Advertising our identity

By | May 13, 2010

At the bottom of this post you will see the very impressive ad for John Lewis – never
knowingly undersold.

So much advertising is about identity – not so much the identity of the product, but the identity of you the consumer. As someone said, "you are what you buy".  There's quite a lot in that.

Maybe you've already questioned this, but ask yourself why so much advertising is about lifestyle and aspirations and not actually the product itself; in some adverts the product scarcely appears at all. It's all about who you want to be.

Perhaps this recognition that people buy things because of their aspirations rather than what they need is something to which we all aught to be more attentive.  What makes us buy something can be about helping us be more secure in our own identity.

We gather around us the things that say something about who we want to be – rather like those old paintings commissioned by important members of society – the artist's challenge is to portray the sitter by what surrounds them.


So what is it that we want to say about ourselves?  Think of car advertising.  Perhaps you are bmw man,  "the ultimate driving machine" – powerful, stylish, driven. Or are you a Morris Minor? What do you drink – are you a John Smiths no nonsense man or a waiting, surfing Guinness drinker?

A brand name, a look, a colour, a logo, a sound and all those other elements are shortcuts or signatures that help us identify the company that makes the products. These are the outer garments of the company. Beneath these garments lie the brand itself – with its history, its stories, its values.

When we see people driving, wearing or generally displaying the brands to which they subscribe, we can know that those brand signatures are also used as a shortcut to the consumer's own identity. This is why people are very happy to wear logos and brand names on their shirts or whatever.

The jobs we do, the films we watch, the music we listen to are all shortcuts to our own brand identity – or perhaps those brands have replaced our identity! 

This intermingling of personal identity and product branding leads me to imagine that the stories of many brands have become our own story. The first car you bought, the music you listened to as a teenager, the clothes you once wore.

So what is it about we wonderful humans that is not about brands and products?

With all our creativity, love, compassion, pain, suffering, joy, relationships, what can we identify as being the real thing?  When we look at a starry night or the early morning mist we are filled with wonder. Can our responses to those beautiful encounters be a better reflection of our identity? Perhaps the answer lies in our own creativity and spiritual responses to the world rather that what we buy.

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