Currently, according to American physicist and philosopher Thomas Samuel Kuhn, we are witnessing a paradigm shift in the culture of brands and branding. Brands have become so important and competitive that there had to be a change in their representation and image in order for them to be able to compete and maintain popularity.
We can note a change, different approach, different techniques, and distinct brand value formation methods. Previously, it was all about the product and its quality. We can see the change in branding through their idea representation; rather than making a point about the product, they have become purveyors of meaning. According to numerous theorists brands communicate with consumers; they create and maintain belief.
Theorist Marcel Danesi’s main argument is that brands have a strong emotional appeal because brands are signs that stand for ideas and meaning that have a strong emotional call on people. According to him, brands have become like icons for us, we, consumers perceive them as something that is beyond our reach. As he analyzes brand through semiotics lens he argues that brand names transform into lifestyle and personality. Brands create a whole new culture by creating the new ways of communication and emotional attachment to brands. Danesi draws a clear distinction between a product and a brand: “a product has no identity, a brand does.” Danesi makes one additional argument about brands when he says brands are similar to religion. Just as religion promises health, prosperity, success, and simply a “good life,” so do brands. They produce values that reward them with belief. As religions have followers, so do brands.
Danesi introduces the idea of brands being all about the experience. He argues that when people hear about a brand they think of an experience related to that particular brand and not the product itself. For example, the author discusses two globally known brands: Starbucks and Nike and says that brands have a great knowledge about the signs system. They know what is appealing to the public, what sells and what works. According to him, a coffee bean is a coffee bean until someone gives it a name. When we hear “Starbucks,” we do not think of coffee beans or just about the coffee itself; we think of the whole experience that comes with it: social place, comfort, ability to sit and chat, or simply use our laptops, and free Wi-Fi. So, the name gives a product the strength that forces consumers to believe that the Starbucks’ coffee bean is better than other, while it’s all about the experience that comes with it, and that’s what we buy, not the product. Anna Klingmann, an architect and academic, argued that experience itself has become the product. We consume sensations, not products; we even consume lifestyles. According to her, even buildings are not places we work or live at, but those are the places we imagine ourselves to be at.
Another book “How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding” by D.B Holt talks about how brands have become cultural icons and how customers value brands because of what brands symbolize, and not what they are or do. The author brings up a couple of brands as an example: Coca-Cola and Nike. According to him these brands are more than just brands; they have become cultural icons. What this means is that people believe and relate so much to these bands that they are perceived as icons. Holt says that these kinds of brands (iconic brands) create “identity myth.” Currently, brands are more focused on creating brand loyalty, brand equity, searching for targets and creating a whole new idea of “cultural branding.” Brands are full of stories that consumers find valuable and related to, that lead to constructing identity. Holt says that most of the iconic brands are built through mass media and mostly through TV. The advertisements should be depicting imaginary rather than literal; it is only aspiring when consumers see something they would not acquire in real life. So, the mystical approach is what creates belief in the brand, that’s why Holt calls it “identity myth.” “Myths smooth over [everyday] tensions, helping people create purpose in their lives and cement their desired identity in place when it is under stress,” says Holt. This “myth” gives little epiphanies to the customers where they connect images, sounds, smell, feelings etc. together. According to Holt, “Customers who make use of the brand’s myth for their identities forge tight emotional connections to the brand.”
Canadian author, Naomi Klein, in her book “No Logo” argues that the brands that are so famous today (Nike, Gap, Coca-Cola etc.) that own people’s belief and trust, have become admired symbols worldwide. She argues that brand achieve this through creating branded identities that people adopt in their lifestyles, rather than through making a product. She also says that brands are everywhere; they are in our daily lives at anyplace we go, so this tends to have an effect on us, consumers. “No logo” shows how advertisements and branding take over public space. We might think that we can “turn off” the TV commercials, telephones, computers, etc, if we wish to hide away from all the commercials, however Klein argues that it is impossible, we actually have no choice since commercials are in our face anywhere we go. She argues that this strategy of brands, to be present everywhere, impacts everyone. Klein argues that there was a point where brands had to understand that their true product was not sneakers, coffee, or a sandwich, it was an idea, the meaning.
Naomi Klein additionally argues that “brand logo” has become something that people trust and believe in. If previously people trusted the local farmers, or shopkeepers that they knew personally, now they have this image or a brand logo on a product that consumers relate to as if they knew it in person. “You could have a personal relationship [with a logo],” says Klein. She also argues that Nike achieved this through their objective of a desire to be a sport’s company and not a sneakers’ company. They did not focus on sneakers being better than others; their idea was about athletic ability, about customer experience and their nature. Whereas Coca-Cola was selling a lifestyle, that’s why it was so successful and famous.
By Irma Geldiashvili