Designatory nature of signifying relationship - designation of the corporate image

The so-called “designatory nature” as referred to here is a concept relative to the notion of the “arbitrary nature.” It suggests that the signifier and the signified of a sign are artificially striped apart, and their way of combination is no longer random or arbitrary but is defined by strong purposiveness and artificial intervention and is clearly demonstrable. In the shaping of the corporate image, the fusion between a sign’s signifier and signified is never random or conventionalized voluntarily by a certain number of people. Instead, the signifier and the signified are yoked together forcibly by the communicator in order to fulfill a particular purpose. This practice might seem contradictory to the “arbitrary” principle of linguistic signs as advocated by Saussure, but in the real-world communication process of the corporate image, this principle marks the very beginning of the genesis of an image. In order to forge a particular image, an enterprise would search within the existing system of symbols or create appropriate signifier and the signified in order to finalize the signifying relationship between the signifier and the signified by all means of communication strategies.

As far as an enterprise is concerned, the designation of the signifying relationship can be one of the following three cases. In the first case, the signified is already in existence, and it is necessary to rediscover or to create a new signifier in order to achieve more effective communication of the signified. This can take the form of replacing the endorser of the corporate image or updating and upgrading the products. In the second case, the signifier is already in existence, and it is necessary to create or to re-designate a more appropriate signified which better corresponds to the signifier. Essentially, this is a process of artificially assigning a connotative signified to the corporate symbol, and it may involve such marketing measures as advertising, news events and social activities which can accord richer social meanings to an enterprise. In the third case, a change in the signifier is required in order to effect a change in the signified. This way of designation is based on the particular context of social cognition and on the fact that the relationship of the signifier and the signified has been socially fixed. At a given stage of social development, there has been a general consensus regarding the signification of the specific signified by specific signifiers, which include a corporate organization’s logo, product packaging and appearance designs. The designation of any of those three major categories of signification is based on the powerful extensibility and openness of both the system of signifiers and the system of signified of the signs. The signifiers can be infinitely re-created and superseded, but the signifieds are mostly preserved. This is a good example that testifies to the richness of the signifiers and the scarcity of the signifieds. This scarcity might seem incongruous with the theory of “the multiplicity of meaning” of the signified as expounded on by the classic semiotics, but in reality, such inconsistency does not exist. The “scarcity” of the signifieds as mentioned here refers to the relative stability of the system of meaning in human thinking, which renders it difficult to create meanings beyond the value system at a particular historical phase whereas the system of signifiers can be created with considerable facility. The “multiplicity of meaning” of the signified, according to classic semiotics, refers to the possibility for the same sign to be subjected to different interpretations in different contexts. No matter how many interpretations could be made, all those interpretations are defined as belonging to the same value system of meaning. The process of designating the corporate image is a process of actively creating and searching for the signifier and the signified in the system of signs.

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