The Semiotics of Oral Hygiene & Personal Care Products

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

If you’re a regular reader of our Magazine (or generally familiar with our work), you’d know that we love analyzing brands in interesting ways with the help of our unique Culture AI models. This week, we set out to understand the semiotics of oral hygiene and personal care products as represented on the internet.

We pulled approx. 2 million Instagram posts and 500 product descriptions from Amazon of 27 Health brands. We also looked at over 120,000,000 Google Search results from last year and conducted image and textual analysis on all this data. We then identified semiotic cues to draw meaning and better understand how brands are talking about personal care and hygiene on the internet.

The Meaning of Health

As we analyzed the data we extracted, we found two distinct dimensions of how health is understood: on one hand, we see health being talked about as something to be “restored”, while on the other hand, it is seen as “vitality”, or something that comes from within.

This understanding of health is then delivered by brands in the form of two major narratives: through “potent action” that aids nourishment (for example, through specific ingredients or characteristics), or through “lifestyle balance” triggered by behavioral change.

When we plotted the 29 brands we studied on a 2x2 grid, we found that while Non-POC (Personal and Oral Care) brands fell across all quadrants, POC brands dominated one of the quadrants in particular: that of restoration and potent action. We derived 7 distinct semiotic clusters within this landscape, and this article, we deep-dive into the three most dominant ones: Holistic Living, Nourishing Goodness, and Immunity First.

Holistic Living

Brands that fall under this cluster connect health with having a holistic lifestyle that goes beyond nutrition and exercise rather focuses on leading a healthy, balanced life. They showcase content that is embedded in everyday life and has a calm and natural tone, denoted through nude or muted colors, and with an emphasis on themes of sustainability and community.

The most commonly used words focus on human-centric narratives and relationships e.g. “self-esteem”, “stories”, “people”, “family”, “community”, while the most common emojis are engaging and supportive, represented through high fives, sparkles, and blue hearts: 🙌💙.

Nourishing Goodness

Brands that fall under this cluster associate health with feeling refreshed while providing the body with the nourishment it needs. There’s a playful, lighthearted tone to their content, showcasing active, on-the-good, feel-good imagery.

Blues and greens are the dominant colors in their posts, while products are mostly shown in outdoor and nature settings to signal activeness and refreshment. Captions talk about nutrition and nourishment, while hashtags such as #nourishyourbody, #holisticnutrition, and #getoutthere are commonly used. Even the most predominant emoji is nature-related: 🌱.

Immunity First

Brands in this cluster communicate that health basically means living life to the fullest, and in order to do this, immunity and good health is essential. Their packaging highlights the efficacy of the product or the ingredients in achieving certain ideals, such as increased immunity, whiter teeth, smoother skin, etc. The language is playful and light-hearted while pitching the product/brand as a ‘protector’ of health.

The product packaging has one solid, dominant color, while the captions highlight their efficacy. Oral care brands, in particular, use the toothy smile and sparkles emojis to denote clean, sparkly teeth: 😁✨.

Health as Empowerment

Conversations around health, especially for Gen Z and young millennials, have transitioned into broader themes of empowerment: fitness, mental well-being, and social activism.

Brands that speak the language of self-care and sustainability seem to resonate the most with these young consumers. The imagery in their online content is people-centric and all about breaking stereotypes. Minimal packaging, natural settings, and evocative language work wonders.

One brand that does all of this perfectly: Dove!

Source: Instagram

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