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At its most elementary level branding is about equivalence. Brand building works to create an association in the consumer's mind between a recognizable commodity or corporation and imagery of a desirable quality. First, the brand itself is given a recognizable, but differentiated, representation: the logo. Then, that representation is attached to a series of layered signifiers that point to a specific set of meanings: the signified. The goal is to harmoniously blend layers of signifiers to support the branding message. Vectors are created across elements (visual, audio, textual) so that when we hear the music we think of the slogan. Or a shared color in the commercial might create a visual equivalence between a global scape and a corporation. Elements both signify and serve as conduits for these vectors of equivalence. A sound signature might cement a narrative to a logo as well as signifying something in its own right. Drawing on T.S. Elliot's discussion of poetry, Judith Williamson refers to the relation of these elements in an advertisement as an 'objective correlative.' She states,

Thus once again we see that the form of advertisements is a part of ideology, and involves a false assumption which is the root of all ideology, namely that because things are as they are (in this case, because certain things are shown as connected in ads, placed together etc.), this state of affairs is somehow natural, and must 'make sense' simply because it exists. So when advertisements put two things side by side so that they co-exist, we do not question the sense of it. The form of advertisements, and their process of meaning through our acceptance of implications in that form, constitute an important part of ideology. Non-senses (the illogical juxtaposition of, say, a face and a bottle) become invisible--which is why it is important to state what may seem very basic, and once seen, very obvious, in this field; and sense is assumed simply on the basis of facts, that magical word whose original meaning is merely 'things already done' (1978:29).

The signifiers that share the same space must indeed appear to have a natural connection. To create this sense of unquestioned objectivity, advertising draws on a range of devices to establish a sense of equivalence between commodity/brand and a meaning plus affect. These devices include composition, size, color, music, narrative, spokesperson, images, text, logo design, or anything that suggests this and that are one and the same. If the viewer valorized this process, the formula -- brand equals signifier equals signified -- is completed. But one must always keep in mind Williamson's analysis. There is no logic in the correlation other than association. The ideology of legitimation is at the core of branding.


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Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey