Bad For The Brand
I’ve always had a very visceral reaction to people who say things like ‘I’m now a brand’ but I have never really been able to put my finger on it.
i] a type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name.
ii] an identifying mark burned on livestock or (especially in former times) criminals or slaves with a branding iron.
If you are a creative of some sort, whether its in art, design, literature, media etc, other than finding an outlet for your creative expression, you seek to establish a connection with your core audience. In one way or another, we create a sense of emotional safety [stars, they’re just like us] that in turn creates connections, which really were all here for. That’s why we link our personal social media accounts, to open ourselves up to our audience. When you share an ordinary picture of yourself eating food or chilling with your cat, there’s something so authentic in the mundane that makes you relatable.
Over time there will be a shift in thinking. You might begin to use that connection to sell us things. Whatever product you’re selling, whether its hair products or ankara umbrellas or tshirts with your logo, they have to tie into your creative expression and capitalise on the connections you have made. The mission is successful more so when you keep the same energy that you used to attract your audience to sell your product. When you begin to develop your brand, certain things have to change, you have to incorporate the language nonsense of advertising into your attractive energy, talk about your bullshit very earnestly as if there’s a deep message behind whatever it is you are pushing.
You evolve from a person with a creative outlet, to a person who sells t-shirts, to the person who sells a lifestyle brand, and eventually you become the brand itself. When you go from selling the commodity to actually being one, it’s harder to make the connection meaningful. There is, however, a likelihood that you may end up sounding hollow and arbitrary. When the lines blur between where you end and where the brand begins, the brand begins to take a life of its own.
The more the laborer produces, the less he has to consume;
The more values he creates, the more unworthy he becomes;
The better formed his product, the more deformed the laborer;
The more civilised his object, the more barbarous the laborer;
The more powerful the labor, the more powerless the laborer;
The more ingenious the labor, the less ingenious the laborer;
and the more he becomes nature’s slave.
-Karl Marx, 1884.
You other yourself into thinking that the product takes precedence over your creative expression. That’s when you start to experience things, you happen to them. You don’t attend Safaricom Jazz, you grace it with your brand presence. This is necessary output of the persona you constructed, the brand must be sold, otherwise what’s the point.
When you want to sell a brand, you have to make your entire media presence surround and reinforce the brand. You have to immerse yourself fully in the experience. Your environment blurs and you become the only thing with definition. Every choice you make is a calculated decision, who you interact with, who you feature, who you promote, the clothes you wear, the stories you tell… you become the star of your own little reality show and the rest of us are just props and storytelling devices.
Over time you will be be subsumed into the product you produce and ultimately lose touch with your humanity in order to participate in the market. You manage to desensitize yourself to the concept that there’s more to life than yourself, your brand and its perception. In this loss of your own identity, you now begin to dehumanize the rest of us.You no longer see your writers as creatives who have to expend their mental energy, you don’t see models as people who overcome slut shaming, sexual harassment and other obstacles, or that the process of feeding the machine can take a toll of mental and physical health. They are no longer people, but abstract ideas, small cogs in the machine that is your brand.
With this mentality you are bound to fuck up colossally. Whether it’s by not paying creatives or talking out the side of your neck about trans people, there are numerous ways in which your brand can and will end up in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. But people don’t want to argue with a product, they will find the person behind the brand. This is now when you attempt to disconnect with your brand and present yourself as a human being who just made a mistake, but because you are the brand, everything you say comes out as damage control.
The clearest example is the recent case of Olive Gachara and her poorly executed #AskOlive twitter chat and subsequent media tour. Many people dismissed this as transparent PR; there was no clear evidence that what had happened went past her ego or the brand identity. There was no sincere apology, instead, a bunch of corporate word salad. In between all those tweets of models and other creatives decrying her questionable business practices, there were still tweets applauding her for her vulnerability, this shedding of the brand persona and revealing herself as a ‘human who makes mistakes’, who is willing to place herself in the line of fire and face the fury of Kenyans on Twitter even if everyone knows they will tear you apart. All this was done to save the brand, but it was presented as introspective and brave.Which to me is just bullshit.
To some this detachment is a total deal breaker. They cannot abide by this dehumanization of others nor the shoddy attempts at reconciliation and you might lose the respect of some of the followers you garnered on your initial campaign. However this isn’t a large majority. To a large portion of their initial audience, these incidences are nothing more than wish fulfilment. They see these people living lavish and think ‘they’re just like me…i too can be rich and resilient and strong and accepted.’ it teaches the impressionable that there are no consequences and even if they are, a sanitizing media tour and plastic apology will suffice, and you will soon be back on your BS.
This is not to say that everyone who embarks down the path of brand development will eventually end up severing human connections to sell us t-shirts. It is just my personal opinion [which you are very welcome to dispute] that you are not a brand, you’re a person. Objectification is used as a tool to other those we don’t deem worthy of human recognition, and what comes with it. To me, calling yourself a brand achieves the same thing in a more personal level, or at the very least opens up the door to it.
Personally, the idea of becoming a brand just makes me upset. Packaging myself for consumption and putting myself on a shelf just waiting to be bought by an agency… [shudders.] The fact that I have zero interest in developing my personal brand, as so many experts tell us to do, does come attached with a lot of self doubt. If I don’t self-define, self-package, self-promote, am I hurting my chances of success? But… I am not a boring person. Targeting an audience and selling them a constructed persona is limiting, and limited content can be fucking boring.
The Onion has a fantastic satirical piece on this exact topic, aptly titled, ‘I Am A Brand,’ Pathetic Man Says.
Cathin, who sees his worthless daily blog posts, endless Facebook status updates, and aggravating Foursquare check-ins as “extensions of his brand name,” confirmed that he spends the majority of his miserable days attempting to leverage his 627 Twitter followers into a larger web network of “brand consumers.”
The unbelievably tragic man also stated that everything he does, from social interactions to visits with his family, essentially serves to continue building his brand.
I am not interested in living a Plastic Fantastic life, where every online interaction I engage in has to in some way contribute to an end game. I am not a fan of self-policing and I do not cater to a specific gaze. That’s really not who I am and certainly not how I want to express myself. Having the tagline Bad For The Brand is more of a reminder to myself not to ever fall into the narcissistic trappings of this phenomenon. I’ve written before about my experiences with relinquishing creative control to someone else. I refuse to do the same with myself all for the sake of money and influence. These aren’t my core motivators for creating, they never have been. Writing for me is about self expression, not self editing. I may miss out on many opportunities, but its fine. There’s nothing worth doing if it requires you to lose touch with your authentic self.