Pre-Conference Training Day

Training Day: Embodied Semiotics in Marketing Design


People all around the world share at least one thing in common: the ability to experience the world through bodily movement and bodily feeling. This basic level of human experience provides fertile ground for growing our more abstract processes of reasoning, interpretation and cultural meaning-making. Claims like these are proposed and tested by “embodied cognition”, a network of theories and methods supported by researchers across the disciplines and around the world. Marketing communications researchers and studies in consumer psychology are now beginning to adjust to these findings. Can a deeper understanding of embodied cognition lead to a better understanding of how people interpret and process brand messaging?

Attention is rapidly shifting to the vital relationships that hold between embodied cognition and marketing design. Consider, for example, relationships of verticality (high vs. low). The embodied “primary” metaphors we inherit from early childhood development prepare us to look for relationships of power, importance, morality and happiness (or their opposites) in such designs. Paying attention to the vertical placement of a product, office space or slogan, in context, can be crucial as a result. If a consumer perceives a mismatch between these levels, they are also less likely to be receptive to brand communication. This has led several brands to reconsider design strategies to better accord with embodied meaning.

This day-long pre-conference workshop provides a practical and theoretical introduction to embodied meaning and its myriad implications for better understanding the human interpretation of marketing and branding. To introduce the topic, the workshop opens with a presentation of major conceptual and empirical findings spanning the past 40 years of research on embodied cognition, using a colourful array of case-studies and examples to illustrate foundational concepts. Special attention is given to processes of early childhood development, felt body movements, emergent body structures and the bodily construal of spatial relationships.

With this background in place, the workshop goes on to provide a state-of-the-art overview of cutting-edge research currently being carried out by marketing design researchers on the relevance embodied cognition holds for consumer psychology, brand design and advertising communication. A wide variety of case-studies and practical exercises supply first-hand opportunities to apply models and methods imported from diverse domains, including cognitive semantics, cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology and phenomenology.

Workshop participants are provided with topical bibliographies of recommended readings and handouts summarizing key concepts. During the afternoon session, workshop participants are presented with guided opportunities to discover, critique and communicate embodied cognitive relationships within the frame of the event. By the end of the workshop, participants will have personal experience with the practical insights that come from thinking with the body in mind.

This pre-conference workshop takes place on Wednesday July 19, 2017, and is ticketed separately from the conference.

The workshop is led by Jamin Pelkey, Assistant Professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, Ryerson University, Toronto. Jamin holds a PhD in Linguistics from La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, with extensive mixed-methods field research in China. He specializes in anthropological, historical and cognitive linguistics, with an over-arching commitment to semiotic inquiry. Jamin is Editor of Anthropology of Language (Berghahn book series) and Semiotics (Yearbook of the Semiotic Society of America). He is an executive member of the Toronto Semiotic Circle and serves on the editorial board of three international semiotic journals. He has published more than thirty articles and chapters in international venues and is the author or editor of seven books. His most recent book, The Semiotics of X (Bloomsbury Academic 2017) makes substantial contributions to the emerging dialogue between marketing design and embodied cognition.