This article seeks to rethink the relationship between brands and identities, using as an example what happens with brands in the identity of people. Then, we will analyze five life stories. This psychological and philosophical approach of the theme seeks to highlight the importance of brands in the individual and social life as well as understanding its mechanism, since this also affects the work of designer identities.
If we try to answer what or who we are, we would possibly tell a story that defines us. This would be a story that has, like every story, a title, and that would talk about our origin and development, leaving an open ending on account of us still being alive.
The title would be our name, that would introduce our story and which would be accompanied by our image. Our origin would try to place our birth in a scenario and context: the social group and place that gave us life. This origin would emphasize those who bred or raised us and we would discuss relations with them and other significant people such as brothers or peers.
For the development of the story, we would need to present a series of moments and memories that would organize the chapters.
But there are too many moments in our lives to foreground. For this reason, we would have to highlight only key memories, which would then be valued and magnified. We would also mark the beginning and end of these moments, to make them entities by themselves and to separate them from the continuum of time through which our lives pass.
However, to choose these moments, a criterion for selection would be needed. In order to do this, and to give the story continuity, we would need to find some motivation to justify the causal relationship between these moments. The motivation would somehow guide the journey of our life and mark a certain purpose of our identities.
It should be noted that this something is rarely linear or identifiable. This is because it is difficult for a specific science to be able to show our existential desire in that same manner as a mathematical equation. This is also because in many cases, the motivation is hidden or disguised. But whether we realize it or not, our motivation will become a central point. By this I mean that it is a point to which we will return. It will not disappear nor will we forget it because it is that which marks the main theme of our story.
In order to visualize this, let us take 5 examples of brands: the trauma brand, the success brand, the company brand, the social group brand and the national brand.
First, let us think about the trauma brand: a teenager girl suffers from an attack in which she also receives a cut on her face. From that painful moment on, she feels that her life and her identity begin all over. From that moment she feels she is doomed forever to relive the assault and that instant. From then on, her relations and her reactions to people who cross the street will be conditioned by that memory. Spontaneously, people will be sympathetic to her depending on the similarity of something in a similar context that they have suffered. Even her vision of society, politics and culture will change, given that it was society which allowed such a thing to happen her. Besides, how does the world not change if she does change?
That unfortunate moment will be unique for her above and beyond the thousands of moments that she had lived before, since it is a moment that changed her life.
But why is it that the five minutes of the assault are those which build her new identity? Why is the memory of that moment of being a victim more important than years of happiness? What makes this new identity of the teenage victim beat that of the previous happy teenager? The answer is the brand of that memory.
These are memories that remain and speak of the fragility of life and identities. They are memories that maintain the traces of that brand and mark the identity of the teenage victim in the mirror. In other words, images, whether real or not, represent what she now believes.
In this scenario what is fundamental is that she imagines the causes and effects of what happened. Mainly the interpretation that she will make regards what the society in general will supposedly think of a teenager that went through this kind of experience. In this sense, these marks remind her of her own prejudices about the society.
Those marks will last until their trials, traces and memories disappear or until those interpretations are lost among thousands of memories and when their identity can be further transformed to float without the anchor of this brand.
Secondly, let’s think about the brand of success: a young man has next to his bed on his night table, a set of objects that show his development. They are arbitrary objects such as a trophy, a title or the picture of him receiving the kiss of a beautiful young woman, all of which remind him of the good of their identity.
However, maybe his life hasn’t been so happy. Perhaps for most of his life he has suffered from depression, loneliness, anxiety and feelings of insecurity about himself. But whenever he feels bad, those brands, those objects on his table, encourage him by clinging to the happy things in his life. Every time he sees his table, these objects act as windows through which he remembers the acceptance, applause and joy that their company can offer, multiplying and immortalizing these short successful moments. At the same time the brands that the objects embody will give him the energy to face the future and the dawn of each new day.
Thirdly, let’s think about the brand of the identity of a company and the relationship with one of the employees, someone who works at a fast food restaurant.
There, the visor and yellow shirt of the worker announce and anticipate the identity of a subserviente person, always smiling and willing to accept their mistakes. The yellow brand of his attire allows society to treat him as if his only role in life is to help us and makes us think that the only important person in the restaurant is us. However, if one meets that worker in the street outside their of work environment, the brands of his identity will be different and the new relationship that is built on that street will be by different fate. He is no longer interested in serving food and smiling at us given that his identity has been split apart from the previous one and an identity beyond that of a circumstantial worker has emerged.
Fourth, think about the brands of a collective identity: for example, a group of parents that act in a comic play for their children’s school party. This group of parents before participating in this action did not know each other and the only thing they have in common is the love that each one has for their own children. Now they are in this play together, which serves as a meeting point in their lives. It is one point that marks their relationship, a before and after for each other that builds a small collective identity shared only by them. It is an identity forged in trials, ridicule and funny moments.
The play turns out to be very funny, and beyond the memory that will be made on their children and their little friends, the role and image of the parents will be different. Now other parents who did not know them wave and smile. Now, for a time in this small school community, the parents have a particular identity and will be identified and recognized. Those parents that if in the future are on the way home from school, make a gesture, some brand will remind them of the play and they will laugh recalling the time they were actors and in which they formed a part of that identity. This could be a gesture that others will not understand but which they will.
Fifthly, we can think about importance of brands for our children, since they need to have some records about where they are, which is north and south, which are the places where they can move freely and which are dangerous for them. Also they need certain rules of how to move in society, eg what are their own rights and those of others, because otherwise, anomie will be the only reference left for them.
This, for better or worse, happens with the existence of a nation. We could ask ourselves, “What are museums, printed images on tickets, coats-of-arms, flags and history for?” and “Why are there rituals, ceremonies and anniversaries?” if not so that every child and adult in a given location does not forget the existence of their nation.
In these five examples we have seen the personal and social importance of brands in the fixing of memories. Brands are important because they give us energy. There are brands that define us in an activity and inform society about what to expect from us. There are brands that join, that make us belong, that differentiate a human group among others. There are brands which question, which require taking sides with a company or nation. There are good brands and bad.
There are brands which are images and objects that make up our origin. Other brands set attributes, stories and feelings. Other brands may be structural because they bring to light interpretations and definitions of the sense of being of things. Others let us say where we are and what we want in our lives. There are also brands that sustain identities.
This leads us to conclude three things: Firstly, that the identities require a certain motivation and that this leads us to synthesize, link and mark the moments of life, striving to build a story. Secondly, that identities and motivations depend on their brands to stand. Thirdly, that the meaning of identities and brands is in constant interaction between one and society.
Finally, we also see that the work of those who design identities not only relates to matters of form and color, but mainly to tell stories through the brands of life in common.
© Sebastián Guerrini, 2009