‘Brands are complex multidimensional constructs with varying degrees of meaning, independence, co-creation and scope. They are semiotic marketing systems that generate value for direct and indirect participants, society, and the broader environment, through the exchange of co-created meaning.’
The definition written by Francisco Conejo and Ben Wooliscroft in the article Brands Defined as Semiotic Marketing Systems, Journal of Macromarketing, Sage, September 2015 completely enthralled yet deeply infuriated me. The scope, depth, power and control of the brands over stakeholders that voluntarily or involuntarily participate in these supply and demand matchings, exchange processes and enhanced potency of assortment is enormous. I claim that scholars finally withdrew from the “managerial brand conceptualization“ that I first came across in the Leslie de Chernatony’s book From Brand Vision to Brand Evaluation and started to include a vast array of ideological, socio-environmental, anthropological, cultural…, implications for the participants and human society as a whole.
As brands work within increasingly symbolic markets, the marketing systems must pay attention to their meaning infrastructures. Failure to do so, may cause system to work improperly, even fail (Conejo & Wooliscraft 2015). It has become blatantly clear that many do not pass the test againsts the “5 capitals model“ (see image below) and keep focusing on the iconic, surface portion of the brand equity rather than tackling the experiential brand in terms of natural, social, human, manufactured and financial capitals.
Brand make-overs in things iconic are far from making brands sustainable and future-oriented entities directed towards prosperity of all.
Now, let us take Conejo & Wooliscroft’s definition and replace brands with people, companies, corporations, communities, governments, the EU institutions …. The molecular structure and interdependence are still valid, but I dare to claim that the “complex multidimensional constructs“ or the social systems, the social fabrics do no longer reflect the actual reality, but a virtual reality. This is why the world desperately needs the anthropologists to be able to decipher human reality from those of the make-believe semantics of reality shows (in a much, much broader sense than the reality TV).
By a stroke of lucky coincidence I attended the EASA Applied Anthropology Network symposium in November 2015 in Ljubljana, Slovenia, entitled Why the World Needs Anthropologists and have been using the hashtag #WhyTheWorldNeedsAnthropologists since. Let’s be honest I use it whenever I am perplexed by the daily events which is often to say the least. The speakers and panelists confirmed my overall mental anxiety, note that climatologist Lučka Kajfež Bogataj was among them prior to leaving for the UN Climate Change Conference COP15 in Paris and unanimously exclaimed:
“The world needs more humanity!“
Meta Gorup and Dan Podjed, Epic 2016 summarized the symposium and offered a few tips for the future: exercising interdisciplinarity, anthropologists and other scientists making their research more inclusive and their findings widely accessible and start spreading awareness and mediating across boundaries—to engaging with the world and its critical problems.
Then I remembered I heard it all before. An acclaimed Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek explaining it beautifully in his RSA ANIMATE collaboration entitled First As Tragedy, Then as Farce in 2010 speaking about Cultural Capitalism, or “buying into the consumerist act“. By buying a product or service we are simultaneously buying our redemption by giving a small donation to a worthy cause. Now this clearly shows that brand owners and experts started to understand the increasingly sensitized consumer minds and offered immediate redemption with little or no addressing on the 5 capitals. The popular corporate social responsibility practices may have done more damage than good, so let us repeat it again:
“As brands work within increasingly symbolic markets, the marketing systems must pay attention to their meaning infrastructures. Failure to do so, may cause system to work improperly, even fail (Conejo & Wooliscraft 2015).“
As a professional, a brand, marketing and communication specialist, I have always advocated that we are best off following a rather simple equation: one human creating, marketing and rendering the product or service, which most effectively and efficiently satisfies the needs and desires of another human. No animal, human, bee, geographic region, global or local water supply, …, should be harmed in the process. Ok, this is an attempt to sound humorous basically claiming to follow sustainable and humane business practices.
But, the transparency, trust and purpose must be embedded in all business, branding and marketing endeavours for that matter or else, they will not stand the test of how business is conducted today, be it global or local. Corporate governance and active citizenships go hand in hand, but will require a considerate amount of time to become the prevailing choice of us all, the stakeholders of “now“ and future ecosystem.
Once in awhile I come across a coherent explanation of where we are “now“ and where the path has been leading us and this is one of them. Douglas Rushkoff dissects the tech economy and talks about his book ‘Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus’ in an excellent podcast on KQED. The book will find find its place on my bookshelf besides Jeff Jarvis’ What Would Google Do.
I might have opened too many areas of my explorations, but will dissect them further in my future writings to spread the awareness and give you more food for thoughts. Hope you will help me by posting comments, ideas and solutions.
Barbara is the founder and principal consultant at Molekoola, Consult Culture.