The Brand Imaginarium, or on the iconic constitution of brand image

In Handbook of Brand Semiotics (George Rossolatos ed.), Kassel: Kassel University Press 2015. Kassel, Germany: Kassel University Press GmbH. pp. 390-457 (2015)
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Brand image constitutes one of the most salient, over-defined, heavily explored and multifariously operationalized conceptual constructs in marketing theory and practice. In this Chapter, definitions of brand image that have been offered by marketing scholars will be critically addressed in the context of a culturally oriented discussion, informed by the semiotic notion of iconicity. This cultural bend, in conjunction with the concept’s semiotic contextualization, are expected both to dispel terminological confusions in the either inter-changeable or fuzzily differentiated employment of such terms as brand image, symbol, icon, as well as to address the function of brand image at a deeper level than a mere construct to be operationalized in quantitative studies of purchase drivers. This shift in focus is coupled with a critical turn from the cogito-centric view of the consuming subject through the cognitivist lens of the AI metaphor as decision-making centre at the origin of largely conscious meaning-making, in favor of a psychoanalytically informed approach that considers figurativity as an essential process whereby brand image is formed. In these terms, brand image will be intimately linked to brand images as figurative multimodal expressive units and rhetorical tropes, as figurative syntax, that are responsible for shaping an idiolectal brand language, as well as to distinctive levels of iconicity as textual condition of possibility of a brand language. In order to understand the role of iconicity as fundamental condition of brand textuality, rather than just a procedure for spawning brand images, the discussion is contextualized in a wider framework involving the culturally situated source of brand images, how they become correlated with brand image concepts and how correlations between brand images and brand image result in brand knowledge structures (Keller 1998). This opening up of the discussion on iconicity is enacted against the background of what I call the Brand Imaginarium which involves: (i) a critical engagement with the dominant cognitivist perspective in branding research that prioritizes individual memory in brand knowledge formation, through a cultural branding lens that involves two additional types of memory, viz. communicative and cultural (ii) a critical engagement with the cognitivist perspective on brand knowledge formation that prioritizes conscious processing of stimuli (as ‘brute facts’, rather than as already semiotized expressive units) in a cognitive mechanism from which the faculty of imagination has been expelled, by restoring the importance of imagination in brand knowledge formation, and, concomitantly, by showing that the highly figurative language of brands may not be researched thoroughly unless imagination is posited anew as processing correlate (iii) the adoption of an expansionist approach to the role of the imaginary in brand knowledge formation, from cognitive (or psychic) faculty, to a more sociologically inclined process of inter-subjective mirroring, and concomitantly as imaginary social significations (Castoriades 1985) that are shared by culturally conditioned and habituated subjects that engage in meaningful cultural practices, rather than individual processing monads.

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George Rossolatos
Universität Gesamthochschule Kassel


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