This I Believe

Steven - Richmond, Virginia
Entered on January 18, 2007

I was strolling through downtown Arlington last month when a wily activist-turned-artist-turned-back-to-activist accosted me as I entered the crosswalk. “Are you committed to taking back America from the branding Nazis on Madison Avenue?” she asked. I paused. Not only because she was a woman of substantial…presence…but also because I was strangely intrigued by this wily activist-turned-artist-turned-back-to-activist, which, incidentally, is what her t-shirt identified her to be.

“What if I told you I was one of those branding Nazis on Madison Avenue?” I asked, almost whispering in order to avoid judgment from passing pedestrians. As I dodged the daggers from her fiery eyes, I took my cue from the glowing white hand before me and crossed 14th street without looking back.

And then I was alone, left to ponder, “Am I a Madison Avenue branding Nazi?” I much prefer the term “Central Park Consumer Cultivator” or better yet, “Park Avenue People Planner,” at least that title infers a degree of wealth. But really, I could be all three. And in that single moment of clarity, I realized something very important. Brands themselves are not constant. Nor are they universal.

Profound, I know. But in its simplicity, the concept of fluid brands will be vital to the growth of brands in the future. The name of the game can no longer be “Hey You, Brand Me.” Instead, the game becomes more complex: “Hey You, Understand How They Brand Me.” Agencies will no longer be solely responsible for building and nurturing the brands that consumers interact with incessantly. That task will become a task of the people. Consider it really cheap brand-outsourcing.

Having reached the other side of 14th street (not to mention an obviously monumental conclusion about the future of branding – isn’t it amazing how fast your brain concocts these theories? I digress), I turned around. I strode back across the street, avoiding contemptuous fireballs of artsy hatred all the while. Not surprisingly, she bellowed, “What do you want, Nazi? Haven’t you caused enough trouble in our doomed materialist society?”

There being no sense in allowing this particular consumer of my “brand” to go on misinformed, I inhaled. “I prefer Park Avenue People Planner.”

I left her confused. You know, the kind of confused a crazy person feels when being trumped by another, even crazier person? But in a way, I’d capitalized on a fantastic opportunity to apply my understanding of how a wily activist-turned-artist-turned-back-to-activist might brand me in a way that was out of my control and certainly wasn’t to my liking. In order to succeed in communications, we must accept that people will brand their world in any way they see fit. It is up to us to learn all we can about how consumers brand their world so that we can begin to influence their attitudes. And now, I can say that I’m a little closer to understanding and influencing the branding mentality of one wily activist-turned-artist-turned-back-to-activist. Baby steps.