And We Thought The 80s Was A Self-Absorbed Time In America

Tom Peters, what have you wrought?

To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.

These platitudes come rolling off the press and their shiny newness brings a crowd to ooh and aah. But that doesn’t mean a solid case is being made.
It seems to me now that things are shaky shaky, people are starting to test the foundations. Nathan Burke, a Marketing Manager in Boston puts “personal branding” to the test and as you can see from his four-point argument against, personal branding fails big.

  • It strips away our humanity and turns us into a fictional concept
  • It describes something so inherently self-important and egotistical that borders on delusional
  • I want to be a brand about as much as I want to be a building
  • It’s a stupid buzzword created to make something obvious seem more complicated and real

Burke adds, “I thought the ideas of ‘social media’ and ‘transparency’ were supposed to cut through all the corporate bullshit speak and promote the informal exchange of people using a human voice.”
I like much of what Burke is saying, but it’s also true that a digitally connected world where everyone is a content producer means that we need to organize and classify. It’s a basic human response, to assign identity to others and to self. Do many people take this need to be identified way over the top and offend our finer sensibilities with their self-promo sledgehammers? For sure. But the concept of personal branding isn’t the problem, in my opinion. The problem is poor execution of the concept.



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 at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.