Branding nonsense

The misuse of the terms “brand” and “branding” has long been one of my pet peeves, and I think it hit a new pinnacle of ridiculous today. The story (from Time/CNN) was about the future of Al Qaeda, the headline was “Will the Brand Survive?” Really?
Kleenex is a brand, John Deere is a brand, Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization and an artist with a concept or collection is…an artist with a concept or collection. The brand concept was hijacked by the advertising and marketing people a decade or so back and they now claim the ability to use it as a verb – asserting that a person can now “brand” something. The word gets tossed about and used interchangeably with name, trademark, style or other identifying aspects of a product so often that it really has lost its meaning.
One of my favorite defining comments about brands: You are who you sell to. 
Becoming a brand is not at all simple because brands are built in the mind of the consumer. You can’t just decide that you are now a brand any more than you can just decide “I am now a best selling artist”. Brands are defined by customers over time, they are the result of an economic relationship that grows into something more, often with  psychological and emotional ties for the customers of the brand. Let’s repeat a few of these words: Customers. Time. Economic relationship (think: sales). Brands are created by customers, not by marketing depts., brand coaches, licensing agents or positioning experts (of course, they are all happy to tell you they CAN do it – for a fee…).
This does not mean that an artist cannot approach brand status – a brand creates an image in the mind of the consumer, so when you think of Mary Englebreit, or Jim Shore, or Paul Brent, you (and everybody else) will have an immediate and recognizable image in your head of what they do. Why? Because they have delivered, over a long period of time, a consistent, quality product to their customers. Pay attention to doing that, and who knows…someday maybe…
1 reply
  1. Kathy Weller
    Kathy Weller says:

    I agree that the word brand is a very fluid term these days to put it lightly. I can’t argue your points! But the word’s meaning has changed somewhat over the course of time, for better or for worse.

    Here’s what I think… When the general public, news media etc. start misappropriating a word with consistency, its cultural meaning changes by default— there is no Word Police to ticket everyone. Due to this, the words’ meaning has changed over the past decade or so and now the context in which it is used is the key to its meaning. I don’t think the original meaning has changed, I just think that it has gained several other meanings. So now we sort of have to revise our expectations of the word.

    I personally began using the word “brand” for some of my character art collections because it is a word that aptly describes how I package and see the work positioned at market, and it does this all with one word. I don’t think at all that I am Mary Englebreit!! Though a girl can dream!


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