Branding, Marketing and The Semiotics of Safety
I was asked to meet with a ‘start up’ group last week and as part of the meeting I was proudly shown their ‘brand’. You should have seen their faces slump when they invited my comment and I told them it completely contradicted their message. One the most important things in messaging is maintaining congruence between the conscious and unconscious.
How strange this safety industry that seeks so much knowledge about legislation and regulation but hasn’t a clue about semiotics. What often results is the most absurd contradictions in messaging that obviously doesn’t know that the medium of the message is as important as the message itself (https://safetyrisk.net/the-medium-is-the-message/).
Good old Safety running around like a chook with its head cut off wondering why so many of its messaging strategies don’t work.
So, here is Safety with no expertise in Semiotics, metaphor and Iconography using pickles, heroes, meerkats, animated suicide characters, misogynist images and patriarchy (https://safetyrisk.net/meerkat-safety-can-it-get-more-dumb/ ) and then wondering why people think Safety is dumb.
What a strange industry that seeks to affect the everyday way people tackle risk and yet choosing images that completely alienate workers from this core message.
How strange to advocate for a rebranding of safety or safety differently, then using images, metaphor and semiotics that advocate for continued traditional safety or brutalism.
Wouldn’t you think that a little research on the semiotics of branding might be helpful:
Just imagine if Safety bothered to read or research about messaging (https://designopendata.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/themediumisthemassage_marshallmcluhan_quentinfiore.pdf ). Just think of how more effective it could be.
When we think about a brand (and most in safety don’t even do that) we are beginning to consider strategically how semiotics communicates to the unconscious.
When we study semiotics in SPoR (https://cllr.com.au/elearning/ ) we offer two modules on the basics and masterclass in semiotics. Once participants have been sensitized to semiotics they then observe and begin to become far more effective in their messaging in their organisations. Of course, then my email gets clogged with the many things they now see that they didn’t envision before (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/ ).
How strange this industry of safety that could undertake transdisciplinary study (https://safetyrisk.net/transdisciplinary-thinking-in-risk-and-safety/ ) but chooses not to.
How strange this industry that chooses to be blissfully ignorant and then wondering why its messaging doesn’t work.
I had the following images posted to me this week from one of the many semiotics students in Europe, of an inflatable swimming ring on sale in a department store. See Figure 1. Inflatable Swimming Ring.
Figure 1. Inflatable Swimming Ring.
Of course, for the child, the most important thing is identity with the My Little Pony Character – Rainbow Dash. For the parent is the overload of safety warnings (see Figure 2. Safety Warnings) about what to do and NOT do with this object. If you are ever looking for evidence against the existence of common sense in safety, this is your item of proof. How absurd is Safety! The archetype of ‘everyone is dumb except me!’ Interestingly, none of this stuff absolves legal liability.
Figure 2. Safety Warnings
One of the first things we learn in iconography, metaphor and semiotics is the nature of hermeneutics, the study of interpretation. All interpretation is cultural shaped and subjective. If you want to know what a fist represents semiotically, just do some research (https://www.docspopuli.org/articles/Fist.html), it isn’t rocket science. If you want to know what the heroes communicate, just do some research (https://www.academia.edu/26444334/Semiotics_and_Critical_Discourse_Analysis_of_The_Hero_love_story_of_a_spy_?auto=download ; https://www.pdcnet.org/ajs/content/ajs_2002_0018_0001_0107_0126?file_type=pdf ). The contradictions in most safety semiotics is breathtaking and such contradiction creates confusion and ineffectiveness in tackling risk.
Unfortunately, whenever you read Safety talking about ‘culture’ semiotics is excluded. No wonder it is so ineffective at helping culture change.
Oh that’s right, ‘culture is what we DO around here’ the classic mantra of behaviourism (https://safetyrisk.net/the-curse-of-behaviourism/ ).
If you see Safety offering so called expertise in ‘culture and safety’ and semiotics is excluded, you are most likely being fed behaviourism or systems-safety. Then look at the branding associated with such training and there is nothing ‘different’, it’s just traditional safety dressed up in contradictory slogans.
Back to the Rainbow Dash ring and we see that nothing there ‘helps with the fundamentals of supervision. Supervision is foundational to safety with children. I recently helped a school reduce its safety paperwork from 120 pages to 4 pages, simply by taking a focus on Supervision and dumping all the clutter they were told to have by a safety consultant keen to promote fear and paperwork.
Clutter in messaging, makes a message ineffective. Clutter desensitizes people to risk. We see so much ‘safety clutter’ on building sites, Safety wallpaper conveys the opposite of what it seeks to achieve and desensitizes workers to risk.
So if you want to study semiotics and want to do safety that works (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/it-works-a-new-approach-to-risk-and-safety/ ) or improve culture/messaging, you can study here: https://cllr.com.au/elearning/