Branded Like a Fool?

The power of the brand over us is immense. We will gladly pay more for it, go out of our way for it, model ourselves on it. Given this loyalty and commitment we must derive some benefit from being associated with company brands. Why do we have this abiding love of the brand? What does it tell us about ourselves?

To brand something is to stamp an identity on it. It denotes belonging.

There is certainly value attached to a brand. We will associate it with certain qualities and standards.  It gives us confidence in the product because we believe we know what we are getting. A product without identity, without source, without credentials is an unknown. Branding does provide a sort of guarantee as to what we are buying,

Branding also reinforces our buying decision. If others are desiring that brand, are buying that brand then we too can have confidence in it. There is safety in numbers. And the bigger and more successful the brand the more confidence we can have.

My objection is not to the branding process as such but to the visible proclamation of the brand – the all-pervasive logo. Surely, branding doesn’t have to be so public. Why does the logo have to be so prominent? Branding, in terms of company and product guarantees, would work just as well by a single label on the back of the item. Why does it have to be so in our faces?

The logo dominates our consumer world. Not only do we use branding as the basis for our purchasing decisions, but we happily show off our loyalty to particular brands. We carry our purchases in branded bags, we have their logos emblazoned upon us, we publicly show our affinity to particular brands on social media.

What puzzles me is why consumers have so readily embraced the branded logo. Has it been done by stealth? Have we been unwittingly duped by the commercial world as they have sneakily and increasingly introduced logos into all aspects of our life?

Some companies, forsaking any ideas of subtlety, even go to an extreme in “logoising” their products – Gap, French Connection. They want to shout out their company name and logo as loud as possible. And we, as consumers, by buying those products, let them get away with it.

When companies so visibly and flagrantly brand their products, by buying those products, we are effectively branding ourselves. Are we aware of this? Why do we feel that we have to broadcast the details of our purchases to others? What are we saying by shouting out about our brand affiliations? Are we satisfying some sub-conscious need? Are we reaching out for some hidden craving to belong?

When carrying a logo, it’s like demonstrating our support for a favourite football team. It’s a way of making a statement about ourselves, something that others can readily access. It becomes an extension of the individual. This is who I am. I wear this, I shop here, I eat this. It says so much about the person… their income, their lifestyle, their beliefs.

Not only that, we are also – as with our fashion choices – associating ourselves with a particular grouping of people. People who shop a particular way, who have similar priorities and beliefs. It’s a desire for belonging, a feeling of being part of a collective.

The wearing of logoed products is not, however, primarily about showing off. Even mid-range companies develop brands as a way of differentiating themselves from the competition. Surely, for consumers, there can’t be much benefit to flaunting a mediocre, non-prestigious brand. And yet they still do it.

It may be that, for many people, it is better to belong to something, even at a lesser level, than it is to belong to nothing at all. And, of course, it’s important to be comfortable with yourself; it’s important to fit in.

If you’ve needed a carrier bag to go somewhere have you ever chosen the bag out of the cupboard on the basis of the venue you are attending or the people you will be with? I’m sure many of us have. Most of us are aware of the messages that a brand can signal. We are also aware that others can be quick to form opinions of us.

The brands we wear and buy are an extension of ourselves. They tell people about us. They reflect our personality and beliefs. Hence they must be chosen with care.

The proliferation and power of the logo inevitably puts pain and stress into our buying decisions as the wider significance of those decisions becomes more evident. Get it wrong and there may well be implications.

The irony is that even though we are effectively advertising a company’s product by wearing their logo it does not mean the product’s price is any lower. All too often we end up paying more for the privilege of doing their advertising. Frankly, if you think about it, they should actually be paying us for advertising their product.

Branding is certainly a mutually beneficial relationship. Hence its success.

For organisations it generates loyalty to them. It guarantees them regular and repeat business. Hence, the efforts they make to cultivate and protect their brand.

For consumers, it may be that we just accept the brand and its logo as part of the product we are buying. More likely, our desire for the brand, for that strong logo, is much more about giving us our confidence and station in society. We are, it seems, too often captivated by the brand and the almighty logo.

Yet, do we really need it to be so conspicuous and ostentatious? Or, perhaps, that is the very essence of its appeal.






©Copyright Steve Oxley 2019