Telling Victoria’s Secret

In order to keep a roof over our heads, so to speak, we infuse brands with meaning. But what happens to that meaning post-infusion? How is it transferred (if it is) to the people it was made for?

According to BusinessWeek, University of Minnesota researchers Deborah Roedder John and Ji Kyung Park are studying the matter.

One of the four studies they conducted found that women who carried a Victoria’s Secret shopping bag in a local mall for an hour perceived themselves as more feminine, glamorous and good-looking compared with how women who carried a plain pink shopping bag saw themselves.

In another study, some people felt more intelligent and more like leaders when they carried a pen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with an MIT logo, even after some were led to believe they performed badly on a math test.

I’m going to pause for a moment, so you can laugh out loud and/or puzzle at the inner workings of academia.

Okay, we’re back. Let’s take this seriously, if we can.

Brands help people feel things, often important things like a sense of self-worth. We know this is true, despite how utterly maddening it is. Look at the brands in your own life and ask yourself how they make you feel.

Here, I’ll start us off…eyewear is an innocent enough product category. How do I feel when wearing my Revos from the 1990s? Old school, privileged, stylish — that’s how I feel. In other words, I feel good about myself.

Maybe I should be better than that, maybe we all should. After all, my Nissan is just a truck. My iPhone is just a phone. My local Market of Choice is just a store. West Linn is just a town. And so on. Right? Wrong.

People have a deep need to belong, to be part of something, to feel special, to be acknowledged and loved. The best brands provide that. For instance, our alma maters are brands and we belong to our collegiate communities for life. Our workplaces are brands, the city and state we live in is a brand. Taken as a collection, all these brands help form our identities, help shape how others perceive us and how we feel about ourselves. In a sane world, this would be a revolting admission, but that’s not the world most of us are living in.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. 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. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Victoria says:

    “In a sane world, this would be a revolting admission, but that’s not the world most of us are living in.” Jeez, David, chill out. Maybe you should pack your Revos into a Victoria’s Secret bag and stroll in the park. Take time to smell the roses, my friend.

  2. Am I sensing a bit of advertising cognitive dissonance David? Read this (it may help):  😉

    • Thanks Tom. You know I love the idea that we are in the truth telling business. In the best cases, that is the job. But there are so many less than best case scenarios, where the truth about a product isn’t going to help it. Take Coors Light. They invented a truth about it being the coldest beer one can buy, and they’re putting millions of dollars behind that invented truth, which doesn’t make it true or even relevant. All it does it remind us that Coors Light is best served very very cold (which thankfully masks the truth of its unappealing taste).

      • Keebler Elf says:

        Actually, Asacker is not only wrong, he’s delusional. Your Coors Light example is tame. Food advertisements are especially filled with lies. Cheez Whiz is spelled with a z because it doesn’t qualify as cheese. Fruit flavored means there is no fruit in the flavor. Chocolatey means there’s no chocolate (imagine that – fake candy!). And think about the ways junk food is hawked, when the advertisers know damned well it’s like selling poison. The Keebler Elves are actually low-paid minorities operating rusty machines spewing out cookie-like foodish items.