Using semiotics in consumer research to understand everyday phenomena

Document Type

Journal Article




Peter Mouncey


Faculty of Business and Law


School of Marketing, Tourism and Leisure




This article was originally published as: Ogilvie, M. , & Mizerski, K. (2011). Using semiotics in consumer research to understand everyday phenomena. International Journal of Market Research, 53(5), 651-668. Original article available here


This paper introduces a new method of studying consumer phenomena by combining two different semiotic philosophies. Using cosmetics as the vehicle to demonstrate the technique, this study explores the semiotics of visible face make-up in Australian Caucasian women. It aims to understand why women wear make-up and how they experience the signs of make-up and appearance in everyday life. The study comprises two phases. The initial phase adopts a communication model extended from Saussurean semiotics, while the second employs a triadic semiotic philosophy as proposed by Charles Sanders Peirce. Results indicate that, by combining the two semiotic perspectives within one study, the researcher is able to gain greater insights about the consumption behaviours of individuals from a communication as well as an experiential perspective. For marketers, this greater understanding of how the consumer interacts and experiences brands and products allows for more strategic and focused communication with their target market. In addition, this approach provides useful information about symbolic consumption, so trends and new directions in cultural paradigms can also be predicted. An example of this is shown in Figure 2.