Theterm of ‘consumer culture is used in order to emphasize that the world ofgoods, of products and their principle of structuration are essential tounderstanding our contemporary society (Featherstone, 2007). This involvesfocusing on two things. Firstly, on the cultural dimension of economy, the useand the symbolization of material goods as ‘communicators’ and not just as utilities.
And secondly, on the economy of cultural goods, the market principles of supplyand demand, competition, capital gain and monopolization, which operate withinthe sphere of lifestyles, cultural goods and commodities (ibid.).Defininga brand or finding a single definition of a brand is not as easy as it mayseem.
Each one of us has a general idea of what a brand may be, by thinkingabout some examples, such as Coca Cola or Nike, but that is not enough. In thissection we will explore some definitions of a brand given by differentspecialists, in order to try and pinpoint what a brand means, what are itscharacteristics and how it works. DeChernatony and Dall’Olmo Riley (1998) have identified through content analysis twelvemain themes through which literature is defining the ‘brand’. The brand hasbeen defined as: a legal instrument, a logo, the company, a shorthand, a riskreducer, an identity system, an image in the consumers’ minds, a value system,a personality, a relationship, adding value and an evolving entity. Based onthese themes, they interviewed experts in the field, such as chairmen, partners,or directors in brand consultancies, advertising agencies, market researchagencies and corporate communication agencies, in order to see what kind ofdefinitions they would provide for the brand.
Theresults are showing that out of 20 experts, 11 of them mentioned ‘value system’,10 ‘personality’, 9 ‘image’, 8 ‘logo’, 5 ‘risk reducer’, 4 ‘company’ and ‘addingvalue’, while ‘shorthand’, ‘legal instrument’, ‘identity’, ‘relationship’ and ‘evolving’have been mentioned by 3 of them. This means, that because of the complex, multifacetednature of the brands, practitioners are drawing from several different themesto describe them, the main one being brands as value systems (ibid.). Based on their literature analysis and the data gathered from the interviews, DeChernatony and Dall’Olmo Riley are providing a definition for the brand inorder to encourage better communication and a more effective use of resources: ‘Thebrand is a complex multidimensional construct whereby managers augment productsand services with values and this facilitates the process by which consumersconfidently recognise and appreciate these values’ (De Chernatony and Dall’OlmoRiley, 1998: 436). Lury(2004), however, argues that to assume that a brand is a single thing would beto mistake the multiple and diverse layers of activity that have been contributinginto creating a brand. Therefore, brands should be seen as the products ofmultiple knowledges implicated in creating them: economic, marketing, design,law, and even images, information and the media. And in terms of looking at thebrand as an object, its objectivity is not independent of or external to theseknowledge practices, but they enter into the object itself.
Moreover, thisobjectivity is not fixed, but rather dynamic, mixing and layering heterogeneousimages which are unfolded in time (ibid.). The dynamism of the brand is organisedbased on the interactivity of the consumer and the information about them, butalso the multiple logics of global flow. Therefore, Lury defines the brand as ‘anobject or medium for exchange of information between “producers” and “consumers”‘(Lury, 2004: 62).
Inregard to the producers and consumers, Arvidsson (2005) argues that the valueof a brand derives from the productive practices of the consumers, their prosumption. He argues that consumptionis immaterial labour through which the consumers are producing an ‘ethicalsurplus’. This ethical surplus is a social relation, a shared meaning or asense of belonging.
And according to Arvidsson, the brand, is a context ofconsumption, it is a certain way of using the branded object or a propertiedform of life that is to be realised in consumption (ibid.). The brand ‘exploits’the consumer by taking its value from the activities the consumer is undergoingthrough the brand.
Let us take as an example the Niketown. While this place isa Nike store, it is mainly offering a Nike experience to the consumer. Theconsumer, by engaging in the sporting activities under the brand of Nike,trying on Nike sportswear, is taking part in the so-called ‘Nike commune’.Commune which is giving the brand of Nike its value.
Inhis conclusion, he argues that the brands represent an exemplary embodiment ofthe prevailing logic of capitalism. Just like the factories in the times of Fordism,they are a Post-Fordist mode of production made to generate surplus value. Thisway, brands can be looked at as exemplary of a capitalist response to postmodernity,’marked by an intensified mediatisation of the social and a concomitantrendering reflexive, transitory and mobile of thinks like identity andcommunity’ (Arvidsson, 2005: 252). Wewill now take a look at some of the writings of the professionals in the fieldextracted from a collection of 20 of the best papers produced during 10 yearsof IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) Excellence Diploma, called What is a 21st Century Brand? New thinkingfrom the next generation of agency leaders (Kendall, 2015).
RELIGIONNickDocherty, Global Planning Director at Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam, states that ‘brands’and ‘branding’ are terms that outlived their usefulness (Docherty, 2006). Brands’evolution from the ones used for slaves and cattle to soap, service brands andlately institutional, entertainment or experiential suggests that thecontinuous change of brands and what they mean makes the ‘brand’ a problematicterm. He argues that this term is problematic because it is a way of describinghow our brains interpret the world around us (ibid.
). Our brains are wired insuch way that they generalize, stereotype and label things, groups or entitiesthat are too complex. We attribute brand values to things that are as diverseas our Mum, the local school, the Monarchy or our new PlayStation.
They are notjust a way of choosing between two different types of baked beans, but rather theyare the way in which we make sense of life (ibid.). Thus, the term of ‘brand’with its roots in tangible and predominantly economic signs and symbols hasbecome misleading, a brand being rather a way in which humans have always categorisedthe world around them. Onthe other hand, the term of branding has changed radically over history. Thatis because new and different marketing techniques have been applied to alreadyexisting brand entities over time.
Take the example of Dove. Dove used to be abar of soap, then it became a bar of cream. After that, the feel of soft skinand then the ideal of beauty. Now it is the belief of the diversity of beauty,of what it means to be beautiful, a point of view on life (ibid.).
He believes thatrather than the ‘types’ of brands that will develop in the future, a moresignificant change will be cause by the branding techniques that will bedeveloped. Therefore, brands existed before branding techniques have beensystematically practiced and branding is a manipulation of a brand’s behaviour.Hisargument is that brands are not as important to the global consumer culture, becausethey have always been a part of the human thought, as a way of thinking, butrather the process of branding, which adds new properties to already existentbrands, are the ones the focus should be on.