What Are We But Virtual Brand & Marketing Constructs?

‘Brands are complex multidimensional constructs with varying degrees of meaning, independence, co-creation and scope. They are semiotic marketing systems that generate value for direct and indirect participants, society, and the broader environment, through the exchange of co-created meaning.’
Illustration borrowed from www.forbes.com

The definition written by Francisco Conejo and Ben Wooliscroft in the article Brands Defined as Semiotic Marketing Systems, Journal of Macromarketing, Sage, September 2015 got me thinking. The scope, depth, power and control of the brands over stakeholders that voluntarily or involuntarily participate in these supply and demand matchings, exchange processes and enhanced potency of assortment, is enormous.

I could claim that scholars finally withdrew from the “managerial brand conceptualization“ that I, personally first came across in the Leslie de Chernatony’s book From Brand Vision to Brand Evaluation, and started to include a vast array of ideological, environmental, anthropological, cultural, social, human(e)…, implications for the participants and human society as a whole. Is that true?

As brands work within increasingly symbolic markets, the marketing systems should pay attention to their meaning infrastructures. Failure to do so, may cause system to work improperly, even fail (Conejo & Wooliscraft 2015). It has become blatantly clear that many do not pass the test againsts the “5 capitals model“ (see image below) and keep focusing on the iconic, surface portion of the brand equity rather than tackling the experiential brand in terms of natural, social, human, manufactured and financial capitals. Brand make-overs in things iconic are far from making brands sustainable and future-oriented entities directed towards prosperity of all.

Now, let us take Conejo & Wooliscroft’s definition and replace brands with people, companies, corporations, communities, governments, the EU institutions …. The molecular structure and interdependences are still valid, but I dare to claim that the “complex multidimensional constructs“ or the social systems, the social fabrics do no longer reflect the actual reality, but a virtual one.

  1. This is why the world desperately needs the anthropologists to be able to decipher human(e) reality from those of the make-believe semantics of reality shows (in a much, much broader sense than the reality TV). And secondly …
  2. the reality itself needs to re-questioned. The regulative and supervisory bodies should monitor, penalize or award good and poor practices. Daily.

By a stroke of lucky coincidence I attended the EASA Applied Anthropology Network symposium in November 2015 in Ljubljana, Slovenia, entitled Why the World Needs Anthropologists and have been using the hashtag #WhyTheWorldNeedsAnthropologists for some time. But the problem is much broader. The speakers and panelists unanimously exclaimed:

“The world needs more humanity!“

Meta Gorup and Dan Podjed, Epic 2016 summarized the symposium and offered a few tips for the future: exercising interdisciplinarity, anthropologists and other scientists making their research more inclusive and their findings widely accessible and start spreading awareness and mediating across boundaries-engaging with the world and its critical problems. If only that was enough?!

Iknew I heard it all before. A Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek gave an insightful explanation in his RSA ANIMATE collaboration entitled First As Tragedy, Then as Farce back in 2010. Stating: “by buying a product or service we are simultaneously buying our redemption by giving a small donation to a worthy cause.“ From today’s perspective this only shows that brand owners started to understand the increasingly sensitized consumer minds and offered immediate redemption with little or no addressing on the 5 capitals. The popular corporate social responsibility practices may have done more damage than good.

“As brands work within increasingly symbolic markets, the marketing systems must pay attention to their meaning infrastructures. Failure to do so, may cause system to work improperly, even fail (Conejo & Wooliscraft 2015).“

As a professional, brand, marketing and communication specialist, I have always advocated that we are best off following a rather simple equation: one human creating, marketing and rendering the product or service, which most effectively and efficiently satisfies the needs and desires of another human. No animal, human, bee, geographic region, global or local water supply, …, should be harmed in the process. Ok, this is an attempt to sound humorous, but basically urging and asking you to follow sustainable and humane business practices.

The transparency, trust and purpose must be embedded in all business, branding and marketing endeavours for that matter or else, they will not stand the test of how business is conducted today and tomorrow, be it global or local. Corporate governance and active citizenships go hand in hand, but will require a considerate amount of time to become the prevailing choice of us all, the stakeholders of “now“ and future ecosystem.

Barbara is the Founder and Principal Consultant at Molekoola, Consult Culture.

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