Being broadcast into Times Square, NY, is a surreal experience. “Am I famous?”, a passer-by wants to know. No, I say, I’m one of a number of speakers at the ONA.
Back in London, the reason behind my 5-seconds fame is crystallising. Apple’s corporate headquarters has sent one of its top content writers to profile me in 1500 - word feature. We sit in our mawkishly-deco staff room whilst she gently prods me for answers, but as “I open my mouth”, I’m thinking “ S**t, ‘Lose Yourself’, the words won’t come out”.
As interviews go, I could easily forget that one, not that I do many. In the winter of 2005, in the idyll Yorkshire village of Howden, I created an online platform which showed what we would be doing with video and imagery in the years to come, with YouTube yet to arrive. The press described it as:
like stepping into the sort of hi-tech world imagined in Steven Spielberg’s
science fiction movie Minority Report.
Meanwhile, a film that heralded the future of British Multimedia picked up an international award in Berlin. I had more work. That’s all I wanted; work. I would go on to train hundreds of newspaper journalists over the years.
In those heady days, The New York Times Television critic linked to my work. Invites arrived to speak to the likes of the BBC’s World leadership group, and Apple gave me the floor for their, then, new Regent Steer Apple Store, three times.
Am I, or was I that thing many seek — a regular job, or even a brand — I’m thinking? And what did the latter matter?
If reality were doing its job properly, what we think would be of limited consequences, but as it happens reality is boring. What we crave leads us to construct habitats that distort how we shape meaning from reality. Kant broke this news in the 18th Century. We readily pawn our emotions, memories and unconscious mind, which is mined like precious stones today by broadcasters, and corporate brands, now as data units.
Branding’s history is elliptical, moving from livestock and the heinous act of quarterising humans, to the sanitising of the word and anthropomorphising emotional values to goods. At the root of this is psychoanalysis. If cigarettes were truly thought of as penises Edward Bernays would find out, depth manipulators could find alternative narratives to affect sales. In the sixties advertisers intensified their war. A pretty woman and man’s face could sell your product, yet hidden values working on the unconscious mind: health, confidence, social mobility could tie you to a product for life as a trusted friend.
Today we liberally use the word, “brand” applied to sentients, yet seeing no contradiction to ourselves as commodities. You are the product cycle. And you require managing, auditing, protection and investment. Proto branding linked real names, such as Sainsbury, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Hoover to ownership.
Porsche by Ferdinand Porsche was a combination of its engineer’s fortitude and elegant design aesthetic, at a time if Bauhaus’ dominance. It’s a car whose sinewy lines radiate Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus — beauty that is about form and shape. It’s underlying philosophy as I took a team its Museum, you don’t just admire the car, you want to be like the car.
Unsurprising then that a commercial I made for a Porsche client would capture this.
Symbols would follow. It was a matter of the illusion again, enacted and proved on a scale when the Phoenicians devised the alphabet. Then squiggly lines would form linear patterns to provide meaning. A swish, apple, and colour connotations would have their own construct. What the mind conceived became truth, otherwise persuaders crowbarred its meaning via subversion.
The end goal in branding isn’t just to work, but obliterate anyone wanting to occupy your red-shift space, where you can to sell anything. A persistence of memory and visual schema is necessary to construct the world you want others to see, rather than the reality that exists. Jay-Z is to launch a TV network; brand and broadcasting converge. In an ever growing multi-platform, other personal brands will follow.
Heavily sought after in this millennia, branding is viewed as the gateway to celebrity status and becoming wealthy. Fame, a transient quality, does not make you a brand. For that you require ‘architect branding’.
In our LAB we can see various schools, from MBAs to MAs purposefully designing frameworks. Its curriculum resides in the science of neurobiology, Freudian expositions, behavioural psychology, cognitivism and constructs of semiotics. And there is a large gap in the market.
The brand store sounds like a conceptual schema, but just like a beauty parlour or grocery shop we’re not far away from a counter in which customers, privately referred to as data points, will opt for a thirty minute sentiment analysis and brand make-over worth $39.99 — from stepping onto the first rung of brand quotients to leveraging hidden assets you never knew you had.
Fictional drama is gymnastics for the mind, truth is contoured by politics and righteous self-projection, celebration of the self now seeks a further meta level beyond Maslow’s actualisation and the teachings of the Esalen Institute in California in the 1960s.
The onset of Social though has consequences. As personal brand gains ubiquity, it will lose its allure. Its essence diffused, we’ll find new terms and constructs already taking shape in expression like ‘space’, from Corey Pein’s Live Work Work Work Die: A Journey into the Savage Heart of Silicon Valley. Space takes on metaphorical and mythical meaning. It’s a philosophical land grab, “What’s your space?”, Pein cites as the proverbial question in the Valley which negates the embarrassing clearing of the throat, that you’re a brand.
Above all, what the future tells us is within the chaos of identity data trading ala Facebook et al, that being particular about who we are sets up a default position for re-creating personas — that is what we want you to know, than what is already there. And that leads towards proto branding.
End of part One of Three.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is head of the Digital and Interactive Storytelling LAB combining cognitivism and storytelling in exploring, amongst others brandcasting. He is this year’s Asper Visiting Professor of Journalism at University of British Columbia. In the 90s he worked for Jon Staton’s agency — a former head of TV at Saatchi and Saatchi.