Friday, November 19, 2010

More on Branding to Come...

Thanks for your great comments so far on my "You are not a brand" post.  They have really helped me figure out why the word "brand" hits me so hard and in such the wrong way.

I've responded to the comments and hope to hear more from you about what you think about this term or this idea of "branding."

I have realized while I consider myself the Capricorn realist in the world, when it comes to artists, writers, and poets, I am a romantic.

I have never romanticized living in poverty, but I think I do romanticize the act of creating, of living the life of a writer or poet or artist.  I will be thinking a lot more about this today and hopefully, writing more on it tonight.

As I said, the comments have been intrigued me to think deeper about why I do dislike the word, "branding."  Maybe because it comes from the corporate world and I do not want it in this artistic world.  I realized if someone said, "I want to focus your work so you connect with a greater audience" I wouldn't have an issue with that.  But hearing, "I want to brand your work..." makes me cringe.

So often, it comes down to language for me-- what words we chose to use and the ones we don't.  It's why I write, really.

Thanks for listening.  More soon...

~  Kells



  1. Go behind the corporate usage and you get to the really offensive aspect of the term. It derives from cattle branding—the sear and sizzle of ownership. Poetry can't be owned; not even its creators own it! To me that's the freedom of art: a freedom from market-mindedness and all the branding it involves. Although, I suppose, some artists do devolve into a brand (Warhol? Ashbery?), while others (Picasso, Yeats) keep refusing the brand by reinventing themselves. It's a talent cattle only with they had!

  2. Sorry I lisped on that all but penultimate word! I meant "wish" of course....

  3. Hi Kelli~

    This topic is very interesting. I can't say that I am too keen on what the word has come to be synonymous with but I do see value in some aspects of it, for example networking. Getting around, being visible. I believe a poet needs to be seen at least in his own community – involved in readings, etc supporting the art form, etc. But having been highly involved in politics, I have seen branding used on individuals to the extreme and I have not been happy with the results.

    Every campaign I ever ran myself I utilized a color theme that never changes. Green and white signs, stickers, letterhead, etc. Those were mostly before the days of candidate web sites. Today those themes carry over there. All these things are marketing 101 and they are but a small part of what branding is. Where I have difficulty is seeing individuals manage themselves like soap on a shelf. Spending so much time creating an image that they live by.

    There is such a thing as building a reputation. That’s something we all do (even without thinking about it) and it may be a good one or a bad one. For example I think you Kelli have a reputation for being very up front and honest with people. It has come across time and time again on your blog. I suspect in real life you are the same way. Now I could be wrong but I suspect that is more a matter of an honest lifestyle you have chosen – the person you want to be. You are also very generous with your experiences as a writer. Sharing both successes and things that have not come quite so easy. All these things I think are about reputation. I doubt that you spent a weekend mind mapping what you wanted people to see you as and tailor making your every move as a writer to create that image.

    Images are just that. They are what people see. People see illusions all the time. It seems to me that branding one’s self requires a good deal of effort to cast yourself into a template and be the output of that template to everyone. That simply isn’t natural. It is contrived.

    If I am a box of soap on a shelf, sure I want everyone to see me – to stand out – to be the one people go to in spite of the fact that Cheer is right next to me. And while they are at it, buck the Tide!

    But I’m not a box of soap. And yes there are plenty of other poets around. I’m not trying to put them down. I don’t want to bury the competition. I don’t need to do that to be a poet or any artist. In fact, I think of the arts as sort of the “anti-brand” because we really need others for the arts to flourish.

    Joseph hit on something when he mentioned Picasso, Yeats, Ashbery and Warhol. I was thinking Norman Rockwell as an example myself before I read his comment. All these individuals one might argue have become a brand. I don’t think any of them, especially Picasso would have been especially proud of this – in today’s context of the word. But what they have achieved is by way of the reputations they built, not the brand they planned.

  4. Hi Kelli--

    I'm coming out from my lurking to weigh in here. I've been thinking about this all day-- I almost shouted 'yes!' at my computer screen when I read your earlier post this morning.

    This is what strikes me wrong about branding the artist: humans are not solely consumers. The dominant culture tell us that we can purchase our individuality through the mass market. But the problem with the mass market is the same as ever: it can only deal in large swaths, the broad strokes of humanity. Consumers are one dimensional-- all that matters about them is that they buy your stuff. Branding is about manipulating both your product and the consumer for profit.

    Art, however, is the antidote to the enormous pressure to see people as simply market forces interacting. Art deals in particulars-- the exceptions, the quirks, the surprises that make us human. Art-- both its making and its receiving--is about what makes people valuable in themselves: what we can make and how we can be moved in ways that connect us, strange and individual though we are, to ourselves and the world around us.

    Of course there are helpful ways to understand advice from the marketing world (as Cindy, et al. point out). That seems like common sense realism, and I think there's room for that. However, it will be a sad day when artists quit resisting the idea that the value of what they produce is in its salability. Unfortunately, I think branding is a pressure that direction.

    Okay, that was long. I do so enjoy your blog. Thanks for letting me crash the party. :)

  5. You're exactly right about word choice. People who know how to manipulate consumers use the word "brand" to describe a saleable product; they know what it implies. Using it implies ownership and commodity, a selling point.

    Word choice is important and, almost always, deliberate.

    In the army, the word Soldier is slowly being supplanted with Warrior, a deliberate word choice used to announce the birth of a warrior class in the United States, really previously unknown in this country.

    Whatever anyone says, the word "brand" implies something to be bought, sold, traded, created to make a profit.

    Paul David

  6. Thank you all for these! I have so enjoyed reading your thoughts.


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