Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Alienation, The Basis For Emotional "Bonding" With A Brand

It is going to be difficult to capture all the thoughts I want to share about branding now. 

In a sense this is a voyage of self-discovery. It is an attempt to figure out what this intangible thing called a "brand" -- a reality that is not real -- has done to my own mind and life.

I sense that the impact has not been overall positive, even as I rely on brand concepts for a living. One could say that I have become addicted to a toxin, and having been poisoned, must now find the cure.

Branding is fundamentally about alienation. To really understand this, you have to understand a little bit of Karl Marx.

Marx -- who lived in the Age of Industrialization -- offered a theory of how the new world of the factory became acceptable to the masses. For unlike on the farm, they were not at all connected to their work, each other or even to nature. 

To vastly oversimplify, Marx said that a shift occurred in people's minds to help them adapt. To overcome a true lack of connection, of integration, of unity -- people turned instead to things.

This he called "commodity fetishism." Which is a fancy way of saying that the ordinary worker fantasized about owning things. Ordinary goods became invested with magical power.

And thus the brand. 

Marx said a lot of other things too -- like the famous "religion is the opiate of the masses" -- that explained why people did not rebel against their lot.

It was a lot in which a few very rich people took and exploited the labor of the many, and offered almost nothing in return.

The American capitalist dream depends on consumers' emotional attachment to brands. It depends on those brands being essential to their lives and identities. It also depends on their being able to purchase.

What is happening now? A steady disappearance of secure full-time jobs that pay a living wage. The growth of a shadowy "temp" workforce that is real and yet unreal -- oddly, just like a brand.

The fewer people are able to access commodity fetishism (e.g. join in the branding fantasy) the more that fantasy will break down. 

The question is how much of the stability of the social order goes along with it, and what will the transition to a different (hopefully better) kind of future economy be. 

* As always all opinions are my own.