Have we become a generation identified by known brands?

BrandNameClothing_MarkCooleyEDITEDBy Olivia Montes

Elm Staff Writer

Brands are everywhere — we could not ignore them if we tried. They are in the movies we watch, in the songs we hear, even stuck in product placement ploys used in our favorite TV shows.

“It’s a new brand world,” Tom Peters said in Fast Company in 2019.

Unfortunately, in the self-absorbed society we are currently living in, brands, especially the big-name ones, are what define us. Brands sort us into categories of status and class, forging our own, maybe unwanted, identities without an opportunity to mold one for ourselves.

“The brand, in fact, is such a ubiquitous organizing principle for so many things — companies, products, people — that it has been forced to spawn an expansive glossary of subcategories and varieties,” Amanda Hess said in The New York Times Magazine in 2018. “Now people act like companies, carefully monitoring the meanings we project into the world.”

Big expensive brands, like Mercedes-Benz, Pepsi, and Louis Vuitton, have long been associated with upper-upper-class status, so purchasing a highly expensive item from a high-end brand grants us the illusion that we somehow managed to climb a rung or two up the social ladder.

“People, by nature, generally avoid risk and seek safety,” Peter Getman said in Entrepreneur in 2017. “If the brands they use consistently deliver a positive experience, consumers form an opinion that the brand is trustworthy, which gives them peace of mind when buying.”

The downside? Becoming absolutely obsessed with the ever-changing trends the world thrusts out on us through giant media corporate brands.

“Today brands are everything, and all kinds of products and services — from accounting firms to sneaker makers to restaurants — are figuring out how to transcend the narrow boundaries of their categories and become a brand surrounded by a Tommy Hilfiger-like buzz,” Peters said.

We expect that when we invest into a universally known product, such as an Apple iPad, we will instantly be more important than we were before.

There is this expectation that we will reach close to a higher-appearing status if we purchase that product, but only if we purchase that product. “Anything that can be consumed is now understood as a brand,” Hess said. “Branding is a process of humanization: it imbues companies with personalities.”

It is because of these big-name brands to that we live in a capitalist culture where citizens are packed to the brim with big-name brands rise above our own abilities of societal rituals, such as making friends, finding romantic relationships, or even holding a decent job. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

“The good news is that everyone has a chance to stand out,” Peters said. “Everyone has a chance to learn, improve, and build up their skills. Everyone has a chance to be a brand worthy of remark.”

For our own sake and sanity, we don’t have to become the brands we buy; we can instead seek products that encourage us to express ourselves freely beyond the boundaries of any ad or commercial we find today.

Rather than try to boost our status or confidence to become the epitome of big-name brands, we should try to discover our own identities before we adopt those from other companies — it costs less that way.

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