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The hermeneutics of branding


An increasing body of scholarship, particularly in marketing, has drawn on a wide variety of theoretical traditions to address the implications of brands as social texts. Taken together this research proposes that: brands exist as symbols in popular culture with their meanings contingent on particular cultural contexts; that consumers may resist meanings originally conceived by managers or agencies; that brands embody stories constructed both by the companies that produce them and by their consumers; that brands have histories. In this paper, we engage these topics from the perspective of hermeneutical inquiry. The linguistic, historical tradition in hermeneutics — which continues to play a role in contemporary theory through, for example, reader response and reception theory — offers a rich interpretive tradition and method that contributes to our developing understanding of brands. Following from recent research in marketing, we regard brands to be one of the most text-like artifacts of contemporary business culture and therefore appropriate for a demonstration of the potential contribution of hermeneutics. To this end, we emphasise three hermeneutic concepts: intention, the horizon of expectations and reception. From these categories, we derive the more pragmatic terms of trace, arc and collective interpretation to move towards a hermeneutical theory of branding. This approach allows us to explain the ways in which the meaning of a brand changes over time (giving branding a historical dimension) and how managerial intention intersects interpretations made by multiple constituencies. We contend that a deeper understanding of brands in terms of their past and present meaning increases the opportunities to realise a brand's potential.

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Correspondence to Mary Jo Hatch.

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Hatch, M., Rubin, J. The hermeneutics of branding. J Brand Manag 14, 40–59 (2006).

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  • brands
  • brand management
  • corporate branding
  • hermeneutics
  • interpretive theory