Branding – now and then
Branding came along way since the days of burning identifying marks on cattle or criminals. Today the term has evolved to mean, in a very general sense, the attachment of emotional characteristics to a product, a person, or anything that is marketable. In fact, you can brand practically anything; from the smallest of things, to the largest of things, from innate objects, to people, groups or even entire nations and countries. Just think of what emotions come to mind when you think of Italy for example, or France, George Bush, facebook, twitter or anything else you would like. A good branding campaign is one whose end result is the triggering of a specified feeling or emotion in a target audience. Branding is not only communicating messages to audiences it is much more than that. Branding is turning a rational purchasing decision into an emotional decision.
Early theories of communication have suggested that audiences are passive consumers. Such theories include the “hyperdermic needle”, “two step flow” and others. These theories did not view audiences as active participants in the flow of messages from producers to consumers. Between the 1940’s to the 1960’s during the age of Fordism (Systems of mass production, standardization and consumption) segmentation of consumers was not something marketers took into consideration (barring the distinction between women and men). Segments just did not exist. Marketers and advertisers did not see any difference between women, or between men. In the eve of mass production everything looked like everything else. Consumers were viewed as passive, just taking in whatever was placed in front of them.
With the rise of segmented marketing, niche media channels, social networks and other forms of new media, in the mid to late 20th century, branding has become more challenging. More so in the age of informationalism. Consumers are said to be more active, aware, smart, segmented. We are still living in a mass production and mass consumption society, the challenge is to make the same product different. Not only making the same product appear different, but also adhere to the needs and wants of specific target audiences.
it’s clear that marketing and branding campaigns have progressed through the years. It has been integrated into the daily lives of consumers. There are much more options and choices available to us today, it’s enough just to look at the selection of drinking water or pop drinks that are available at your local store. Each brand is promising a different experience in taste, feeling, or even life changing events. schweppes is telling tis consumer to “drink different” for example, or Coca Cola in recent campaigns are selling consumers happiness and freedom with each bottle sold. Both are pop drinks, both promising a completely different experience to a completely different target audience.
So what has changed from the past? Branding, in essence, still remained the same, all you need to look at are the different advertisements from the 40’s to the 60’s and compare them to advertisements from the 90’s and oo’s, and see what advertisers are promising consumers. What has changed is the size and number of markets. We, as the consumers of the 21st century, are much more segmented. Advertisers have to decide to which segment they are catering, what emotions to trigger in each segment and how to create a uniform language between the products they are advertising under the same brand. In his 2009 book Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are Rob Walker is arguing that although we think of ourselves as “smart consumers” we are still very much affected by branding. Advertisers and marketers are hard at work making fantasy appear as reality, substituting reason with emotions and it seems to be working. Have we, as consumers, changed since the 1940’s and 50’s? Maybe we have been segmented but it is clear that we are still affected by the fantasy world created by advertisers and marketers.