Branding: A paradox force
Today’s society is dominated by big brands which control relatively all aspects of modern day life. This is because these brands promote a consumerism culture that drives our social, political and economic lives. These brands are mostly promoted and produced by big multinationals with global influence and hence have a global influence (Walker, 2010). With the changing political landscape, these brands are capable of influencing the outcomes of elections especially in countries where organizations are allowed to finance political campaigns or lobby for the passing or rejection of legislations. Socially and economically, consumerism which is a result of strong branding approaches by many market leaders, free market and globalization ideologies has led to a global capitalist-driven culture where individuals have a strong drive to appropriation. The onset of industrialization heralded the emergence of a consumer culture in which the industrialists, mostly capitalists, endeavored to create demand for their bulging production by defining human worth by the number of commodities in one’s possession.
Therefore, they invented advertisement; a tool aimed at convincing consumers to purchasing more and more goods through creation of illusionist messages and attaching them to consumption of commodities. They convinced consumers that life is only worth living if they acquire more and more commodities which would set them apart from the rest of the society. This is the essence of branding. Billions of dollars are being used in advertisements while more billions are also used by consumers to purchase commodities that they rarely need. This essay will argue that, while branding has its positive influences, it is a paradox force which limits creativity in everyday life.
The advent of industrialization led to the need to expand the market-reach for goods and services that were constantly churned out of the production lines. This led to the growth and expansion of the marketing sector with marketing experts constantly devising novel ideas to advertise the products. Consequently, strong brands emerged. It led to an ‘arms race’ within the marketing field and every company sort to strengthen their existing brands or introduce new and better brands aimed at outshining their competitors. This competition for commercial space or ‘arms race’ has led, to some extension, increased quality of products and services offered by these companies as they seek to strengthen their share on the marketplace. New brands emerged and the existing brands were strengthened through value and quality addition.
To increase the market penetration of these brands, many companies as Naomi Klein (2000) notes, have began advertising and sponsoring culture events. Companies began building close relationships with their target customers by infusing the brands with cultural messages and icons. By donating money to different cultural communities’ activities and events, companies are now able to have their logos imprinted during these activities or programs. In addition, many companies have increasingly sponsored corporate social responsible initiatives in different communities including in developing countries where they have sponsored water projects, immunization drives and researches. This adds value to their brands and gives the greater market penetration. On the other hand, communities gain from these brands through provision of vital services and amenities especially in health care services provision, education and water and sanitation. These are the areas that branding have and can have a positive impact with proper regulations and increased levels of professionalism and ethicality.
However, this infusion of brands and culture presents a great threat to these cultures. This is because these brands do not ideally infuse with these cultures through the logos: they ultimately lead to the formation of a new culture that eventually obliterates the existing culture. Klein (2000) notes that, such a full-frontal branding strategy has been successfully employed by brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Jordan, Star Wars and Coke which have ultimately become distinct cultures. They have transformed the cultures they have associated with; the cultures they were purportedly sponsoring and replaced them. They have used celebrities and social media to achieve this (PBS, 2014). They have become the main attraction and the central focus leading to a cultural extinction. This is because these brands encourage a culture of consumerism where the win-win arrangement as fronted by these brands during the initial agreement to sponsor these cultures has transformed by the encroachment of corporate brands. Such encroachment and the resultant loss of cultural identity by the sponsored culture is further complicated by the fact such public-private partnerships are rarely regulated (Klein, 2000).
Moreover, such infusion and the popularity of brands can persuade individuals to engage in causes that would not normally engage in. Impulse buying and participation negates the freedom of individual freewill because such individuals are forced by social pressure. Their strong persuasion ultimately means that many of the consumers may lack a strong will to stand their when it comes to decision making (Walker, 2010; Sandel, 2012). This is because every aspect of life is increasingly being commercialized (Sandel, 2012).
The creation of strong brands is a product of corporate globalization, a consolidation of multinational corporations into huge transnational with immense influence and power. Branding allows these huge corporations to gain access to the local markets through free trade agreements which have are increasingly being signed in an increasing number of economies. With such agreements, these corporations encourage the spirit of unfair competition especially on the local small companies. The stiff competition, financial strengths of these corporations and their strong brands make them virtually impossible to compete against. Smaller brands which are mostly produced locally by small companies have no chance of competing against such brands. In the end, some are forced to close shops due to the unpopularity of their brands leading to low sales and consequently, economic losses. Closing of shops leads to unemployment and eventually poverty and hunger emerge due to loss of source of income.
Of greater concern, is that these small companies are fundamental in promoting a culture of creativity and innovation. Upstarts and smaller companies ought to offer a constant supply of new brands as they are the incubators for new ideas. In addition, due to its popularity, branding especially for big brands suppresses the development of new brands as many consumers opt for the more established brands. These brands provide an easy option and therefore limit the creativity of the consumers in everyday life. Branding affects all individuals with whom it interacts. There is no major distinction between consumers and students. They have tastes and preferences. They have needs that ought to be met. Both their choices and creativity are equally limited by the culture of consumerism promoted by branding.
Learning institutions, like all corporations, are faceless but their true influence is powered by the brands that represent them. These brands target their consumers, the students and citizens. Contrary to Rebecca Schuman’s assertions, learning institutions should tailor-make their services to meet the demands of their customers: the students (Schuman, 2015). Due to the strong relationship that branding aims to build between corporations and consumers, students like other consumers are also vulnerable to the exploitations of these bonds. Institutions like corporations rarely meet the quality standards. All they endeavor to achieve is make low quality products look pretty (Walker, 2010) and in the case of learning institutions, they offer poor services. Similarly, they also enjoy the same benefits of branding including increased quality of goods and closer relationships with companies.
The free rein offered to many corporations and their brands especially through the public-private partnerships, has significant negative effects socially and environmentally. Polyarchic economies such as the United States marked by light regulation of a capitalist provide a good environment for the thriving of consumer culture because it is dominated by corporations operating in a democracy. The government has little control on their activities. Such an economy is riddled with environmental, social, labor and economic issues because the corporations with their capitalist orientation endeavors everyday to maximize profits at the expense of labor and the environment.
In conclusion, branding has had a positive influence especially in provision of essential public services and goods such as healthcare services and public amenities. However, many corporations have taken advantage of the popularity of their brands. They have curtailed creativity and innovation through impeding growth of local and small industries while suppressing the cultures that they sponsor and creation of other brands. Branding has created a consumerism culture due to the free rein it enjoys because of lack of appropriate regulations. Branding does not draw any distinction between citizen, student and consumers. All learning institutions are businesses whose aim is to satisfy the needs of their customers: students. These needs must direct how they brand themselves.
Klein, N. (2000). “The Brand Expands”. In No Logo. London: Flamingo. Retrieved from http://www.tcnj.edu/~allyn/No%20Logo%20-%20Naomi%20Klein.pdf
Walker, R. (2010). “The Pretty Good Problem”. In Buying In: What We Buy and Who We Are. New York: Random House.
Sandel, M. (2012). “What’s Wrong with Commercialism?”. In What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. England: Allen Lane.
Shuman, R. “College Students Are Not Customers.” Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2015/05/college_students_are_not_customers_a_political_shorthand_that_needs_to_die.html
PBS. (2014). “Frontline: Generation Like.” PBS. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/generation-like/