Safire Tires Of Brands

William Safire, our supreme guardian of the English language, writing in New York Times Magazine said:

The time has come to unbrand the word brand.
The noun blazed on the scene a thousand years ago as a burning stick, and the meaning soon transferred to the mark left on the skin of a horse or a criminal by such a stick, or branding iron. That mark became the sign of infamy: Richard Hooker wrote in 1597 of an age marked ”with the brand of error and superstition,” and later, a firebrand became the symbol of an inflammatory rabble-rouser.
The burned-in mark, in the 19th century, began to signify ownership not just of an animal but also of liquids in wooden casks, like wine or ale. The brand-mark became a ”trademark,” and in the 20th century the designated item so labeled became a brand. In 1929, Fleischmann’s Yeast absorbed the coffee maker Chase & Sanborn and other companies to form Standard Brands (now a part of Kraft), in hopes that brand names would produce brand loyalty. A generation later, David Ogilvy, the advertising executive, was dubbed by the author Martin Mayer in 1958 as an ”apostle of the ‘brand image”’ who sought to persuade the consumer ”that brand A, technically identical with brand B, is somehow a better product.” Within two years, the novelist Kingsley Amis extended brand image from a product to a genre: ”mad scientists attended by scantily clad daughters” constitute ”the main brand-image of science fiction.”

Tom Peters, who took the whole brand called you thing to new heights in a 1997 Fast Company article, picked up on Safire’s piece in his blog (which is actually written by several other people). Here’s a comment I like from Trevor Gay on that post:

What worries me is ‘branding’ being turned into some complicated academic subject when, in reality, ‘branding’ is simply a distinctive element that makes an individual or a company stand out – in other words what they are recognised ‘for’ and ‘as’.
Keep it simple – don’t let academics make ‘branding’ a complex science.
Branding is not complicated.

About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative direction at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.