Wednesday, December 10, 2008

They brand cattle, don't they?

A few days ago, author Peter Montoya live-chatted at the Washington Post's BizBooks (in connection with Amex and Slate) about his book, The Brand Called You. The book's official blurb: "Why does a consumer choose to buy Rachel Ray's cookware over another brand? Or book a vacation at the Wynn Las Vegas over the countless other hotels on the Las Vegas strip? It's because both Rachel Ray and Steve Wynn have successfully mastered the art of creating a personal brand. A personal brand reshapes how your customers perceive you and the value you provide."

The art of creating a personal brand.
The act of depersonalizing and instead commodifying. I am for sale; come buy me.

(Sounds a little like a different kind of business practice that's been around for a long time.)

For some, the "Mark of Cain" is the first example of branding, with the Hebrew God putting some sort of trademark on His special product, a jealous man guilty of fratricide, in order to say "This is Mine; don't mess with it." It wasn't the first time that the "God's Chosen" brand had been flashed around, but it was pretty memorable, since the dead brother, Abel, was probably thinking that he deserved top-level attention and corporate sponsorship more.

Over the centuries, corporate sponsorship became a form of evil in itself, and now there's a small army of resistance forming at the gates to take it down. Naomi Klein's No Logo isn't just a book, it's an ideology of anti-ideology. Unfortunately, it's also the name of a sportswear manufacturer, an online/eBay retailer, and most ironically, a British advertising agency whose mission is to "create, name, invigorate, reposition, consolidate, design, implement and very strongly suggest brand."


Wisconsin's No Brand Con, which started out as a small meeting of anime fans, is going into its eighth year, getting bigger and more branded with each convention. In Japan, McDonald's is opening a "no brand" "quarter-pounder joint." You know, just an indie diner that sells distilled, homogenized, cardboard-infused "meat" that happens to look like a QPC from Micky D. And the most vocal and visible resistance fighter, Adbusters' Blackspot non-brand, is of course a brand, complete with an image: it fights against branding. See, I do not have a Nike swoosh on my shoes, I have an artfully blobby little spot of paint instead. Therefore I am not branded; if anything, I am spotted or blobbed, but those are silly concepts, so I'm not anything. See? Magic.

As Rutgers professor Myra Jehlen wrote over a decade ago, the outlines of successfully dominant ideology are most clearly visible in the amounts and forms of resistance to it. Given that, brands are clearly here to stay until someone finds a way to replace them with the true non-brand: nothing.

1 comment:

Michael Arnzen said...

Brilliant. Brands seek to be religious icons, no doubt about it.