Modern “brands” are a weird thing when you really think about them. Disney, Hewlett Packard, and Nike. What do all 3 of these have in common? They’re all considered brands. But what exactly is a brand? Before the industrial age, a brand was just a way to differentiate a product from a competitor’s product. In order to differentiate it one would often brand their name or alias in the product itself.1 However, the concept of a brand has evolved over the last 100-200 years. Instead of being just a name or logo, a brand is often associated with what people hear (jingles/slogans), taste, see, and more. How many times have you heard someone say, “Hey, this X is just like Y brand?” As a result of this recognition, modern branding strategies have exploded in popularity. For the companies that brand their products like this, it creates more customer loyalty and therefore more money.
But is branding (in the modern sense) a good thing?
One thing that I tend to find very annoying is the modern obsession of brands to the point where everything has to be a brand. From homemade crafts to personal websites, it seems like there are so many attempts at creating a modern brand that are just not necessary.
Let me share an experience that I had somewhat recently. I had a friend buy me a book from a local book shop as a gift. When I received it I thanked them for the gift and I read it later. I noticed something rather odd about this book…there was no branding. No brand name, no name, and not even a copyright notice. Needless to say I was taken back by this as it seemed abnormal. But why did I think it was abnormal? If I had to guess, it was probably because seeing someone not milking their work and committing a sort of selfless act seemed out of place, especially in this day and age.
When was the last time you saw a book without a logo or brand name? I only have two books in my entire collection that fit that criteria. Actually, when is the last time you saw anything without a logo or brand name? Go through the room you’re in right now and count how many items you have that don’t have a brand name and or logo. No, seriously, do it. You will be genuinely surprised.2
One very important downside of modern brands that impact customers is what I like to call the “safe zone”. The “safe zone” is a situation in which a customer buys products of specific brands either due to trust, loyalty, familiarity, or a mix of all three. This results in the customer not buying anything else unless it’s from one of their chosen brands.
This usually results in dependence on a specific brand. This is, of course, intended. And while it is very beneficial to the brand itself, it can be detrimental to the customer. On one hand, the customer is provided safety and security knowing that what they get from a specific brand will be (mostly) consistent. On the other hand, this can trap the customer into dependence on a brand since not buying from a trusted brand would be too “risky” or “unsafe” (hence the name “safe zone”).
This effect can happen on such a large scale that many brand names are immediately associated with a non-branded objects. For example, do you hear people say cola or Coca-Cola more? Do you hear people say tissue or Kleenex more? Do you hear people say slow cooker or Crock-Pot more? The list goes on and on. Not only does this result in other products being noticed less, but it also draws a negative light on other products and make them seem inferior compared to larger brands.
Digital Restrictions Management, more commonly referred to as Digital Rights Management, is one way that a brand keeps customers. DRM essentially restricts what the customer/user can do with a product. This is usually very prevalent among popular companies/brands especially in the technology sector.
The best example I can probably think of is ink cartridges for inkjet printers. Most major brands of inkjet printers use proprietary ink cartridges with DRM built into the cartridges themselves. If you try to use a different type of ink cartridge on your printer, it won’t work. If you try to refill the ink in your cartridge, it won’t work. If you buy third party ink cartridges, they won’t work.3 It’s not because it is “incompatible”, it’s ink, it’s because the manufacturer wants to force you into brand loyalty and to buy their products.
Now it doesn’t take a genius to understand that DRM is bad, but for the handful of people who don’t understand why DRM is objectively awful, here are a few links to understand why.
Although the modern conception of branding is very beneficial from an economic and financial standpoint, it can have many negative side effects outside the economic and financial realm. It can result in enforcing restrictions on the customer, physiologically locking them into dependence, and creates obsession with branding. Although this is great for the brand owners, it sucks for the everyday customer. Granted, there are many more factors that go into branding but I think these points really highlight the nature of the current situation.
This, of course, is a centuries old tradition and goes all the way back to branding livestock to prove ownership. ↩︎
Unless you make it a habit to tear off labels and branding of products that you buy. In which case, I wouldn’t blame you for doing that. ↩︎
And this isn’t made any better by the fact that inkjet printer ink is extremely expensive, especially if it is purchased from the manufacturers themselves. ↩︎