The Semiotics of “Pot Noodles”

The following appeared in the Financial Times, which I have long treasured as the most truly subversive of newspapers.  This short article provides a rare pleasure – a profound, concise and it appears wholly unintended yet devastating insight into the true nature of the current economic and cultural system (a similar insight is to be found in the revelation that a toothbrush I recently bought came with a CD-rom with which to programme the device).  Such signs are perhaps faint signals of the very death of capitalism – or at the least the death of our sense of the absurd.  I shall try to forbear from further comment, for I think the interview speaks for itself.  The item appeared in a regular FT series about people with unusual jobs.


By the way, for non-British readers, a Pot Noodle is a plastic tub filled with dried noodles and various artificial flavours, designed for rapid preparation (a “convenience food”) and, so it appears from its taste, rapid consumption.


Note the mis-spelling in the penultimate para, in a paper where such mistakes are rare.  Perhaps a deliberate cry for help from a desperate sub-editor, in despair at being reduced to preparing such stuff without irony?



My job is to think about the world of popular culture and how it might be manipulated for commercial benefit.

Semiotics is a way of studying culture, where all images, language and symbols impact upon each other.

Consumers can find it difficult to articulate what they really want. Often they only echo what exists already.

So semiotics provides a way of studying culture rather than people, exploring the context in which consumers live but don’t always consciously recognise.

We take cues from sources such as brand communications, popular culture, socio-historical practices and even theological or folk traditions.

For example, my company was asked to find a new code for communicating Pot Noodle. We discovered that the product shared some of the values of conventional food and some of a snack. It was therefore, on a semiotic level, a perverse presence in the market: was it a food, snack or dehydrated hybrid?

Along with its cheap and cheerful heritage, we identified a new brand truth: Pot Noodle was a sometimes guilty pleasure.

We uncovered this by comparing it with other cultural codes and processes that took a wholesome, cherished system and made it crass and cheap; the analogy of “real love” versus pornography seemed to fit the model perfectly.

This approach directly inspired the “Slag of All Snacks” advertising campaign, which saw sales of Pot Noddle [sic] rise by 29 per cent.

There’s money to be made in the rich stew of philosophy and creativity.



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