SEMIOTICS ROLE IN DESIGNING MESSAGES FOR PERSUASIVE COMMUNICATION
Oleh: Jultje Rattu, SS. M.Mktg
Artikel ini membicarakan tentang peranan semiotik dalam merancang pesan-pesan yang dikomunikasikan dalam dunia periklanan. Pembahasan ruang lingkup semiotik pada artikel ini didasarkan pada teori Jakobson yang melingkupi komunikasi dalam bidang eko-nomi. Sebelum dijelaskan mengenai perancangan pesan-pesan dalam iklan, lerlebih dahulu dijelaskan pula mengenai unsur-unsur komunikasi yang terdiri dari pengirim, media, pesan, dan umpan-baliknya. Dalam merancang pesan-pesan dalam iklan, untuk mempengaruhi konsumen, salah satu caranya yaitu menciptakan pesan-pesan yang bisa menarik perhatian konsumen.
Semiotics is a study of the meanings implied by signs and symbols (Noth, 1995). According to Jakobson (1995), the subject matter of semiotics is the communication of any messages whatever, whereas the field of linguistics is confined to the communication of verbal messages. Based on the relationship to spoken language, he distinguished three types of sign systems, such as: (1) language substitutes, including writing, drum and whistled languages, and the Morse code; (2) language transforms, which are formalized scientific languages; and (3) idiomorphic systems, such as gestures or music, which are only indirectly related to language. The place of linguistics and semiotics, according to him, is within a larger framework of communication studies. There are three integrated sciences encompass each other and present three gradually increasing degrees of generally, such as:
1. Study in communication of verbal messages = linguistics;
2. Study in communication of any messages = semiotics (communication of verbal messages implied);
Study in communication = social anthropology jointly with economics (communication of messages implied);
Furthermore, he distinguished three levels of social communication. There are
exchange of messages, of commodities, and of women (more generally, of mates). Therefore, linguistics (jointly with the other semiotic disciplines), economics, and finally kinship and marriage studies, approach the same kinds of problems on different strategic levels and really pertain to the same fields.
Additionally, in semiotics it can be learnt non-verbal information that takes the form of symbolic communication. It is very useful for designing communication. Basically, communication is a unique tool that people use to send the message. In business, marketers use the communication to persuade consumers to act in a desired way (e.g. to vote, to make a purchase or donation, or to patronize a retail store).
Actually, there are many ways to define communication, however most writers would agree that communication is the transmission of a message from a sender to a receiver via a medium of some sorts (Schiffman, 2001). In order to reach the purpose of communication, it should be designed properly. Before describing the design of persuasive communication, it is better to describe first about the communication components.
Components of communication
Schiffman (2001) explains that communication is a complex process involving the sender, receiver, communication medium, and message characteristics.
1. Sender and receiver
The sender, as the initiatior of communication, can be a formal or an informal source, while the receiver of formal communications is likely to be targeted prospect or a customer (e.g. a member of the marketer’s target audience).
2. The medium
The medium or communication channel can be interpersonal, an informal conversation (face to face, by telephone, or even email) between two friends, or a formal conversation between a salesperson and a customer. Nowadays, direct marketers, many of whom use sophisticated database-marketing techniques, seek individual responses from advertisements placed in all mass media, for example broadcast, print, Internet, as well as from direct mail. Despite the general use of the term ‘mass media’ to describe impersonal media, there is also a growing trend towards media de-massification as publishers shift their focus from large, general interest audiences to smaller, more specialized audiences.
3. The message
The message can be verbal (spoken or written) or non-verbal (a photograph) or combination of the two. A verbal message, whether it is spoken or written, can usually contain more specific product (or service) information than a non-verbal message. Sometimes a verbal message is combined with an illustration or a demonstration and together they may provide more information to the receiver than either would alone. Nowadays, marketers often try to develop logos or symbols that are associated exclusively with their products and which achieve high recognition. The Coca-Cola
company, for example, has trademark both the word ‘Coke’ in a specific typographic style and the shape of the traditional Coke bottle- and both are instantly recognizable to consumers as symbols of the company’s best-selling soft drink (Bloom, 1990).
Feedback is an essential component of both interpersonal and impersonal communication.
After understanding the communication components, it will be described how to design communication that can persuade consumers.
Designing persuasive communications
To create persuasive communications, the sponsor (who may be an individual, a for-profit company or a non-profit organization) must first establish the objectives of the communication; then select the appropriate audience for the message and the appropriate media through which to reach them; and then design (Le encode) the message in a manner that is appropriate to the medium and to the audience. More explanation will be in the following paragraphs.
1. Communication strategy
In developing its communication strategy, sponsor must establish the primary communication objectives. Company with many diverse audiences sometimes find it useful to develop a communication strategy that consists of an overall (Le. umbrella) message to all their audiences, from which they spin off a series of related messages targeted directly at the specific interest of each individual segment.
After developing the strategy of communication, it is continued to do the strategy of media.
2. Media strategy
Media strategy is an essential component of a communication plan. Before selecting specific media vehicles, advertisers must select a general media category that will enhance the message they wish to convey. Fortunately, numerous research studies have compared the effectiveness of one medium over others for various products, audiences and advertising objectives that are very useful to help marketers to select the media category (Pope, 1995). Once they have identified the appropriate media category (e.g. magazines), they can then choose the specific medium in that category (e.g. Women’s Weekly) that reaches their intended audiences. In doing so, it must be considered some aspects, such as:
– Overlapping audiences
Since many media, especially those with similar editorial features and formats, have overlapping audiences, advertisers usually place their advertising messages simultaneously or sequentially in a number of media with similar profiles.
– New media
The Internet has spawned a number of online media, newsletters, cyber magazines and news programs.
– Precision targeting
Marketers use syndicated marketing research services (such as Roy Morgan’s asteroid service) to obtain data on media audiences, their demographics, product purchases and brand preferences. Direct mail and direct marketing are excellent examples of precision targeting. Mail order catalogues is a prime example of direct marketing sent through the post to carefully honed databases.
3. Message strategies
Following the media strategy, it is the time to arrange the strategies of message. The message is the thought, idea, attitude, image or other information that the sender wishes to convey to the intended audience. In trying to encode or frame the message in a way that will allow the audience to understand its precise meaning, senders must recognize exactly what they are trying to say, and why (what the objectives are and what the message is supposed to accomplish). Senders must also know their target audiences’ characteristics in terms of education, interests, needs and realms of experience. They must then try to phrase their messages so that their audiences decode the messages in the ways intended (Vakratsas, 1999). Overall, advertisers are looking to produce messages that strike a responsive chord with the interest and feelings of the audience. This matching is known as resonance (Schwartz, 1974).
This article focus on the persuasive messages that should begin with an appeal to the needs and interests of the audience and end with an appeal relevant to the marketers’ own needs. Generally, advertisements that do not conclude in the closing action tend to provoke much less response from the consumer than those that do. Recently, advertisers need to recognize that consumers are increasingly knowledgeable about how advertising strategies are developed and the devices used to attract attention and persuade (O’Donahoe, 1998).
Non-verbal stimuli, such as photographs and illustrations, tend to reinforce verbal message arguments. A number of studies have manipulated the proportion of visual and verbal content used in print ads to investigate their relative impact on learning and persuasion, but the findings were inconclusive. At times body copy alone was more effective than the body copy plus visuals, while in other experiments the reverse was true. One study showed that when verbal information was low in imagery, the inclusion of visual examples increased consumer recall of the verbal information (Unnava, 1991). Message strategies consider these following linguistics matters, for example:
Advertising rhetoric and persuasion
Researchers study not only the semantics of ad messages (i.e. the meanings of the words used and resulting inferences) but also the syntax (the sentence structure). One study found that ads using simple syntax produced greater levels of recall, regardless of the strength of the argument, than ads of greater complexity (Lowrey, 1992). Researchers also focus on the rhetoric and resonance of advertising language (McQuarrie, 1996). The major focus of rhetorical research is to discover the most effective way to express the message in a given situation. Recently, researchers are interested in rhetorical forms, such as Hewlett-Packard’s ‘Don’t you have something better to do?’ ad for its plain paper fax or Hertz’ ‘The sooner you’re out of our sight the better’ (i.e. fast check out) ad. The purpose of these studies is to discover the best way to phrase an advertising proposition to encourage processing those results in persuasion. Research findings suggest that rhetorical speech is most effective with unmo-tivated consumers, who would not otherwise process the ad (Schiffinan, 2001).
Advertising resonance sees a strong fit between the receiver and the message on both the emotional and cognitive level The mix of world play and picture in ads thus becomes very important. Using insights from semiotics, researchers have found that, by manipulating the resonance of an ad, they could improve liking for the ad, brand attitudes and unaided recall of ad headlines (McQuarrie, 1992). Small changes in resonance were shown to produce a measurable impact on consumer response. Involvement theory
Another consideration includes involvement theory, suggests that individuals are more likely to devote active cognitive effort to evaluating the pros and cons of a product in a high-involvement purchase situation, and more likely to focus on peripheral message cues in a low-involvement situation. Despite the fact that many marketers have found that action closings tend to be more effective in encouraging consumer response, researchers has also found that, for high-involvement audiences, open-ended advertisements (i.e. ads that do not
draw explicit conclusions) are more effective in terms of creating positive brand attitudes and purchase intentions (Sawyer, 1991).
Finally, the way marketers present messages can drastically affect their persuasiveness. Four key issues are now discussed. They are message framing, onesided/two-sided messages, order effects and repetition.
– Message framing
Should marketers stress the benefits to be gained by using a specific product (positive framing) or the benefits to be lost by not using it (negatively). Research suggests that the appropriate message framing decision depends on the product category. One study found that positively framed messages are more persuasive in low- involvement situations where there is little emphasis on detailed cognitive processing and negatively framed messages more persuasive in situations encouraging detailed information processing (Maheswaran, 1990).
– One-sided versus two-sided messages
Should marketers tell their audiences only the good points about their products, or should they also tell them the bad (or the commonplace)? If the audience is friendly (e.g. if a person uses the advertiser’s products), if a person initially favors the communicators position, or if a person is not likely to hear an opposing argument, then a one-sided (supportive) communication that stresses only favorable information is most effective. However, if the audience is critical or unfriendly (e.g. if a person uses competitive products), if a person is well educated, or if a person is likely to hear opposing claims, then a two-sided (refutational) message is likely to be more effective.
– Order effects
Is it best to present the commercial first or last? Should we give the bad news first or last? Communication researchers have found that the order in which a message is presented affects audience receptivity. For this reason, politicians and other professionals communicators often jockey for position when they address an audience sequentially; they are aware that the first and the last speeches are more likely to be retained in the audience’s memory than those in between.
When just two competing messages are presented, one after the other, the evidence as to which position is more effective is somewhat conflicting. One study found that, in situations that foster high levels of cognitive processing, the initial message tends to be more influential, while in situations of low message elaboration, the second message had a greater impact (Haugtvedt, 1994).
Order is also important in listing product benefits within an ad. If audience interest is low, the most important point should be made first to attract attention. However, if interest is high, it is not necessary to pique curiosity and product benefits can be arranged in ascending order, with the most important point mentioned last. When both favourable and unfavourable information is to be presented (e.g. in an annual stockhold-ers’s report), placing the favourable material first often produces greater tolerance for the unfavourable news. It also produces greater acceptance and better understanding of the total message.
Repetition is an important factor in learning. A study showed that, in low-involvement situations, individuals are more likely to regard message claims that are repeated frequently as more credible than those which are not; the effect increase when consumers were
required to engage in role rehearsal of the message (Hawkins, 1992). Research also found that multiple message exposure gave consumers more opportunity to internalize product attributes, to develop more or stronger cue associations, more positive attitudes, and increased willingness to resist competitive coun-terpersuasion efforts (Haugtvedt, 1994).
// can be seen that designing messages is very important in creating persuasive communication. Clearly, the study of semiotics along with semantics and syntax are very useful in designing the messages. These studies can work together with the study of marketing and consumer behaviour in creating the appropriate messages to send to the proper audience in reaching its communication purpose.
Bloom, Paul, 1990, Transmitting Signals to Consumers for Competitive Advantages, Business Horizons.
Eco, Umberto, 1984, Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, London: The MacMillan Press Ltd.
Haugtvedt, Curtis, 1994, Message Order Effect in Persuassion: An Attitude Strength Perspective,. Journal of Consumer Research.
Hawkins, Scott, 1992, Low-involvement Learning: Memory Without Evaluation. Journal of Consumer Research.
Lowrey, Tina, 1992, The Relationship Between Syntactic Complexity and Advertising Persuasiveness, Advanced in Consumer Research.
McQuarrie, Edward, 1992, Figures of Rhetoric in Advertising Language, Journal of Consumer Research.
Moth, Winfried, 1995, Handbook of Semiotics, Indiana University Press, the United States of America
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