Brands as units of social currency

Brands as units of social currency

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By Giles Lury Executive Chairman – The Value Engineers

“Feel like a hard-to-get starlet when I'm driving
Turning every head, hell I ain't even trying
Got them Ray-Ban shades pretty in pink
Call me old school but hey

I'm a '90s baby
In my '80s Mercedes
I'm a '90s baby
In my '80s Mercedes”

So sings Maren Morris on her track “80s Mercedes” which reminded yet again of the power of brands as a form of social currency.

It is amazing how a few brand names can evoke so much. As my colleague, Paul Walton, used to say, “Brands are Zip files of meaning”. If you don’t believe me try this simple creative writing exercise.

Fill in the gaps using only one word every time
It was good to get out of the rain.  I turned down the collar on my ………..jacket

“Give me a……….” I said to the barman as I lit another…………
Looking at my………., I realised it was a quarter after eight and she would be here any moment
A whiff of her…….and there she was, looking a million dollars dressed in ………….

And then compare the following two answers

1. “It was good to get out of the rain.  I turned down the collar on my OLD jacket
“Give me a BEER” I said to the barman as I lit another CIGARETTE
Looking at my WATCH, I realised it was a quarter after eight and she would be here any moment
A whiff of her PERFUME and there she was, looking a million dollars dressed in BLUE”

2. “It was good to get out of the rain.  I turned down the collar on my ARMANI jacket
“Give me a GLENFIDDICH” I said to the barman as I lit another DUNHILL
Looking at my TAG, I realised it was a quarter after eight and she would be here any moment
A whiff of her OBSESSION and there she was, looking a million dollars dressed in VERSACE”

A strong brand has a social ‘meaning’ – certain values and personality traits – that is consistent across consumers. It is this meaning becomes in effect a unit of social currency.

For example, there is a general understanding of what is meant when phrases like “bloody BMW driver” or “he’s a Guardian reader” are used.

We may all have individual perceptions of these brands, but we also know the generally agreed characteristics and meaning of those brands. Sir Michael Perry said, when chairperson of Unilever: “In the modern world, brands are a key part of how individuals define themselves and their relationships with one another… More and more, we are simply consumers… We are what we wear, what we eat, what we drive.”

Indeed UK fashion designer Jasper Conran once defined and segmented women by their choice of fashion brand, using a technique that we have dubbed ‘Brandographics’:

“There’s the Versace woman who dresses for men, sans doute. Versace girls make a career of sex; they don’t have girlfriends, they’re too much like competition. The Armani woman dresses for herself, and the Chanel woman dresses for other women. Chanel is all about branding; you know she’s a woman who wants to make women envious.”

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Author: The Marketing Society
Posted: 17 Jul 2016
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