From Apple to Audi, Abercrombie to American Apparel Rebekah Rennick takes a look at how our favourite brands are transforming the reticent consumer into a thoughtless logo consummative addict.
Amongst the traditional junkies of consumerism in self-help groups (the coin-slotting casino enthusiast, the tobacco munching chain smoker and the class A narcotic devotee) there now sits a new uncomfortable member. As a direct product of our logo emblazoned environment, the evolution of the brand addict has been a rapid and vicious transformation. It began as a tool for consumers to associate different companies with different services. Now branding has mutated each and every one of us from individualistic movers and shakers into complacent livestock, stomping in the production line, mouths agape awaiting the searing iron of uniformity to emblazon our skin.
Simply put, branding is a set of associations that a person makes with a company, product, service or organisation. It is the platform and foundation upon which many of the empiric companies of today are poised. Brands have ultimately come to shape and feed our unquenchable thirst for more, more, more.
Yet, what is the trigger for this brand addiction and where did it begin? In technical terms we can thank the American Marketing Association in the 1960s for formally coining the definition of this lethal obsession. We are a material obsessed society who associate what we wear and what we consume with who we are. Combining this inclination with the manipulative, systematic methodology behind branding is a lethal cocktail that consumers have been guzzling down their greedy throats for centuries.
Undoubtedly “branding” of fashion has always existed; high couture from Paris or Milan was once a novelty and signaled style and class upon the wearer. However, in our day and age, branding has become the blanket for hiding insecurities and very often alludes to the fact the consumer actually lacks any ounce of style. Even if we attempt to deny it, we wear branded clothes, consume branded food and sit reticently as the higher lords of marketing subconsciously turn the screws in our brain to accept such goods and justify them as a necessity.
For years, brands have been used to define ourselves and ultimately judge others. It is no longer a question of style and fashion, but of fitting in and feeding a salient necessity to not only please ourselves but those around us. Brands have become guilty pleasures that have ebbed into our identities from an early age. Clothing lines such as Abercrombie, Superdry, Ugg and Adidas shape the prepubescent years of thousands across the world and trigger the addiction with branded clothing that very often continues throughout all of our lives. While it begins as a juvenile necessity, it very often matures into a camouflage for adult superficiality.
A world completely devoid of branding is a surreal one to imagine. For a moment consider scanning the blank shelves of a supermarket aisle, purchasing a piece of technology completely oblivious to its manufacturer; unease and indecisive thoughts begin to surface. An even stranger question is whether or not we could survive in such an environment. Subconsciously we choose Coca-Cola, Colgate, Topshop and Starbucks over a generic or less established counterpart. Could we survive without our monster-like, money-fueled shopping centres that make up our discretionary spending?
Neil Boorman, writer, music promoter and self-proclaimed brand junkie did the extreme and torched his most prized possessions to relinquish himself from the confines of capitalism. Through his blog an audience watched with bated breath as he documented the stages of realization and grief that the value system by which he was judging himself and others was “hollow”, ultimately leading him to accept a complete brand-free lifestyle.
Removing the branding from our image-obsessed culture is like skinning the hide of an animal, without it we are bare. Turning to markets for home grown delicacies, opting for Oxfam fashion and formulating your own man-made cosmetics is an idealistic way of life for anti-consumerists. Nevertheless, it is a nightmarish thought for the celebrity culture that defines much of our daily interests and inclinations. Even vintage outlets are becoming branded and placed within a ridiculous marketing hierarchy. Without branding, celebrity and media would crumble and this is the vicious cycle we all find ourselves in, a sticky web that has us tightly ensnared.
A consumer survey in the US claims that trust and credibility in brands such as Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Ford Motors are rated higher than Amnesty International and Oxfam; a shocking yet truthful reality. It’s difficult to wonder will the pleasure of attaining that over-priced, logo emblazoned new shirt or celebrity endorsed pair of sunglasses ever subside and will we opt for a more nomadic way of living. This false consumption is unhealthy and it’s been argued that continual exposure to brand messages has a very real psychological impact; evident in Boorman’s extreme conclusion to torch all of his goods to escape the false façade of style, wealth and ultimately happiness.
“For great brands to survive they must create loyalty without reason” says Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, and the loyalty and addiction which we have all developed for brands is a credit to the power of media enforced predictability. Brands have become a lethal necessity that have consumed the way we live our lives. Some may deny their obsession for these compulsive entities yet it’s common knowledge that acceptance is the first step to recovery in any addiction. Humans are creatures of habit and without the forceful nudge of ultimately effective marketing campaigns there may be less members signing up to the AA equivalent for brand addicts and simply more individuals.