As 2012 Hedi Slimane was announced the new creative director of the fashion house Yves Saint Laurent, the first thing he did, even before bringing our his first collection, was to rename the ready-to-wear line to SAINT LAURENT PARIS. It was not only a huge surprise, but rather a huge shock to the fans and the YSL clientel. ”Why (…) would one of the most well-known, respected, and historic couture houses put its considerable and longstanding brand equity at risk? (…)Saint Laurent Paris (might be) a risky choice. To begin with, distancing the brand from its namesake—the man who truly personified its style and vision—could alienate longtime loyal customers. (…) People who may have never owned anything from the YSL brand are finding themselves feeling sad and nostalgic”, the editor of the magazine FORBES.com was explaining the huge impact of this alternation.
But why do we feel so strong about a particular brand? Why do we suddenly feel insecure, regarding such a change? In the following abstract I will talk about the history and emergence of brands, their goal, and relevance in our society.
The brands we experience today, carry two unchangeable characteristics, the information about quality, and the origin of the product, (Moore & Reid, 2008). The branding phenomenon has experienced a significant development towards complexity in character throughout the centuries. It is of even greater importance to point out that the emergence of branding took place around 2250 BCE, to emphasise the fact that “brands and branding are as old as civilisation”, (Moore & Reid, 2008: 5).
But let’s talk about modern branding. In the mid-1980s it became clear to major enterprises that production of goods alone, could no longer secure economic success, due to industrialisation and mass production the competition grew immensely. Production and development of brands was now the main recipe for successful business, (Klein, 2000). “Brands now became something of an omnipresent tool by means of which identity, social relations and shared experiences could be constructed. They were spun into the social fabric as a ubiquitous medium for the construction of a common social world”, (Arvidsson, 2006: 3). Martin Kornberger (2010) also describes brands as “things, they are tools, they are processes; they explain, they seduce, they corrupt; they are used by corporations and those who fight them”, (p. 5). Kornberger and Arvidsson see branding as having huge power in our society, although it is completely artificial.
Edward Bernays (Sigmund Freud’s nephew) is considered to be the ‘discoverer’ of its power. During World War I, working for the American propaganda machine, Bernays came to understand the power and necessity of propaganda, but created a different, less aggressive and negative expression for it: Public Relations. He discovered that “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country”, (Kornberger, 2010: 7). People “had to be seduced and manipulated into doing what was best for them”, (Kornberger, 2010: 7). Thus, Bernays created the first formula for successful branding by establishing a connection between the product and emotion, and changing people’s former emotional relation to it. In this way, he created a symbolic dimension, which was worth more than the actual object. Bernays succeeded in making the functionality of the products irrelevant, instead he created a shift “from a focus on needs to the stimulation of desires”, (Kornberger, 2010: 8). This implied another shift on a different level:
Whereas there is a satisfaction of needs, there is nothing as such for desires. This algebraic formula was incorporated deeply into the 20th century’s dominant mode of producing and consuming, and penetrated each and every industry.
The main mission of a company is to create stories, which involve the brand. As any other story, brand stories rely on a plot and characters and borrow immensely from metaphors to enable communication and boost imagination. “As these stories collide in everyday social life, conventions eventually form. (…) A brand emerges when these collective understandings become firmly established”, (Holt, 2003: 3).
It is evident that people find themselves being a part of ‘brand communities’, socialising and establishing friendships around brands. Consequently, brands can be seen as “important ‘cultural resources’, which people relate to as significant components of their own identities and overall life world”, (Arvidsson, 2006: 5). Thus a brand is a means of self-‐expression, offering stories in which the customer finds value to help constructing his own identity. The brand makes it possible for people to be, feel, or act in a certain way. “To the slightly awkward, the overweight or not conventionally pretty, savvy display of brands becomes a way of constructing a social position and a passable image”, (Arvidsson, 2006: 5). Thus, the consumer can hide behind the brand, or demonstrate his belonging or status through the brand, (Chadha & Husband, 2006).
Arvidsson, A. (2006) Brands: Meaning and Value in Media Culture. Oxon: Routledge.
Chadha, R. & Husband, P. (2006) The Cult of the Luxury Brand: Inside Asia’s Love Affair with Luxury. London: Nicholas Brealey International Publications.
Forbes.com (2012), http://www.forbes.com/sites/onmarketing/2012/07/09/yves-saint-laurent-re-branding-an-icon/
Holt, D.B. (2004) How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.
Klein, N. (2000) No Logo. Toronto: Harper Perennial.
Kornberger, M. (2010) Brand Society: How Brands Transform Management and Lifestyle. Cambridge University Press.
Moore, K. & Reid, S. (2008) The Birth of Brand: 4000 Years of Branding History, at http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/10169/, MPRA Paper No. 10169, (26 August), Accessed on 12/10/2013.