A Brand Is Not Your Friend

surroundingsignifiers – Calling “Engagement” into Question: brands, anxiety, and the obscene:

“The worst thing possible is to be obliged to invent one’s own motives for acting, for preferring, for buying. The individual in such circumstances is inevitably brought face to face with his own misapprehensions, his own lack of existence, his own faith and anxiety.” (Baudrillard, “The System of Objects”)

…At its core, a brand is not your friend; it sells you something. Whether it’s a product, a lifestyle, or a model of identity, brands are imaginary figures that always have hidden motivations behind the ways that they form relationships. That’s not to say there is something immoral or evil about brands—far from it. Brands justify our own purchase motivations, those irrational impulses that influences how and what we buy. Instead of falling back on ourselves to rationalize a luxury purchase, for example, by making false claims for utility and practicality, the brand assures us that performing this action will grant access to an identity-forming ideal and an otherwise intangible system of meaning. We need brands to assuage the anxiety of being and consuming.

This guy has a great blog (everything is really brilliant), this passage especially is insightful, but it highlights some of the problems I have with brands. My apprehension has to do with the quote by Baudrillard and basic idea of brands as a quick psychological fix to the more or less spiritual problems that people have.

Like followers of a religion, people put faith in a brand to guide them. They trust in brands to make up for their own lack of confidence. People may lack faith and have anxiety, but facing those problems be a bad thing and trusting in brands isn’t the only solution. There are ways to overcome those negative forces without relying on external factors. I certainly don’t think making decisions for yourself is the worst thing possible. (How exactly I’m not sure. I don’t think I’m smart enough to figure that out.)

I’m a fan of buying fewer, high quality things that will best improve your way of life, or improve your work. But products don’t improve people, and an identity achieved through purchasing or consuming (aka desire) is an illusion.

Another thing I don’t like about brands is how they abstract what organizations really are. Brands are value-injected abstractions of organizations, and organizations are groups of people. An organization and its products shouldn’t be defined the artificial values of its brand, it should be defined by, and it should be known by it’s people, their creed and their values.

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