Design and Branding
The role of the brand is central to consumer culture. We increasingly eat brands; eating in the literal sense: to ingest and digest: we don’t eat an ice-cream, we eat a Sundae™ and end the meal with a McCoffee™. Maybe one day giant corporations will begin to register words like ‘bread’, ‘joy or ‘food’.
We may define branding as a promise of satisfaction, the continuing struggle between producers and consumers to set this promise. Consumers play a very active role in this process: brand communication and advertising have to be built in part by the public, because brands no longer belong to the manufacturers but to the audience.
Certain brands are followed like cults, their consumers becoming true believers. The reason for this adoration of brands comes from a deep need to belong, to find meaning, to seek safety, to find an order in chaos and to create identity. The combination of pictorial information and the immediacy of media make deception hard and so brand mistakes require a very determined strategic effort to go unnoticed.
In the distinctiveness of the brands, the iconography plays a key role. And we all realize how well it performs this role: it is a visible mark of differentiation for products, becoming important not only for its visual component but also for the meanings it conveys. This was made clear for instance by Nike, by bearing strong visual statements which reduced verbal speech to a minimum or to nothing at all, so that sometimes the only reference to the brand was the swoosh, with a strong appeal to meaning and helping to create a sort of a cult for the brand.
This human thirst for joining these cults, although sometimes excessive, comes from the need to look for answers. As a consequence, brands provide customers with a pathway for their senses, disclosing a system of beliefs, worldviews and ideologies.
Companies have to produce content in addition to the benefits of the product, because products are cheap and their intrinsic value is increasingly smaller, which is why the most successful brands provide distinctive identity features.
The evolution to the current state of affairs is justified above all by the fact that we now live in a spiritual economy. There is a market for worldviews and communities, as there is for goods and services, and the laws of supply and demand apply both to spiritual exchanges as they do to products.
However, while the supply and demand of tangible products can fluctuate, in the spiritual world demand is constant, because it represents a necessity inherent to the human condition. Nowadays much of the visual production fulfils precisely a spiritual function, the logic of consumption being defined as the manipulation of signs.
MA Design Course Leader
London School of Design and Marketing