From: Wade T.Smith (email@example.com)
Date: Sun 01 Dec 2002 - 17:09:59 GMT
A New Brand World
Lately, I've been fretting about my brand. It's been tanking with the
all-important 18-to-34 demographic. Clearly, I need to be more cutting
edge, more with it, more now. I'm working on it. The goatee is coming in
nicely, the tattoo has nearly healed, and I find that the
tongue-piercing has actually improved my diction.
Still, I pine for the old days, when it was enough to have an identity,
or an image, or even just a plain old personality. Not anymore. Now,
whether you're a person or a product, it's all about the brand. Every
talk-show host wants to be the next Oprah (Hello there, Dr. Phil); every
manufacturer of soft drinks or flavored juices wants to be the next
Coke; every network envisions its prime-time lineup as the next
"must-see TV." And even ordinary Joes and Josephines crave a "personal brand" that will earn them riches beyond the dreams of Croesus, or at least an office with a window.
They all want what they think a brand represents: instant, universal
recognition that triggers a Pavlovian impulse among consumers to watch
or buy whatever they're showing or selling - including themselves. So
they adopt a "branding strategy" in an attempt to "build brand equity."
And when they are unable to "leverage the brand"? Why, then, it's time
to launch a "rebranding campaign."
Seldom has so vague a concept been bandied about by so many. It comes to
us, as do most dubious things, courtesy of the advertising industry,
which has long promoted the idea of brand names.
Like "spin," born of the political term "spin control," "brand" shed its
companion word en route to a place in the vernacular as a noun,
adjective, and verb. As cable-news outlets frenetically promoted their
coverage of the Washington-area sniper shootings in October, one
journalism professor remarked to The Washington Post: "Each one is
trying to brand its news to keep its viewers loyal." But the ad industry
retains pride of authorship. In an invitation to its November workshops
in New York on "developing and implementing successful brand
strategies," the Association of National Advertisers proclaimed that
"your brand is your single most valuable asset."
Certainly a lot of people beyond Madison Avenue have come to think so.
In Hollywood, where going to extremes is a way of life, some seem to
view the brand as half mystical force, half living thing. When
Nickelodeon's Rugrats TV show was turned into a movie, its executive
producer said the film "has given everyone here the wonderful feeling
that the brand has taken a deep breath and expanded."
Equally wonderful feelings abound at Dennis Publishing, which recently
launched a hair-color product linked to its magazine Maxim. "This gives
them a tangible interface with our brand that they can touch or feel,"
says the company's manager for (what else?) brand development. Even
David Brooks, one of the savviest writers around, wrote in a summer
issue of The Atlantic Monthly that Yasser Arafat's "primary goals have
always been to create and nurture what might be called the Palestinian
There seems to be no stopping brand-mania, what with recent books
exalting the brand as a means of propelling oneself up the corporate
ladder. In his book The Personal Branding Phenomenon, Peter Montoya
argues that power and influence in the workplace and marketplace can be
acquired by the development of a personal brand, which he defines as "a
personal identity that stimulates precise, meaningful perceptions in its
audience about the values and qualities that person stands for." As
examples of effective personal brands, he cites "Tom Hanks, the
Everyman," "Jack Welch, the Greatest CEO Ever," and - I kid you not -
"Jesus Christ, Savior."
You don't have to follow the branding fad to the outer limits of
absurdity to spot holes in its premise. The truth is that a brand is far
more often an effect than a cause; the brand usually follows the
achievement, not vice versa. Oprah Winfrey became Oprah because of her
singular ability to connect with people, not because of any
self-conscious branding strategy. Even Coca-Cola can't manufacture
popular appeal with a brand alone, as the company learned when it rolled
out New Coke, and customers rolled it right back.
Besides, when everybody has a brand, it will be hard to stand out from
This story ran in the Boston Globe Magazine on 12/1/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.
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