Brands, coolness and seduction. Revisited.

I posted this on the 30th of June last year. And I want to get back to some of the ideas contained within:

“In the last few weeks I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what defines ‘cool’… I’ve discussed the topic with colleagues, friends and random people. While some say that cool is fleeting, I disagree. Hype is fleeting. Cool is permanent, generally not recognized by all, and tends to grow after the lifespan of a person/place/thing has been used up. It’s highly subjective, but I’m beginning to believe that there is universality in cool–even if someone disagrees with the ‘coolness’ of a person/place/thing, they probably know deep down that it is cool.

“Perhaps, though, cool is just a subsection of seduction. People/places/things use a variety of methods to seduce us into interacting with them in some way. Cool, in my mind, is just one of those methods. But, like my friend Andrea says, ‘seduction’ may be too simple a concept. The driving force behind truly great brands is something bigger:

“‘It is too simple to say that there is the ephemeral element of seduction in brands/ads. Some nuance that makes you want something you don’t particularly need/can’t afford/is unhealthy etc. I agree that we cannot name it—precisely why it can be so powerful.’ (AMF, email 6/29)

“Whoa. That’s a tough concept to mess with. How can you build, design or create the unnameable energy behind powerful brands? I think at this point we’re dealing with the notions of power and control, and the factors that contribute to their existence.”

And then I wrote this on the 18th of July:

“Power is the most fundamental part of human relationships. Platonic, romantic, sexual, political, cultural, economic, social and familial (did I miss any?) relationships are based in a simple exchange of power. One side has some, the other has less. This isn’t necessarily a recognized or intentional exchange, though it certainly can be. Nevertheless, it governs the relationship and gives it structure.

“Naturally, I’m not talking about physical power here. Instead, think more of social power, of influence. The physical form has something to do with social power…but this influential, social power is a construct of things both real and imagined. For example, America has power both because of its military/economic strength and because of the imagined (but based in reality) consciousness of Americans. Internationally, we’re seen as overbearing, loud jerks. There is something real about that idea, but it’s not entirely accurate. However, it affords a certain measure of power to America and the American identity.

“Power is not so much invasive as it is pervasive. It’s everywhere, everything is affected by it, and it’s not going away. I had discussed with Russell Davies (and others) in comments following this post the importance of brands. Are brands important, just by their very being? No, certainly not. Most brands do not hold much cultural capital, do not have a spot in the minds, let alone the identities, of the public. Why? Because they fail to develop knowledge of their audience. Power comes from knowledge; Foucault would say they’re inextricably linked. The power of a charismatic person comes from their innate knowledge of how to manipulate people, how to look them in the eyes, how to empathize, how to really understand.

“Some brands have power. Brands as a whole (all the branded products/services in the world, taken collectively) have huge influence over people. Why else would we ‘trade up’? Why else would people aspire to buy better, nicer-looking things? Because they have power, there is power in association, there is power in social acceptance and power in cultural norms.

“We strive every day to create power in brands. More recently, we’ve been trying to develop better knowledge of how brands interact with people, how people can influence brands and be influenced by them. It’s the right track. But we need more. We need more discourse, more back-and-forth & give-and-take. See the example of the ‘American’ brand above. Certainly it has power, perhaps more than any brand in the world. But there’s tragedy in it as well, mostly due to a lack of understanding on the other side. It’s a bit big as an example, but it proves in some measure that two-way brand dialogue is a very real, very essential thing.”

But nobody was reading this blog back then, and I wanted to see if anyone out there thought any of these thoughts were interesting, worth thinking about, or what.

So let me know.