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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Column: Brand to the top

When I pop open a bottle of cool, crisp Coca-Cola on a hot day and take a sip, I trust that the fizzy fluid that floods past my lips will be the same delicious cola I’ve come to know and love since I was a little kid.
When I pop open a bottle of boring, bland Safeway “Refreshe” cola on a hot day and take a sip, I know that the plain drink sloshing into my mouth will be an altogether dull experience that could and should have been Coca-Cola.
If you’re like me, you feel the same way when you have the above encounters with Coke and an unrecognizable cola, respectively. Unless you’re a Pepsi drinker, in which case … stop. Stop what you’re doing and switch to Coke. It’s better.
Now, why is it that as consumers, we value familiar names and products over cheaper goods that provide a similar, if not identical experience? It’s odd, isn’t it? A few words here, a couple pretty colors there and maybe a nice little slogan to round it all out — all of these simple elements are regularly used to build our recognition of a product. And that recognition almost always prevails.
The concept of branding has been around for centuries, but as the world has evolved, so too has the use of trademarks to signify possession and trigger a response. Today the term stretches across many industries and is used in a variety of intricate ways. There is always a common theme, however. Beneath seemingly straightforward slogans such as “I’m lovin’ it” and “Breakfast of Champions,” a complex strategy is at work that taps into the collective mind of the masses and manipulates it into desiring something very specific.
When you take a sip of that Coke, you’re not drinking soda. You’re drinking (I’m a bit limited here but think of their logo): Coca-Cola. And not only Coca-Cola, but everything it reminds you of, be it your childhood, the perfect sandwich Coke complements, or any number of fun/funny/sexy ads the company preaches with. Coca-Cola, like many other successful corporations out there, is selling much more than a product. They’re selling a way of life.
Some companies have ingrained their products into society so well that their brand names replace the product names. Think Q-tips and Kleenex. Those (smart) bastards have the ears and nose markets locked up. Good thing toothbrushes are still toothbrushes and not “Oral-B’s” — otherwise brushing your teeth would sound a lot dirtier than it needs to.
Branding extends further than selling products and securing market territory, however, and this realm is where the subject is arguably the most interesting. Companies are not the only ones to brand themselves: People do it too.
Consider Brian Wilson of the San Francisco Giants — more appropriately referred to as “The Beard.” The man combined a very successful season as the Giants’ closing pitcher with an ever-growing beard. Then he showcased himself in nationally televised interviews as a hilarious, offbeat, potentially-a-bit-insane personality. And to top it all off, his unique cross-armed gesture upon every successful save became a recognized trademark all over the country.
This, in essence, is branding. Wilson transformed from an everyday, run-of-the-mill pitcher into a nationwide sensation with a few words (his odd persona), a couple pretty colors (his beard) and a nice little slogan (“Fear the Beard”). Other celebrities do it too, like Snooki, Subway’s Jared and any particularly memorable cast member of The Real World or Survivor. Each of these people has transcended their own name to become something similar to Coca-Cola: an icon.
On a smaller scale, people brand themselves uniquely every day. In job interviews and on resumes, potential employees always focus on their best aspects. They are selling themselves to the employer, and thus try to paint themselves into a portrait that they think will be most attractive to their prospective buyers.
To tie a nice bow onto all this, it’s not likely that throwing slogans onto your resume will lead to fame and fortune, or even a job at McDonald’s. However, with the right brushstrokes, you’ll at least start selling more than a name. You might even become a name.
VICTOR BEIGELMAN is taking suggestions for a personal slogan. “Fear the Beigelman,” maybe? Send him your ideas at vbeigelman@gmail.com.

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