Autumn 2004

A waking dream (extract)

The notion of the brand and its plausible functions have been derailed and abstracted

From dry academic papers to self-help blockbusters, the literature of the branding guru is notable not for clarity or coherence, but for a tendency to lapse into a form of post-modern patois, a managerial gibberish that has infected everything from psychometric profiling and ‘third way’ political discourse to the pseudo-intellectual ‘mission statements’ of conceptual art. Readers are urged to ‘find the passion’, ‘identify lifestyle priorities’ and ‘look after their corporate DNA.’ Branding may claim to be a ‘science of communication’, but the bullet point syntax and ubiquitous jargon favoured by brand fantasists actually seems intended to blunt the critical and moral senses. Indeed, the phraseology of the branding consultant is uncomfortably close to the high-tech non sequiturs of the shampoo commercials in which account planners take such pride (and in which ‘71 per cent of 48 women’ is the height of scientific lucidity).

The archetypal prose of the branding guru manages to be both simplistic and opaque, is relentlessly optimistic, and littered with tendentious assertions. In keeping with branding’s preoccupation with facile slogans and imposing surfaces, intellectual clarity is habitually conflated with portentous incoherence. The success of this semantic manoeuvre suggests that many corporate clients are unable to distinguish between the two. Apparently, the more difficult a maxim is to comprehend, the more meaningful it is deemed to be. (Aquaveta, ‘sub-branded’ as ‘nutrient enhanced water’ was announced thus: ‘A refreshingly new and innovative functional near-water product for Cadbury Schweppes with the fashion-conscious female in mind.’)

For this tactic to prevail, the illusion of intelligence is vital, hence the relentless use of fashionable and exciting words: ‘virtual’, ‘technologies’, ‘processes’, ‘strategies’, ‘integration’, ‘synergy’, etc. Words that sound important, especially when arranged in no meaningful order. Thus, we arrive at such breezy concepts as ‘unifying philosophy statement (uph™)’, ‘polishing the brand pyramid’ and ‘the plane of information’ – portentous phrases that are rarely unpacked or decoded.

Dream up the work

One of the reasons this branding dysphasia has spread so easily is that it appears to be taken seriously by people who don’t understand it – precisely because they don’t understand it. Maxims that are both phonetically pleasing and entirely devoid of meaning are, presumably, the pinnacle of this unacknowledged art form. The desire to borrow authority and legitimacy by using pseudo-academic jargon is perhaps too obvious to explore at length. However, one might still take a moment to scoff at the grandiose pretensions of ‘trendologists’ and the branding guru’s allusions to evolutionary psychology, ‘theories of narrative behaviour’ and ‘ethnographic models’ (otherwise known as ‘market research’). . .

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