Wednesday, June 05, 2013


My oldest son worked for Apple for several years. He now works as an Executive Secretary for a founder of a Fortune 500 Company.  I remember him talking about "living the brand and being the brand".  I'd heard about people trying to "be a brand". Last year I went to Las Vegas for an international "Brand/Licensing Conference" to look at buying licensing rights to a "brand" for a business venture (it ended up I couldn't afford it).

The theme of the conference was "branding yourself". There were several booths with people (lawyers and marketers) who would help you "create your brand". While I was there I heard several talks on "branding one's self".  There were PEOPLE there who were "brands" and you could buy the rights to put their name and face on stuff you invented.  I can't name any of them because I'm not media savvy, but think about Martha Stuart.  If I have a cool pot-holder or a paper towel rack that I can't sell on its own merit, I can pay Martha Stuart 75K plus commissions for a 3 year contract to put her name on them and get them into K-mart and Sears.  There are cheaper celebs, but apparently you get what you pay for when you buy someone's name to put on your stuff. Don't even THINK about putting Iron Man or Spider Man on a pencil or a shoe lace unless you are going to make 3 billion of them in China for tenths of a cent a piece.

Anyway, apparently the current culture among Gen X, Y and Z is to "be a brand".  The goal of the human being is to be "branded".

When I was a kid there was a TV show (in the early 60's) called "Branded".  (Take 90 seconds to hear it through if you aren't over 50.) 

Every time I hear someone talk about "being a brand" I think of the tag line: "What do you do when you're branded... and you know you're a man?"

I know that can go a lot of ways, but bear with me.

The quest for "being a brand"/being "branded" is ultimately an existential/ontological quest.  A "brand" is unique, distinguishable from all other things of even similar or exactly the same function and form. It seems to me that the quest for "being a brand" is ultimately a quest for personhood. But being branded isn't a good thing.  It is an identity, a "false self" created from the ego and marketed to others. We are commodities in a marketplace to be consumed (or rejected), labelled, objectified and limited to a niche no matter how big the niche market is. The brand is created from a comparison of my "self" to other's "selves" and I pick and choose the variations and characteristics I want to project to differentiate myself from everyone else and my ingredients go on my label and that defines my personhood.

 Ultimately, I am defined in relationship to a zillion other  self created and promoted "brands" created to do the same thing I'm doing. My reference point is my own experience, my own relationships and my own perception of the world and everyone in it as far as I am able to perceive it.  If I'm intellectually honest and break out of my parochial vision of the world I'll find I'm a derivative, a clone, a poser in someone else's eyes, insecure, depressed and lonely person for it all.

The tag line really is Truth: Once I'm "branded" by my own devices or by other's judgments (which we welcome when we conciously attempt to put ourselves forth as a "brand"), what do we do when the whole illusion crashes in and we discover "we're a man"?

Therein lies the truth for this generation, I think. The quest to be a brand is a shadow of our true self. We truly are "branded" already, we need not create anything, we need only live as we know we are. We are "men" (pardon the sexist gender generality). We humans, all, bear the Image of a Trinitarian God who exists as Three Persons in One Nature.  We are indeed unique, distinguishable, never to be repeated, individual persons. And yet we share a common nature. We need not strive to distinguish (brand) ourselves artificially if we could only just be the unrepeatable person we are without self-conciousness, without ego, without comparing ourselves to every other unrepeatable person, without pretention, insecure self-awareness and judgment of others.  In other words, if we could only learn to "love without hypocrisy" as St. Paul says, our true "manhood", the Brand/Image in which we are created will be evident to all. The Image stamped (branded) on us shines from within: It is not a mask or act or persona that we create, take on, project or carefully craft. It is effortless through humility. It is darkened by ego.

Indeed, "be the brand, live the brand" and don't worry about the labels either on yourself or the ones people put on themselves or the ones you put on them. The "Brand" is as limitless as God, no label can describe it, limit it nor define it... but you'll know the brand when you see it.


Drewster2000 said...

Wow....I like careful though; you're starting to sound pithy again. Next thing you know you'll be doing Orthographs again!!

You know. I never watched Branded before but that clip made me hungry for shows of yesterday like Star Trek and old Westerns. The action was slower and the technical quality was dwarfed by today's wizardry, but the human quality and the clarity of the story made them much easier to stomach. Most of today's media offerings feel like their laced with mental poisons and a barrage of half-truths and outright lies.

Thanks for the flashback.

Dianne said...

I guess I just can't get past the whole idea of choosing to use the phrase "branding oneself" after the whole history of the term "branding" and its historical application to humans in slavery as well as to livestock. Language changes, but I'm not sure "branding" even should lose its horrific connotation when applied to humans. So yeah, even if it's supposed to be used in the marketing sense and be all self-initiated, self-directed, and self-actualizing now, I'm not buying it. Because even if you're using it that way, you're just spiffing up a metaphor based on what is still, you know, achieved with a hot iron to dehumanize and commodify you. Which is what is still happening to some extent in the modern marketing version, even if we've raised commodifying ourselves to a cultural "good" now. A completely different thing from bearing the image of God. Just saying.

Steve said...

Dianne, Exactomundo. As with all human "false selfs" they end up being dehumanizing us instead of us becoming more human "in the image". The notion of branding ourselves is a blatant commodification of the human being which is really disturbing to me. People are wholesale buying the concept and don't see any problem with it.

Anonymous said...

Publishers are always pushing "branding" on authors, wanting to put them into categories that can be easily marketed. Joe from Kokomo writes gritty crime novels. A "brand" is created around Joe's work, and he is not allowed to go outside of it. He is being branded so people will know exactly what he writes, and hopefully Joe will become an automatic buy for these readers. But what if something else is stirring in Joe, waiting to be written, but it is not gritty crime? It will be a long time, if at all, before the publisher will let anything else Joe writes be published by them EXCEPT his gritty crime novels. Only if he becomes some kind of fiction megastar will he get the chance to give what else is in him a try. Branding is great for the company, and at first, great for Joe, because it builds his career. It also pigeonholes him, and if he comes to not want that...good luck. Getting into the box doesn't mean you can get out of it very easily.

Steve said...

Anon, In a nutshell that is the issue whether we accept a branding from others or set out to create our own brand that we want someone to buy (and promote, which is the bottom line: commodifying ourselves for notoriety). Once we are branded (like the TV show depicted in each episode) it is a fight to break out of the box both within ourselves and in the eyes of others.

Steve Hayes said...

Thanks very much for this. I had a rant about the modern obsession with brands and branding on my blog here Goodbye Blogfrog | Hayes & Greene family history, and I think you've taken it one step further.

But perhaps we need to take it yet another step, and ask about the origin of the term. Doesn't it originate in the branding of cattle with a hot iron to show who owns them? "Branding" is a rather painful process, and cattle have to be tied down to endure it.

Suth things have been done to human beings too. Sometimes slaves were branded, and concentration camp inmates were sometimes tattoooed with a number, which amounts to the same thing.

The Prince of this World has branded us, but for freedom Christ has set us free.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, can't help myself:

Steve Robinson said...

Anon, LOL! I've only seen a few minutes of Al Bundy and loved him. That was great! Thanks.

Donna Farley said...

"...if we could only learn to "love without hypocrisy" as St. Paul says, our true "manhood", the Brand/Image in which we are created will be evident to all."

To all of pure heart and true vision, perhaps. The very premise of the TV show 'Branded' was that the main character had unjustly been branded a coward. But God who looks on the heart knows the truth.

Ted Hewitt ofs said...

I think it was even worse before generation X, Y, and Z. I can remember my father pushing me into college to get some marketable skills. The first thing men did when they introduced each other was to ask each other what they did, "Oh, this is Bob from Accounting." It was a way of placing people in the pecking order. And women weren't any better, but rather than have their own status, in those days they borrowed it from their husbands. There is even a term for it called, "officers' wife syndrome." There was also a term called, "Marrying up."

Branding is just more of the same, barely modernized. It is a logical extension of a utilitarian culture, "Something (or someone) is only as valuable as what one pays for it." That is why a doctor is more valued than a trash collector even though both assure the public health. And it isn't even about money. Money, and the toys it buys, is just a way to keep score. I know someone who vacationed in Hawaii at the same hotel and the same tours every year so he could come back and brag about them. It wasn't about vacation nor seeing Hawaii.

Unless we remember that we are all God's children, and each one of us is worth the blood of the very Son of the Most High God, we will rank ourselves and others based upon some artificial model. It will also mean that those who seem to have no value, the unborn, the poor and the sick, the elderly, will be seen as valueless and disposable. Worse, they are seen by utilitarians as parasites on society. And what happens to those who buy into the utilitarian vision when they themselves become jobless or sick or weak? Well, apparently assisted suicide is a viable and, to them, reasonable response.