In marketing, we know that many brands are badges. They say something about us. My Marlboros say I'm macho and rugged, a cowboy-like hero. My Dos Equis says I'm a very interesting man; my Cadillac says I've arrived, and so does the Louis Vuitton bag I gave my girlfriend. My smartphone says I'm connected.
This obviously goes way beyond a product's physical makeup. It actually gets into our cultural makeup, and beyond.
That's what branding is all about. Brands have character. He drinks Budweiser, she drinks Beck's --- will they ever be a couple? It's not so much about hops as it is about hopes. Hoping to be recognized as part of something, attuned to something, valuing something.
I don't think it's a coincidence that so many college students wear North Face jackets, even though they won't be anywhere near Mount Everest over the holidays. They make a statement. What's the difference between Levi's here and Levi's in London? Here, they're the basic all-purpose denim. In England, they're an American icon, completely cool.
There's a new wrinkle to all this. The Internet and social marketing. They're helping us be more picky, more choosy, more personal. We all have a desire to be more of an individual, more special, and our choices are now greatly multiplied --- and so are the advice and pressure from our friends and those we'd like to identify with.
Why do some women want the same boots J.Lo wore in her last movie? Because with those boots they could (a) identify with a beautiful celebrity; (b) have the assurance of being in style; (c) know the boots would make them different and stand out; and (d) have the pleasure of knowing they're special in a way not everybody could be. Not bad for $89.
That's why it's important for a brand to stand for something, and why branding is probably advertising's greatest contribution to marketing.
As for me, I just have a store-brand raincoat. I enjoy going incognito.