Monday, April 2, 2007
Why Branding Isn't Bad
There is a movement out there. You can hear it. Shhhh. Listen carefully. Hear that buzzing noise? The one that sounds like a mosquito? Yeah that's the one.
The movement of which I speak is a somewhat recent anti-brand, anti-advertising, anti-marketing grassroots movement which aims to let the world know how useless, harmful, and evil advertising on the whole is.
I point to sites like areyougeneric.org and the anti-advertising agency as examples.
These movements and initiatives look for support from others who share the common goal or belief that corporate America is evil and marketing is to blame. While I revel in and enjoy the anti-capitalist sentiment (I honestly do enjoy rebellion), I think these movements are misguided, misinformed, and in some ways hypocritical.
Allow me to explain, if I may.
These movements' primary message seems to be that branding is bad. That it clutters our society with visual pollution and noise that hides the true nature of our being and removes us even further from a natural, more organic lifestyle. In the case of areyougeneric.org, they actually have a battlecry: "No Logo. No Brand. Pure Concept." This might seem honorable and anti-establishment at first, but let's look closer. Right there, next to their links...sort of to the left. Oh, yup. There it is. A logo. It's trying to be an anti-logo, but it's a logo nonetheless. And that battlecry? Why, it's a tagline! They tried to keep it non-tagline-ish by having two taglines that are used at random on page load, but they're still taglines. More accurately, they're positioning statements.
The idea of the "brand" is commonly frowned upon because it has become marketing lingo. All marketers know that a product or company needs a brand; that message it sends the public that tells us if it's cool (Scion), if its eco-friendly (GE), or if it's serious business (CNN). The brand isn't anything evil or malicious, but rather it is a way of allowing us to identify the positives and negatives associated with a company or product (usually they focus on the positives, of course). Branding is not unique to companies, though. Branding is a part of every day life, but usually it goes by another term: street smarts.
When we're walking down the street and we come across a rough-looking guy, our intuition and experience tells us to back off and avoid him because he looks like he might mess us up. The rough-looking guy himself has actually gone to great lengths to brand himself as tough. Perhaps he doesn't shave often, has a mean look about him, is very muscular, etc. All of these elements, when put together, send the public a clear message that this guy is tough. As humans, we pick up on these intricacies and formulate opinions about our "tough guy" as we do with all other people. It is natural, and we do it with everybody and everything. We rely upon these prejudgement abilities every day of our lives, and we always run the risk of being incorrect. For example, our "tough guy" could actually be a really nice person who loves cuddly puppies, but we wouldn't know it without actually getting to know him. However, his outward appearance and the message he sends is that of a tough guy, and as such we leave him alone.
Now let's compare him with a product. If a product were released that was plain, had no message, no name, no nothing, would you know how to feel about it? Well, you might: you'd probably not feel much of anything. Think of it as our "tough guy" totally stripped down and without any attitude. It'd be generic, uninteresting, and without importance. To avoid this problem, a brand is necessary. The brand communicates to us what the product is, what it does, and why it's good. It sends us messages that we pick up on, which allow us to formulate opinions based upon the data we're receiving. We humans are pretty perceptive like that.
So brands, inherently, are not bad things. The negativity lies all in how they're used.
As consumers, we are pretty jaded. When we look at products, we tend to scrutinize them more than any other generation of people ever have. Our grandparents lived in a world of trustworthiness, where the car salesman down the street was actually your neighbor and did everything in his power to treat you fairly. But not this generation. Not at all. We look up facts, we read reviews, and we complain to high-heaven if the product doesn't do what it's supposed to. We can sum up all this cynicism and skepticism and point towards one culprit: false marketing.
False marketing is, as it would imply, the practice of deceiving the public into believing something that is not true. A lot of infomercials are guilty of this practice, over-promising and under-delivering with the wares they sell. Lies in the name of profit have damaged the face of marketing, and as such we humans simply do not believe much of what is sold to us. The lies have essentially ruined it all, and isn't that always the case?
So instead of being anti-brand, anti-advertising, and anti-corporation, we need to look more closely at the companies ruining it for the rest of us. Those companies that lie about what their products do, or manipulate the data in order to support their claims, or add little asterisks next to claims in the effort of forcing you to read fine print (but it's so small they know you won't read it). We need to take those brands and tear them down, and support the honest brands in the world. The ones that represent simple products that do what they say. Overall, we simply need to be more specific as to the causes we fight, because lumping all marketers together is unfair and hurts the craft on the whole.
- Ryan Ford