Wrapped Up In (And Transformed By) Brands

In today’s New York Times Magazine, “Counsumed” columnist, Rob Walker, examines at an academic study that indicates brands may have the power to shape our behavior. Not just purchasing behavior, mind you, the concept being forwarded claims that certain brands can make us run faster, jump higher, think more clearly, and so on.

The upshot of the original study, and numerous replications, was that the subjects subliminally exposed to Apple branding came up with more uses, and their uses were deemed more creative, than those exposed to the I.B.M. logo or to no logo at all. In other words, exposure to the Apple logo appeared to make people more creative.
One of the researchers, Gavan Fitzsimons, a professor of marketing and psychology at Duke, acknowledges that many of us — and not just the owners of I.B.M. — resist this finding because we are suspicious of the idea that brands affect us at all. Many people, Fitzsimons says, accept the idea that flaunting a brand broadcasts qualities you already possess or even aspire to: maybe creativity for the Apple loyalist, rugged individualism for the Harley consumer or athleticism for the Speedo buyer. But Fitzsimons and his colleagues say the process can work the other way around, that brands can not only reflect who we are but also affect how we behave.

Sounds far-fetched, but let’s think about this through another lens. Take a uniform, any uniform. Put that uniform on–be it a Yankees uniform, a soldier’s uniform, or a policeman’s uniform–and you will be transformed. Your thoughts will change and so will your actions.



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.