Is branding a positive or a negative? I believe the answer to this question depends entirely on who you are and what you are trying to achieve. Branding, marketing, is at its core the reduction or simplification of something complex into a simple idea, a simple message, a simple image that can be peddled to the masses. If your goal is to sell a product, to make money, as it often is given that we live in a capitalist society, then branding is definitely a positive thing; simple ideas are easier to remember, they’re also easier to advertise and this means good branding can make the difference between a commercial success and failure when selling a product. Would the iPhone be as popular as it is if were called the Digital Communication Rectangle? No, because the name iPhone is simple, memorable, catchy.
This logic applies to both names and to logos; logos of popular brands tend to consist of either simple or familiar images, usually simple shapes (Pepsi, a circle with a wavy line going through it) or often imitations of animals (Ferrari, Twitter, Playboy) or even just simple text, which seems particularly popular with fashion brands.
Logo designs are not just about being simple, however, they still need to represent the product or company it is for; for example, the logos of both of Pizza Hut and McDonalds use bright red and yellows, the red representing tomato (ketchup for McDonalds, pizza sauce for Pizza Hut), whereas the yellow represents cheese for Pizza Hut and the iconic fries for McDonalds (this symbolism aided by the shape of the yellow M, lacking sharp corners and thin, seeming to be made of fries). Domino’s also uses bright, basic colours, red, blue and white, but for Domino’s the shape is the main element that represents the product, the square shape suggesting a pizza box. In contrast the logos of car companies tend to lack bright colours, preferring silver and grey to represent the metallic, sleek nature of the product. Car logos also often use animal imagery, such as Ferrari, Jaguar, Porsche, to suggest dynamism reflecting the speed and power of their vehicles.
Branding can also be a very negative thing however, particularly when you try to brand a person, rather than a product. Established companies or individuals with their own brand have a brand identity, this identity includes stylistic choices, content, even values and principles, and while companies and individuals define what they show the public it is in turn the public perception of the brand that defines the brand identity. The public has certain expectations from an established brand and deviation from these expectations will often be met with controversy and criticism.
This can be problematic when a brand represents a person, because people are not simple, people are complex and multi-faceted and should not have to simplify themselves into a something simple and one-dimensional to sell themselves to strangers. Branding does not even have to be with logos and video advertisements and taglines either, we brand ourselves online when we post profile pictures, we say “this represents me, this is the image of me that anyone can see associated with my name”.
If someone amasses 1000 Facebook friends by smiling in every profile picture that may make that person feel that they have to appear happy all the time, even when they are not, to maintain that status and relevance. When you brand yourself people lose empathy, they stop seeing you as a person, because they do not know you as a person they know you as a brand, a simple idea. If that forever happy person has a bad day, or a maybe a bad month, and they don’t post pictures of themselves smiling, but rather post poems about depression, statuses about their feelings, will people feel empathy for that person, or will the people who don’t really know them, who see them only as a happy, smiling face on the internet, find the deviation annoying, unexpected. The latter seems likely to me.
So personally I think I see why branding is useful, but I don’t really like it. I certainly as a media producer will make use of branding and marketing to get my content out to the public, but I don’t want to let my brand identity dictate my content, my actions, my “persona”. I want my actions, my personality and my content to dictate my brand.
Andrew Sheller is a Media Production student at Coventry University. You can see more content from Andrew at their Facebook page through this link.