The paradox of BRANDING!


Took a drive with the family a few weeks back: Charleston, South Carolina via Nashville and Atlanta. Sure we were looking for a little Spring break — from the lingering Chicago winter, of course — but also from the stuff we experience every day. We were looking for a break from the familiar.

So while we had a great time, ate a lot of great food and visited some wonderful, new (to us), original, beautifully designed and undesigned places, what struck me about the trip, as it does any time I travel in North America, was how really, really, really hard we had to work to avoid the oh-so-familiar.

Because it’s the oh-so-familiar that visually dominates us.

I’m talking about BRANDS! Not brands. BRANDS!

The loudmouth in the busy restaurant.

You know BRANDS! I won’t identify them by name here because, well, that would just add to the BRANDING!, but they’re pretty much everywhere you look. I know, I know… I sometimes work in the brand world. Among other things, I help people and organizations communicate their best selves to the people they most want to connect with. But something about BRANDS! doing BRANDING! just rubs me the wrong way.

At least to me, BRANDS! always seem like the equivalent of the loudmouth in the busy restaurant. They’re the guy in the powder blue tuxedo who shows up at your wedding. To this visually-attuned thinker, BRANDS! somehow feel like the GRAPHICALLY DESPERATE! — so worried about getting overlooked that they scream at every opportunity.

But why would a BRAND! worry about getting overlooked? I mean, I go out of my way to find goods, services, experiences and places that I perceive to be ‘the best’. Best quality, best service, best value, best philosophy. Best whatever. Maybe you do too? We certainly sought out and experienced some great brands in our recent travels. But BRANDS!? Not if we could avoid them.

The inverse effect.

Do BRANDS! engage in BRANDING! to compensate for the fact that maybe their best selves just aren’t that good? Are they loudly acknowledging that without YELLING ALL THE TIME! people might not pay any attention to them because they’re not really worth paying attention to?

Maybe it’s just the way I’m wired, but regardless of their reasons for engaging in the practice, for me BRANDS! that do BRANDING! pretty much achieve what I’m sure is the opposite of their desired effect. By constantly getting in my face, they make themselves into things I tend to avoid whenever possible.

Personally, when it comes to goods and services (and yes, people), I’m kinda drawn to the quietly awesome, to those so confident in and of their qualities that, while they might benefit from or even be enhanced by appropriately designed and expressed brand communication, they never engage in BRANDING!

Maybe that’s the paradox of BRANDING!? That the more awesome a ‘thing’ actually is, the less branding it needs?

Because walking with your family on a warm South Carolina beach doesn’t need it at all.