting to chart this in advertising terms. BBH’s ‘chatting’ to the dead and famous in “Who would you like to have a One-to-one with” was a marvellous example of levelling with small talk. Like Kate Moss and Elvis “We’d go down his Mum’s and have a cup of tea” And you can’t get much more ‘phatic’ than “Whassup”. But it goes even deeper than that. Statistics show that pinpointing the location of the speaker is the opening gambit of most mobile conversations. From the ubiquitous “Hello, I’m on the train” to the habit of young people everywhere to ask of each other “Where are you”. The psychological neighbourhood is network-wide.And Small Talk has, in fact, now got its own language-text-messaging.

Phatic, designed for chat and for informality and, above all, simply for keeping in touch (with or without purpose-who cares!) txt is the new lol ; ) IYKWIM. People Like Us/People Like Them -a word about notness in cross-cultural research Consumers use the principle of notness to group themselves spontaneously into communities, These groupings we describe as ‘People Like Us’, but really we are defining ourselves as ‘NOT People Like Them. Importantly the boundary between them and us is symbolically signposted. In other words we are much clearer about who it is we are not, what it is we don’t approve of, the styles we don’t like and the ethos we don’t want to be part of than we are about what it is we do like.