A Definition of Branding
Branding, as a practice, has a branding problem. It is usually represented as a masquerade to trick individuals into making choices they would not or should not have made either way.
But branding is not (only) the half-trivial, half-unethical discipline it is often described as. It actually often is the most human aspect of otherwise mechanical, indifferent organizations. And its efficiency may be applied to worthy causes.
The simple idea behind branding is that context matters. People will evaluate and appreciate things differently according to the setting it is presented to them.
I don’t find the pull my finger joke especially funny, but told by the Queen of England, the very same gag would have me in tears. The actual “content” of the joke is not the only thing I experienced. It came from somebody. Who said it at a certain time. At a certain place. In a certain way. All these factors weigh in when it comes to determining if I liked it or not.
It may sound like an exploitable flaw, but this is the very essence of what makes us more than mere machines. We do not just coldly evaluate the value of things presented to us. We consider the context as well and wonder how that makes us feel.
Yes, people’s perception of something can be altered by branding it differently. But this can be used for a wider range of applications than most people may think of.
Frederick The Great, ruler of Prussia during the middle of the 18th century, sought to make then-unloved potatoes a widespread crop in his kingdom to lower the cost of bread. Unfortunately, his skeptical citizens refused to comply, despite receiving official orders to do so. King Frederick thus decided to make potatoes a privilege of the few. He planted some in a field and stationed guards to protect it. Since then, the crop became heavily popular, for it was now the forbidden food of nobles.
That’s an old but effective branding strategy, similar to luxury brands raising their prices to increase their perceived value.
At its core, branding is manipulation. Manipulation of appearances and emotions. But so are cinema and stage magic.
One can be authentic, well-intentioned and still plan a branding strategy.