The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


December 6, 2013

Marta Mossburg, columnist: The tyranny of branding has replaced sense of self

— Has anyone noticed that your brand has replaced your self? First impressions have always been important, but became critical to survival when Americans left the farm for the city and needed to get a job from someone they were not related to or friends with. Dale Carnegie cashed in on this demographic shift with his best-selling 1936 book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

The advent of social media, however, seems to have unleashed an obsessive inner need to mark our territory like dogs who stop every five feet to spread their scent, and not just on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

I am no scientist, but I’ve noticed you no longer have to Google people to find out who they are. Just look at the back of their car. It will often tell you not just their political affiliation, a long-standing tradition, but where and how much they spend on vacation, their yearly tuition bills, and their social class.

It doesn’t matter what socioeconomic background they come from. The stickers may be different — you don’t see too many stick figure families or “My German Shepherd is smarter than your honor student” stickers on the backs of Land Rovers, for example, but you will see lots of MV (Martha’s Vineyard) or OBX (Outer Banks) ovals affixed next to their private school stickers.  

A few weeks ago The Wall Street Journal ran a funny article by a man annoyed by all the runners with 26.2 and 13.1 bumper stickers he sees in his Midwestern town. As he asked, “What’s with this infatuation with running and the near-mandatory ritual of preening about it?”

But it’s not just running. It’s everything. It’s as if it’s not enough just to believe certain things anymore or like doing certain things or going certain places, you have to brand yourself with them to validate your identity. And it’s not just on cars. Clothes, jewelry and accessories are so logo heavy or so recognizably branded that everything worn is readily identifiable not just to friends and family but to passerby. Brands are not new, but a Ralph Lauren polo logo the size of a grapefruit is, for example. And wealthy women donning totes with massive Tory Burch or Michael Kors hardware is also new for a country where until relatively recently broadcasting wealth or achievement was tacky, particularly so in formerly puritan New England.

 And then there are the do-good brands like Toms, which donates a pair of shoes for every one bought, which allows people to think they are philanthropists for wearing trendy footwear. Since giving as a percentage of income has held steady for decades, wearing the ubiquitous rubber bracelets representing myriad causes or donning certain shoes is not making people give more. But it is a fashion statement that broadcasts you “care” — whatever that means since it rarely involves any self-sacrifice.

And there’s the rub — branding is not about becoming a better person, but advertising you are the right sort of person so that like minded people — to go back to the dog analogy — will come sniff your butt. Growing up used to mean shedding that sort of herd mentality but now it is a staple of adulthood.

It’s great that so many people want to “Save the Tatas,” for example, but what about the pancreas and the liver? There are so many pink ribbons and pink everything out there — even on NFL players — in support of breast cancer awareness it seems to have drowned out any information about other types of cancer. Good for the breast cancer people for figuring out how to raise money for their cause, but as a society I can’t help but think that we’ve started to unlearn the difference between popularity and merit and more susceptible to the groupthink that comes from being inundated by seeing only certain images over and over again.

The ‘I brand, therefore I am’ mentality also breeds a need to constantly keep up with the latest important causes and trends in order to stay fresh and relevant to peers. It’s exhausting just thinking about it. So until someone can convince me otherwise, I will continue to drive bumper-sticker-free cars, buy logo-less handbags and enjoy traveling to wherever my family decides to travel anonymously without forcing you to revel in my self-expression as if it were a deity to be worshipped.

Marta H. Mossburg writes frequently about national affairs and about Maryland, where she lives. Follow her on Twitter at @mmossburg.

Text Only
  • Other Views Other Views: Eroding court’s authority

    While Kansans were focused on the twists and turns of school finance this past week, lawmakers made an unnecessary and historic change in how the state’s district courts operate, coercively tying the reforms to badly needed funding.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Your View: Travesty

    What a travesty that a terrific young man from Spain is on the verge of deportation even though he has proven his worth in America (Globe, April 13).

    April 18, 2014

  • Your View: Astonishing transformation

    The transformation of the Republican Party in the last decade is astonishing.

    April 18, 2014

  • Your View: The changing view

    It is heartbreaking to hear the decades old trees (which border on South Pennsylvania in Webb City) cracking and being bulldozed down.

    April 18, 2014

  • Our View.jpg Our View: Safe and sound

    Of the 7,500 Joplin and Duenweg homes hit by the 2011 EF-5 tornado, fewer than 20 percent of them had basements.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Other Views Other Views: Funding for state’s roads

    Missouri is finding there is no good alternative to growing the economy, adding new well-paying jobs and expanding the tax base.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Geoff Caldwell, columnist: Government without apology or explanation

    Americans feel closest to their Uncle Sam at this time of year as he extends his hand for his “fair share” to fund his numerous endeavors.

    April 16, 2014

  • Your View: Step aside

    The people of Joplin made it clear they wanted change at City Hall with their decisive votes to replace two council members.

    April 16, 2014

  • Your View: Serious drawbacks

    Joan Banks’ guest column (Globe, April 13) lays out clearly and persuasively the serious drawbacks with so-called right-to-work legislation.

    April 16, 2014

  • Your View: Free choice

    Joan Banks’ guest column (Globe, April 13) regarding right-to-work seems to assume that if workers are given the choice of joining a union, they won’t join.

    April 16, 2014

Local News
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter

Missouri Republicans are considering a new approach to prevent federal agents from enforcing laws the state considers to be infringements on gun rights: barring them from future careers in state law enforcement agencies. Do you think this proposal has merit?

     View Results
NDN Video
Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism