The Lack of Specificity in Regards to Branding

Curator's Note

Branding is a powerfull practice within our culture. Its overuse as a term confirms its ubiquitous cultural position while masking its power through inconsistent and shallow application. Questions of specificity and branding as practice versus as metaphor were engaged during the ICA pre-conference: Beyond the Brand.

A need is also present for historically-informed branding work – beyond our habitual modern gaze. The goal is to craft a finer precision branding analytical tool – rather than the blunt-force strategy often accompanying the term's overuse. At best, we can create spaces for resistance, but more realistically “shift” our engagement with branding to recalibrate the balance between branded spaces and civic areas traditionally non-branded. This video engages brand as a cultural concept on multiple levels.

First, the talking heads state, “You have to have a brand to succeed” – this reveals the capture and rationalization by capital via commodified aesthetics. Next, the life coach reaffirms this capture by acknowledging such branding exists, occurs, is always already in place, and it is the parents’ role to act as brand managers. This coach is accepting of the notion that a parent must sell a child as commodity. Her terms place the concept of reputation not in a civic or ethical space, but a commodified one.

The theme continues as the life coach reifies Goffman’s notion of backstage/front stage, warning that revealing backstage behaviors is bad for business. The coach is uttering what many parents have always preached: “Don’t act up in public; have respect for yourself and your family.” However, by utilizing the term “brand” the coach attempts to create the perception she is providing an alternative, while simultaneously diluting the term branding - as it comprises more than simply reputation.

In the bossy behavior example, parenting is reformulated from an institution of accepting who you are to product positioning and avoiding negative consumer feedback associated with labeling commodity performance (i.e. “she’s bossy”). The coach reaffirms the profit-motivation of the childhood agent by stating, “We all understand what’s in it for me.” She attempts to create a positive consumer-brand feedback loop by advising parents to encourage kids to position themselves in such a way as to reap potential social profits while satisfying consumer demand – unsaid, but especially significant in a social media rich world.

What complications can arise from the overuse of branding as a concept? How does this challenge previously held assumptions about branding?

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