Using Semiotics in Retail with Dr. Rachel Lawes

Our guest this week is Dr. Rachel Lawes, the author of Using Semiotics In Retail, this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection. Rachel discusses how retailers and brand marketers can use commercial semiotics to provide fresh insights into consumers’ wants and desires, spark revenue-generating ideas, and analyze under-performing stores. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can claim a 20 percent discount on Using Semiotics In Retail at by using the promo code BIGEYE20 at checkout.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Dr. Rachel Lawes: Semiotics is about understanding culture and its effect on the individual. Whereas, instead of asking, “What’s all this interesting stuff inside people’s heads and how can we get it out?” we instead ask, “How did it get in there in the first place? Where did all these attitudes and perceptions and beliefs come from?”

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant Chief Strategy Officer at Bigeye. Thank you for joining us today. This month, we’re looking at the role that distinctive assets play in long-term brand-building. Last week, we discussed sonic logos and what makes them effective in creating shortcuts in consumers’ minds that make brands more memorable and impactful This week, we turn our attention to distinctive brand assets in retail settings with the third episode in our Bigeye Book Club series in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page publishing. Today, we’re looking at a little-known and definitely under-utilized research power tool: semiotics. To explain what semiotics is, how it can help marketers identify emerging consumer needs, yield a host of revenue-generating marketing ideas, and create more meaningful shopper experiences, it’s my pleasure to be speaking with the pre-eminent authority on commercial semiotics, Dr. Rachel Lawes. Rachel has over two decades of marketing experience, providing brand and marketing strategy to clients globally, including Unilever, Procter and Gamble, Kraft, Diageo, and Nike, among many others. Rachel is also the author of our featured Bigeye Book Club selection this month, Using Semiotics In Retail: Leverage consumer insight to engage shoppers and boost sales. A regular international conference speaker, Rachel is also a fellow of the Market Research Society and the author of Using Semiotics In Marketing published by Kogan Page in 2020. Today, Rachel is joining us from her home in London, England. Rachel, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Dr. Rachel Lawes: Thank you. Thanks for having me on the show.

Adrian Tennant: Well, your first book published in 2020 is entitled Using Semiotics In Marketing. Barely two years later, your second book, Using Semiotics In Retail is out. Congratulations! Rachel, what prompted you to focus on retail for this book?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: I’ve been practicing semiotics commercially for 20 years now. In fact, this year is the 20th anniversary of my business being started and before that, I used to do semiotics as an academic. So I’ve had a long career and I used to publish prolifically with conference papers and things in industry journals and then delivered a lot of training. But I’ve been asked at various times to write a book and the day finally arrived when I was ready and that resulted in my first book Using Semiotics in Marketing in 2020, which is a great beginner’s guide for anybody wanting to get started with semiotics. And the thing is I’ve got 25 years of stuff in my head that’s saved up, you know? So the first book is a kind of really clear how-to manual for researchers and brand owners alike. Once I had got that down and it was out there in the world and it was like, look, here’s a real simple, straightforward, clear, thorough guide to how to do semiotics, I then felt a sense of freedom where I’m now able to write books about any topic I want, having explained the basics. And so I just picked on retail for the next one, because it is changing so rapidly. And also because I wanted to write about the future, which is unfolding as we speak because retail is largely controlled and directed by businesses rather than consumers. It is very much a part of the future and retail marketers can choose to embrace that or get left behind. And so I want it to be helpful to people in retail, and to talk about the future because it affects everybody.

Adrian Tennant: Great. So, Rachel, how do you define semiotics – and what should I refer to you as? Are you a semiotician or semiologist?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: That’s a great question. People ask me a lot how you define semiotics and the really simple answer is that it’s the study of signs and symbols. So signs and symbols, as you know, Adrian, could be things that are commonly found in marketing, such as brand marks, typefaces, colors, and also when you get into products, we’re talking about materials, product design, and all that type of stuff is meaningful, right? These are what we call semiotic signs. And so the job of a person practicing semiotics is to figure out what those signs and symbols mean. Now that’s the beginning of the story, it’s not the whole story and out of preference, I’d slightly prefer semiologist because, what I’m doing here, and I think that’s clear from the book on retail that you’ve just read, is much bigger than just decoding signs and symbols. And so semiotician to me, implies something like being a technician or even an engineer, where you’re kind of manipulating small components of things, but in fact, semiotics is an entire branch of Western philosophy. It’s so much larger than decoding signs and symbols, although it certainly includes that. And so I generally prefer semiologist because it gets closer to grasping the size of the project.

Adrian Tennant: Well, most traditional market research methods are rooted in psychology. Could you explain briefly how semiotics differs?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: Yeah. So I’d love to do that. So I am a psychologist, that’s what my Ph.D. is in. So I feel confident in saying that the market research industry has, throughout most of its history, relied heavily on ideas and tools as well, which are imported from psychology. So what I mean by that is that psychology, generally speaking, will take the view that we’re all individuals, and we’ve all got our own unique personalities, and we’re all different from each other. And most importantly, there’s a whole lot of interesting, but secret stuff locked away inside our heads. So attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, motivations, brand preferences, and all that stuff, right? And so the project of market research has been to try and get that stuff out of people’s heads. So it’s become known as the inside-out model, and the way it does that is by deploying various tools, borrowed from psychology, such as carefully crafted survey questionnaires, and perhaps projective techniques used in qualitative situations and things like that. That dominated market research for the longest time until very recently. Much more recently a different paradigm has found its way into the system – and I’m glad to say that I’ve been able to be a part of that – which, instead of asking, “what’s all this interesting stuff inside people’s heads and how can we get it out?” we instead ask, “How did it get in there in the first place? Where did all these attitudes and perceptions and beliefs come from?” So the answer usually is taken to be well they come from the surrounding culture of which each individual consumer has no choice but to be a part. So there’s no escape from the supermarket, as I’m fond of saying! So these new methods, which focus on consumer culture as the cause and origin of people’s attitudes, beliefs, and brand preferences, there’s a family of methods here: ethnography when it’s done well, is part of that family, discourse analysis is part of that family. Semiotics stands out in that family for its focus on visual images and semiotics is about understanding culture and its effect on the individual. Whereas, traditionally, human psychology is about the individual, their behavior, in a more isolated way.

Adrian Tennant: Using Semiotics In Retail is organized into four parts. In the first, you provide examples that illustrate how semiotics can be applied to solve real-world retail challenges. Rachel, could you talk us through one case study where you use semiotics to help a retailer who is struggling to attract customers into their stores?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: Yeah. So I’d love to do that. There’s a story, which I included in this book on retail, which is heavily anonymized for reasons which will become clear but it is exciting a lot of attention so here’s the story, okay. I was hired by this company that makes jam or preserve actually to give it a proper name, which becomes important later. So it was a great product. It was a high quality, rich, exciting, range of flavors, really nice brand story as well accompanying the product. So it was all about elegance and European history. And there was actually a pretty good awareness of the brand as well, and people generally liked the product, so it all sounds great. And then, the company invested quite a bit of money in renting a shop. You know how all European cities have an old town quarter, don’t they, where tourists can go and admire the historic buildings? So they’d rented a shop in the old town of this historic European city. And they spent a load of money designing the store to make it look dignified and classy and premium, and to justify the quite high prices that they were charging. And so they might have lots of design decisions based on that ambition. And they used a lot of black on the walls and the shelving and they used some gold lettering, but sensibly did not go over the top with the gold. So it was quite sparing, which is a good sign of premium. The floors were nice creamy stone tiles. And even the sales assistants have an air of dignity about them with their smart black suits. And in the window outside there was rather a dignified arrangement with some jars of jam on plinths, flanked by curtains. And there was even a portrait of somebody who might’ve been the company’s founder. So it was all very careful stuff. The problem was that it just wasn’t performing. This store was just not performing as well as expected. So people liked the product, they liked the brand … there was something about this store that people just didn’t like. And so that’s when the company called me and said, “Can you go down there and find out what’s going on?” And that, Adrian, is quite common and it’s often how people will come to my door is there’ll be some issue that they can’t quite detect what the problem is. And they’ll bring it to me to try and solve it. So I went down there and took some photos and I had a hunch that all was not well as I was looking around. But, what you really want to do with this type of project is take as many still photos as possible, reserve your judgment until you get back to your desk, and you can start to follow up some hypotheses. And so I took my photos and I sat down in front of Google Images and began to ask this question of “Where have I seen this before?” And what do I mean by this? Lots of black, the black wooden shelvings, the gold lettering, the furniture and fixtures in store, which were a pale wood with small brass details, the arrangement in the window, the staff uniform has all of this stuff. And I started to track down where have I seen this before? And the answer was pretty shocking. So what I discovered was that, where I’ve seen this before, unfortunately for the food company, was the funeral parlor, the crematorium, the crypt, and the columbarium. And the result of that was that the whole store reeked of death and that’s not good for selling food. In an effort to make the place look sophisticated, which was a sincere effort – and the individual design decisions in themselves individually were not bad decisions – what they added up to was something really unfortunate. So for example, the front window display followed an arrangement common in funeral parlors, with these thick, heavy kind of floor-length velvet curtains in muted colors. The thing about these jars of jam is that they were shaped like funeral urns, exactly like urns. So where you’ve got a darkish window with not much lighting, very dim lighting, thick heavy curtains, a plinth, an urn, and a painted portrait of somebody who looks like they might have lived a long time ago next to the urn, then we’ve got a funeral in progress, right? Once I’d figured that out, it just got worse and worse, you know? I mentioned the word columbarium earlier, it’s a useful word. So a columbarium is a place where funerary urns are stored on shelves. And so these urn-shaped jars with their very nice kind of minimalist labels, all lined up together on this black, somber shelving, basically recreated a columbarium in the store. And then added to that, the stone floors and the vaulted ceilings made you feel like you’d walked into a crypt – and the staff were dressed exactly like funeral directors. So it was a really bad situation, Adrian, all around. And, so it wasn’t a surprise to me that people lost their appetite when they entered the store. I like to solve problems for clients, so instead of just going to them and saying, “Look, you’ve successfully built a funeral parlor!” I went to look up the brand story, which was this quite nice story about European history. And so I investigated what kind of design, in terms of furniture and clothing and things like that was going on at this point in history that they were trying to reference. And it was very joyful. It wasn’t funereal at all. There was a bit of black, but it was used very sparingly and the point of it was to contrast with the colors of the day, which were sugary pastels and rich jewel tones. Also, at the time, furniture didn’t look like funeral caskets. It was very common in fact for furniture to be painted with pastoral scenes, with shepherdesses and spring lambs and all that type of stuff. People at that point in history do not dress like modern-day funeral directors. They were wearing soft, flowing clothing, often floral patterns, fresh colors. And then if we want to talk about food, this particular point in history that this client wanted to reference was very imaginative with food. They’re doing creative things with pastry, making food in interesting shapes. Food itself was very decorative and nice to look at. And so I was able to prepare for this client a visual library of semiotic signs, colors, shapes, clothing styles, furniture design, images of food. And I was able to provide them with quite a large visual resource of things that they could draw on to combine their brand story more successfully. And so I passed that to them. They were grateful and handed it to their designers. And I noticed then that not too long after that the store was dramatically improved. They let more space and light in. They lost a lot of the black, they introduced many of the things that I’d offered to them. And then surprise surprise! Sales started to go up. Now that’s a very small project in the sense that it just involves one store, which is why it’s possible for me to tell you the story and this amount of time. Most of the projects that I work on are much larger in scope and people will come to me and say, we need to understand a whole generation of consumers, or we need to sell this brand successfully in 20 countries, you know? And so that will be a larger piece of work, but this particular story just focusing on this one store is essentially the same semiotic process, just a kind of more micro version and that makes it digestible, just like the jam!

Adrian Tennant: Marvelous. Thank you, I love that story. Throughout your book, you provide prompts that help readers apply semiotics to their own challenges. That funereal jam store case study introduces the first of these, “Where have I seen this before?” So Rachel, what makes this a foundational prompt?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: So I want to say that this is the beginning of semiotic analysis – it’s not the end. But it’s a great place to start. And the reason why we want to start with this question of “Where have I seen this before?” is because we are asking it on behalf of consumers. Because if you have a new brand or a new product and you put that stuff in stores when consumers encounter it for the first time, the immediate question that they will ask, whether on a conscious or an unconscious level, is “Where have I seen this before?” And so that’s why it’s so crucial because your consumers are going to use their knowledge, their cultural experiences that they’ve had so far. For example, they’re going to use their knowledge of funerals that they’ve attended to make a decision about what this new thing is supposed to mean. Make sense?

Adrian Tennant: Yeah, completely. Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Seth Segura: I’m Seth Segura, VP and Creative Director at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as creative professionals. At Bigeye, we always put audiences first. For every engagement, we commit to really understanding our clients’ prospects and customers. Through our own primary research, we capture valuable data about people’s attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. These insights inform our strategy and guide our creative briefs. Clients see them brought to life in inspiring, imaginative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns. If you’d like to put Bigeye’s audience-focused creative communications to work for your brand, please contact us. Email Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, The Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and research. Our featured book for March is Using Semiotics in Retail: Leverage consumer insight to engage shoppers and boost sales by Rachel Lawes. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free ebook offer. To order your copy of Using Semiotics in Retail, go to – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Dr. Rachel Lawes, a futurist, marketer, and the author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Using Semiotics In Retail. In the second part of Using Semiotics In Retail, you focus on people – or as we prefer to call them in retail market research, consumers – and specifically the things that people want and the ways in which they want them. So Rachel, how can semiotics provide insights into consumers’ wants and desires?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: What we’ve been talking about up to now with the things like “Does this place look like a funeral parlor?” This is what we would call bottom-up semiotics. So bottom-up semiotics is where you start with some particular signs and symbols, like a stone floor or a jar that’s in the shape of an urn. And we figure out what it means using various prompt questions. And that is really useful for improving packaging and advertising and product design. And it’s quite a big part of the work that I do. But there’s a whole other half of this, right? Like football, it’s a game of two halves. So the other half of the game is top-down semiotics or big semiotics. And what does this mean? Top-down semiotics, instead of starting with some individual sign or symbol, like a stone floor, you are instead starting with something like values or abstract concepts. So one area in which I’m doing a ton of work at the moment is diversity and inclusivity. So these are concepts, right? Inclusivity is a concept. It’s not a material object. It’s an idea that is historically and culturally specific. So its meaning will vary around the world. It changes over time. It’s a word which is used now much more than it has been in the past. And so what we’re doing with big semiotics or top-down semiotics is we are tracing the history and current and likely future meaning of those ideas. And the way we do that is by looking at how those ideas are being expressed often in consumer talk, right? Indeed, brands talk in language. So you’re asking me about how does semiotics provide insight into consumers’ wants and desires? Well, one great way is to get online and find some examples of consumers talking about wanting things, and talking about desiring things, and looking at how they’re framing it and how they’re using it. So what you will notice if you start to take an interest in this kind of stuff, is that – let’s just concentrate on the present day – you’ll be able to observe empirically that there are at least two different ways of wanting things. So the first way wanting, or perhaps enjoying things is through immediate sensory reward. For example, you’ve maybe come across people talking about how that first sip of coffee, first thing in the morning is the best thing that you’ll taste all day, or a glass of wine at the end of the working day or something like that. Or it could be found in things like being given a really special gift at Christmas or on your birthday where it’s all wrapped up in shiny, glittery packaging and it’s got a massive bow around that and it’s as exciting to open as it is to experience what’s inside the box. So all of that stuff is about immediate sensation and there are large numbers of consumers who are very focused on immediate sensation and consequently, they like sugar, they like salty food, and really like alcohol. They like music that gets better when it gets louder and so on. But you’ll also be able to observe other consumers who want to enjoy things in a completely different way. And here it’s not about immediate sensation. It’s more about emotion and that emotion is heightened when whatever it is that you want is not immediately available. Now, if that sounds a bit vague, perhaps imagine people going on waiting lists for things, right. Do you know how some women are willing to wait months for luxury handbags, for example, you know, there are only so many of them in existence, you might have to go on a waiting list for a year or so to be able to get your hands on one. That waiting period is really special. And it involves a lot of emotional activity: fantasizing, longing, counting down the days. It’s like being a kid counting down the days until Christmas time, you know? And so that type of desire is where the wanting of stuff is just as rewarding as actually having it, if not more so, and how do brands capitalize on that? Well, limited traditions, things which are only available for a short time, or another way is to do things like teasers, so if you’ve got something new to release, then you can start releasing it in drips and teasing people well ahead of time because some people really enjoy the wait and they really enjoy things that have been slightly out of reach. You can see how different this is from talking about something like stone floors or urn-shaped jars. So this is top-down semiotics where we’re looking at abstract concepts, like what does it mean to want things or what does it mean to be inclusive? And we’re tracking the way that those ideas are being given expression so that we can compare them to the alternatives. Does that make sense?

Adrian Tennant: Totally. In the third section of your book, you turn your attention to the future of retail. So, Rachel, I know this is a big topic, but how do you foresee the metaverse influencing retail?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: Yeah, it’s a really big one. And, so clearly there’s a lot of concern right now amongst, owners serving kind of traditional brick and mortar stores about what the future’s going to hold, and then we’ve also got larger organizations, like the big FMCG companies, who are not themselves retailers, but who depend heavily on retail for their businesses to succeed. And they also are worried about the change, advanced digital culture brings with it. So what’s a threat to them? Well, one threat is direct-to-consumer brands. You know that it’s never been easier to start a niche DTC brand and get it out there in front of people, and that takes market share away from some of the big hitters, you know? And I guess another thing that causes a lot of pain for the FMCG companies is replenishment buying, which I’ve recently started doing myself actually on Amazon. So, you know, I have a particular brand of tea that I like, and I’ve now discovered replenishment shopping. So I’ve now got it on an order and it just arrives on a schedule every 12 weeks. The chances of my switching to another brand now are remote, aren’t they? Because the whole point of replenishment shopping for the consumer is that they just don’t have to think about it any more. So these kinds of things are massive challenges for big brands and small retailers and everybody in between. So there are also, however, a lot of opportunities as well, because, partly thanks to semiotics, we can understand a lot about how things like consumers’ wants and desires and needs are changing over time as we move into the future. And that means that you can stay one step ahead of your competitors and you can adapt more easily to the metaverse. It’s going to be really disruptive in a lot of ways. But, I think the trick is to appreciate that as brand owners and retailers, we’ve always been on this mission to identify consumer needs and meet those needs. And no matter how fast the digital world is changing, people are still people. And if anything, they’ve got more needs now than they had previously. A lot of people are kind of more, let’s say materially better off than their grandparents were. Well, not necessarily their parents, I might point out. But they’ve got a bunch of other things that they’re really unhappy about. You know, there’s a worldwide epidemic of anxiety. There’s another epidemic of loneliness. There’ve been quite a number of scientific studies showing that human relationships are kind of collapsing, people are becoming more introverted. There was a massive longitudinal study at the University of Michigan, where they measured empathy, and they found a catastrophic 40% loss of empathy in the space of a few years, much of it within the 10 years following the introduction of smartphones and social media platforms. So as marketers, we’re in the business of identifying needs and then trying to address them. And I would say that people have bigger and deeper and more complex needs now than I’ve ever seen in my career and that is how we’re going to survive as brands.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. In the fourth section of Using Semiotics In Retail, you share some tools that can help readers explore semiotics for themselves. Which is a really good one to start with, do you think?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: So I really like this question, “Where have I seen this before?” Because I think it’s an easy one to get started with. But you certainly don’t want to stop there and in this book that I’ve just published, I include about 20 or 30 different options, different questions that you could apply. So my second choice then, after, “Where have I seen this before?” is the following: “Where there is choice, there is meaning.” So what do I mean by that? Well, when you look at any consumer product or a piece of marketing, you can take the view that nothing happened by accident. So for example, I like to talk off things, objects that I have on my desk. So I’ve got in front of me one bottle of fragrance, which is actually a miniature, so it’s a little tiny thing. But it comes in a box. And there’s a whole ton of design decisions that have gone on here. There’s a brand name on here Versace, a variant or product name here, I’ve got some technical information about volume. It’s also a kind of pastel yellow color that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 18th century. There’s some elaborate gold filigree design sitting in the background. And when I pull the bottle out of the box, that lid to the bottle, which is shaped a bit like a gem, is almost the size of the bottle itself. Right? So all of these things, they’re not products of the natural world. They’re products of human decision-making. So this prompt, “Where there is choice there is meaning,” tells you that if somebody somewhere made a decision so that this thing could look like this, then that decision is meaningful, right? So in exactly the same way that there’s a difference between a consumer saying “Oh, I could murder a bag of chips right now” there’s a difference between that and “I can’t wait until next year when I go to the Ariana Grande concert that I bought tickets for.” There’s also a difference between this Versace pack, which is elaborately gilded, and heavily decorated, and is dressed up to look conventionally luxurious. There’s a huge difference between that and an alternative product that I have sitting here next to me, which is a Body Shop fragrance, which is perfect. Actually, I think it might be Lush. It’s a perfectly nice, respectable, fragrance. It’s a fraction of the price. It’s a dark brown liquid in a quite minimalist square bottle with a plastic top. The label is a kind of white thing, not quite stuck on, not quite square with some sort of slightly raised lines on it, and all in all, it wouldn’t be out of place if you filled it with perhaps printer ink or something like that. So the prompts then – where there is choice, there is meaning – those things are not casually different from each other. Every one of those decisions is different from a decision that another person made on another day for another brand. And by identifying those differences, you can then leverage them to get hold of some semiotic meanings. So Versace going over the top here with its ideas of traditional luxury and lush heading in a different direction, which says that you want perfume, which gets right to the point, and is unpretentious, and good value for money, and might look nice in your minimalist bathroom from which you’ve decluttered one of your unwanted possessions. 

Adrian Tennant: Using Semiotics In Retail also highlights the work you’ve been doing with Unilever, the consumer packaged goods company, which owns 400 brands around the world. I think for anyone involved in retail packaging design, you’ve provided a goldmine of practical information about what works and what to avoid across a number of categories. So to give listeners a sense of what you cover here, could you talk a bit about a brand that I think everyone’s familiar with, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: Yes, I’d love to do that. And, listeners, if you’re on your phone or near a computer, if you just want to quickly put Ben and Jerry’s into Google Images, so you can get a look at the packaging while I’m talking, that will really help a lot. So perhaps the most distinctive feature of Ben and Jerry’s is its typeface or in fact, two typefaces if you look really carefully. They were both designed by an award-winning designer called Lyn Severance. And the two typefaces here are called Severance and Chunk Style. Now, these were new. They are custom made for Ben and Jerry’s, they haven’t appeared anywhere else. And yet your consumer is going to ask, “Where have I seen this before?” And the answer to “Where have I seen this before?” is another typeface, which is not proprietary, which everybody has seen, which is called Cooper Black. Now Cooper Black has something in common with both of these two typefaces. They’re fat letters. They have serifs, but they’re quite thick and rounded. And so it has a sort of large, chunky appearance, which helpfully suggests large chunky inclusions in the ice cream, and with its fat, rounded, mostly lower case letters, it’s the type of thing that people have used to seeing in children’s books. So that helps to convey an impression of the brand as being sort of innocent, if we want to say that, or certainly lighthearted. But also both of these typefaces resemble, to a large extent, Cooper Black. Why is Cooper Black important? Well, it was designed in 1922, but that’s not what people remember about it. Cooper Black was encountered, for most consumers, in the context of the kind of youth culture of the Sixties and Seventies. So we’re talking the Swinging Sixties, the Saucy Seventies. Tune in, turn on, dropout, hippies, rebellion, flared trousers, massive beards, all that type of stuff. So Cooper Black is a typeface that was huge during those two decades. And it appeared on the albums of people like David Bowie and the Beach Boys, and it was used by the Tate Museum to promote an Andy Warhol exhibition and all this type of stuff. So Cooper Black became very firmly welded to ideas of youthful rebellion and Pop Art. And it has never lost that connection, even though younger consumers today are not old enough to have any memory of what the Sixties and Seventies were like. Nonetheless, their semiotic connotations have persisted as Ben and Jerry’s does – and we’re just talking about the typeface here. There’s so much more I could say, but won’t about that. There are aspects of the packaging design and also about things like the way that Ben and Jerry themselves are depicted in marketing communications, which supports all of this stuff that I’m saying. But overall, when we look at the typeface, we can see that on the one hand, it’s new and proprietary. Ben and Jerry’s owns it. And on the other hand, it’s close enough to Cooper Black that it’s able to activate all these ideas in the mind of the shopper, you know, to do with being a bit of a hippie and it all feels a little bit San Francisco and a little bit rebellious and a little bit, anti-establishment and those are all good things to attach to ice cream, which is a very celebratory product.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Rachel, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about your consulting and training services or your upcoming speaking events, where can they find you?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: LinkedIn is a great place to find me. So my last name is Lawes, my first name is Rachel. I’m on LinkedIn regularly. And, there are announcements there. You could also look at my website, or I’m also on Instagram if you want a quick hit where I’ll often make announcements about events and stuff like that..

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like to obtain a copy of Rachel’s latest book, Using Semiotics In Retail, as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you’ll receive a 20% discount when you purchase online at Just enter the promo code, BIGEYE20 at the checkout. Rachel, thank you very much indeed for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Dr. Rachel Lawes: Thanks very much for having me, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Dr. Rachel Lawes, commercial semiologist, and the author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Using Semiotics In Retail. As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at under “insights” just select “podcast.” And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts, submit a review, or tell a friend about IN CLEAR FOCUS. It really helps us out. Thank you for listening. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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