June 28, 2007 Product Placement: Subliminal Suggestion
 

Brands Make Us Lose Our Identity

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It's a Material World, but I Can Resist Being a Material Girl.

By Annye Wong

News Flash...NOT: Research trends indicate people continue to aspire to find validation in themselves (and among their peers) through the badge of brands available today.

It's a need that cuts to their/our very (egotistical) existence. In western culture, can anyone today attempt to attain self identity through self analysis without also analyzing, "Do you take American Express?"

When I walk down the street these days, it feels as if I'm blocked, ambushed and/or tempted to hypnotically enter a store and buy something that the ad promises will help "me be more of me." That is, by buying it, it will make me feel better about myself, the world and best of all, impress my friends!

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The irony is that with time on our hands; be it five minutes or 5 hours to thumb through a magazine, or watch a music video on MTV or a TV commercial pod-break, the silent-scream lure of "buy me, buy me" is hurting the next generation of consumers, but most of all the marketers.

For all our stand-off-ish-ness and cynicism of "the establishment," many young adults feel that the resistance of being sucked into the "Jaba the Hut" of retail merchandising is a losing battle. So, since we can't change it, we are now escaping it. We're changing the venue--the game if you will--from boob tube to YouTube. The hottest media property on the net today, it really should be renamed, "MyTube;" since it lets us escape the siren song of selling stuff that suckers us to sell-out.

Whether one is sucked into buying something and/or resisting the purchase the backlash of branding is that it cuts both ways. Both lead us to an abyss of entrapment and despair. If one buys, we get post-buy remorse. If one doesn't buy, we get frustrated due to un-attainment.

The question then becomes, "how can we ever find our way back to the world of imagination and creativity?" Wait, I have an idea. Can we buy it back?

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Toto, it looks like we're not in Kansas anymore.

I observe my surroundings--my impeccably accessorized friends--overindulged and packaged explicitly in recognizable logos and overpriced brands. They claim themselves to be as unique individuals who wear a specific BRAND to separate themselves from the group. What a laugh. If they could pull themselves away from the mirror for a minute they might actually see that they are; if anything a "me too" snapshot. What "group" do they want to separate themselves from when they all, in fact, belong to it?

The essential lie in today's branding culture is--in the search to find ourselves through the purchase of brands--we are in reality going off-course from the path of that discovery with every BRAND purchase.

More and more, BRANDS invade our life and steal our identity. Any attempt to self-realization is becoming more and more ambiguous. So, what do you do? Do you resign yourself to proudly parading your latest, ubiquitous Louis Vuitton handbag to your friends; who then develop admiration (yeah, right) at first and then soon, (absolutely) envy. Then, they make it their life goal to possess that same bag of yours. A one "up-bag-ship" at its best/worst. Here's a ponderous thought: when you leave the world of today, do you take your LV bag with you? I don't THINK so! If not, how important could it possibly be?

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Does anyone really care?

While ostentatious acts make one feel large and superior, the feeling of self-satisfaction is becoming more and more difficult to find. The more these bags unconscientiously convince ourselves that we are masters of our universe, they, in actuality obsess and addict us more to these many unnecessary necessities.

In our society, there will never be an end to this. BRANDS will never give you that full satisfaction, where you can completely be complacent upon the purchase of the product. There will always be a new and better one of the same product, leaving you always wanting more.

How can we afford a lifestyle that we cannot live up to? Rather than creating satisfaction, the number of people who cannot afford elite brands makes society an uglier place to live. Is this not part of why badge brands lose their essence based on the envy and jealousy they create? Regardless of how snobby a person is, there is a point when others' dis-affectation invades their psyche, which turns the "sweet spot" they "bought" into a reinforcement of their poor self-esteem.

Maybe that's not marketing; maybe it's just human nature. In any event, BRANDS continue to attack me. I admit it. I do surrender from time to time. How can I not bow from the power of BRANDS? Madison Avenue continues to "strip-away any buying resistance to products at almost any cost. It keeps going to trap us as permanent "consumers" and thus drives us deeper into suppressing ourselves, not helping us identify each of us.

I was lucky. I managed to escape from that world and by doing so, gained a profound understanding of what's important and what's not.

Preying on our inferiority DOES work and always will work, though my hope is that our next generation, my generation entraps the marketers to be required to have "them be more of them" versus our current predicament of we being entrapped in theirs. There are those of us that have already learned this and are no longer letting temptatious "belonger" products invade our world.

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I will continue to walk on the path to self-discovery. As I learn more and more about myself, the feeling of self-satisfaction will hopefully find me. I was lost at one point, and then one day I looked into my Louis Vuitton handbag and there I was, staring back at me.

I realized then that I needed to get out of that bag and so I did. But an even bigger challenge and lesson I learned was I needed get the LV bag out of me.

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Annye Wong is a freelance designer with experience in integrated graphic arts and commercial comunication. She can be reached at editor@madisonavenuejournal.com.

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