Symbolic Meaning Integration in Design and its Influence on Product and Brand Evaluation — A Review

In Applied Design on October 5, 2009 at 5:52 pm

The authors of this article were studying the importance of symbolism in design and marketing toward product and brand evaluations. The article presented previous study findings that illustrate how congruent use of different design elements across multiple visual communication media, such as product packaging, advertisements and websites, can positively influence consumers’ perception of a new product and brand. In contrast, the use of different design elements, such as shapes and typefaces, communicating incongruent messages, may result in ambiguity and, therefore, negatively affect the product and brand evaluations.

Also presented in this article is another study that found consumers’ tolerance for ambiguity is affected by their daily lives and can vary depending on the events. With this knowledge, the authors predicted that incongruencies in product designs should only negatively affect the product and brand evaluations for consumers in high need of structures, the ones who value predictability.

In the study that the authors conducted in a Dutch supermarket, 109 participants were told that they were conducting a study exploring consumer impressions of a new brand of soft drinks. The participants were presented a questionnaire which helped in determining whether they are in high need of structure or not. The authors presented the products in bottles of two different shapes, one connoted natural and the other artificial. These products were paired with slogan that provoked similar meaning as the bottles, and then separately paired with slogan that conveyed a conflicting meaning.

The study results were as expected, congruent messages in product marketing was effective only on individuals who were in high need of structures, but showed no significant effects on consumers who were in low need of structure. The authors also pointed out that the study results are only applicable to a new brand, and are inconclusive about the effects on an existing brand. In fact, it was argued that incongruent messages from time to time may awake consumers’ interests toward an established, but perhaps ignored, brand.

I agree with the study findings on how communicating a congruent message across different product/brand promotion media can positively affect product/brand evaluations, as well as how such effect vary from one individual to the next. Take the cleaning product brand “Method” for example. It is a relatively new brand and I was immediately attracted to all of its products as soon as they became available. The reason was that everything about this brand conveyed to me the same message — quality cleaning products in clean, contemporary and beautiful packaging — it is predictable to me, offers me structure, and I can instantly recognize their products from any store shelf and do not need to re-evaluate the brand every time I seek a different type of cleaning product. My friend, however, did not find such impression because she does not need the structure that I do, she simply grabs anything on the shelf and moves on.

As regards to the effect on an existing brand, I feel that communicating congruent messages is just as important. The most obvious example is Coca Cola Vs. Pepsi Cola. Coco Cola may have altered its packaging somewhat over the years, but the logo and company remain unchanged. Pepsi Cola, on the other hand, has had generations and generations of different logos, attempted to create a different image every time. Not only has this strategy not worked toward growing the company’s market share, it may even have turned some existing customers away due to the inconsistencies.

In conclusion, as a designer, I feel that it is of extreme important that we create designs that communicate consistent messages about a product or brand, new or established. This way, we can capture consumers in high need of structures, and, perhaps, the ones in low need of structures as well. At times, we may need to invent something new, something unpredictable to arouse public interest. However, these “unpredictable” messages should still work with the existing brand or product message in harmony, instead of complete deviations.

Work Cited:

Pruyn, Ad T. H., Van Rompay, T. J. L., Tieke, Peter (2009). Symbolic Meaning Integration in Design and its Influence on Product and Brand Evaluation. International Journal of Design, Vol. 3, 19–26. Retrieved from http://www.ijdesign.org/ojs/index.php/IJDesign/


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