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Model Transformation

The complete and utter transformation of a brand is often the only remedy in keeping a fading or dying brand alive. Whether it is because of changes in the marketplace, new competitors, evolving consumer behavior or changes in cultural trends, the slow erosion of brand equity is an inevitable pitfall of longevity. Not all brands suffer this demise—brands such as Tide and Coca-Cola have been popular and profitable over the course of nearly one hundred years. Other brands such as Cadillac or Burberry have arisen from near death to recapture lost equity and market share. Once an iconic American brand, Cadillac was suffering from a stodgy persona, and frankly, it had fallen out of cultural favor to brands with more cache (BMW) or more hip appeal (the Mini Cooper). Then Cadillac introduced the Escalade —a powerful SUV endowed with an edgy urban attitude. Nearly overnight, Cadillac was transformed into an edgy urban brand. Likewise, fashion brands such as Burberry and Abercrombie & Fitch were both considered “old man’s brands” not more than ten years ago, but have been transformed via new designers and sexy advertising campaigns. But in the last decade, there has been one brand—one brand above all others—that has risen from the ashes of death and defeat to recapture acclaim and glory. And that brand is none other than Kate Moss.


Supermodel Kate Moss was “discovered” by Sarah Doukas of the Storm Modeling Agency, while she was passing through JFK International Airport in New York. Moss first starred in a series of Calvin Klein ads through the 1990s, spurring a period of waify, androgynous “heroin chic” and the accompanying public outcry.

According to the Kate Moss fan site, in 1999, Moss publicly said that she had never walked a fashion catwalk sober, “even at ten in the morning”. She has been a member of both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Moss is 5-foot-7 and weighs an estimated 100 pounds, perhaps a few pounds less, though she says she never weighs herself. In 1998, she was hospitalized for exhaustion, and her people dismissed all rumors that “exhaustion” was a code word for heroin addiction. In 2000, she was hospitalized with a kidney infection. In 2003, she was hospitalized with a sleeping disorder. She also smokes in the neighborhood of 80 cigarettes daily.

Despite her bad behavior , bad choice in boyfriends and lack of height (average height of most supermodels is 5 foot, 10 inches), Moss has had a long career by supermodel standards: 15 years and counting. She has consistently been one of the most sought after models for both editorial work and advertising campaigns, gracing the cover of Vogue more than ten times and appearing in ad campaigns for Gucci, Burberry, and Chanel. She has reportedly made upwards of $10 million annually, needs only her first name for instant recognition, and was named one of People Magazine’s 50 most beautiful people.

All that changed in September of 2005. Videotaped in the wee hours of the morning snorting cocaine with boyfriend Pete Doherty at a recording studio, Moss immediately made the front page of London’s Daily Mirror emblazoned with the headline “Cocaine Kate.” Four of her ad sponsors immediately pulled the plug on their relationship with her, including Chanel. One company, H & M, stated that they reserved the right to assess the situation before making a final determination on their relationship, but after substantial consumer backlash, they too fired her as their spokesperson.

It had been a long time since the world witnessed such a vehement brand backlash, even the recent Nike sweat shop scandal didn’t compare to the brand banishment of everything Kate. Moss quickly made a public apology followed by an announcement that she was entering a rehabilitation facility. Naysayers and Kate critics boldly predicted her career was over.

Cut to exactly one year later. Kate is back and she is once again working with Chanel, Burberry and Dior, but in addition, she seems to be everywhere; the September issue of Vogue featured no less than twenty ads featuring a rehabilitated Kate, including David Yurman, Bulgari, and Roberto Cavalli. She also graced the cover of Vanity Fair for the first time, as well as Vogue and W, to name but a few.

So what did Kate do to warrant such an enormously successful “comeback”? Did she tour Africa and adopt underprivileged children? Did she publicly donate millions of her earnings to victims of Katrina? Did she valiantly state how her rehabilitation made her a better, more emotionally available person? No. No, no, and no. She didn’t. In fact, she did nothing. Not a thing! She simply re-emerged into the same world she had previously inhabited, and matter-of-factly picked up where she left off.

Kate’s immediate resurgence into our visual vernacular is even more remarkable when you consider the lead time of most magazines: months. Given the time frame of her re-introduction, this would suggest that she was booked and photographed approximately one day after she completed her rehab. Which means magazine editors and fashion houses alike were willing to bet on the strength of her brand stamina. She is now the spokesperson for no less than 18 major fashion houses.

It is a rather profound statement of Moss’ public acceptability and good will that she was able to immediately recapture her previous bankability. While contemporary culture longingly treasures a good comeback, fallen celebrities such as Martha Stewart, Marv Albert, John Travolta, Anne Heche, Mariah Carey, Sean Puff Daddy P Diddy and Bill Clinton were expected to prove that were going to be bankable commodities before they recaptured their former glory. Even Britney Spears’ comeback is being documented and assessed by the hour as she flits back and forth between “has been” and “must follow.”

Earlier this month, Yahoo! reported that the post-rehab Moss was earning three times what she earned pre-rehab, to the tune of $56 million this year alone. Furthermore, Kate was recently honored as Britian’s Model of the Year. “Kate Moss is a fashion icon, and without doubt, one of the most prolific models in the industry,” the British Fashion Council said in bestowing the prize. “She has now been modeling for over 15 years and remains at the top of her game.”

No one knows exactly why or how Kate has been able to do what Martha Stewart or Whitney Houston or Levi’s or the Gap can’t. By far, my favorite assessment of Kate’s continued reign as a superbrand was summed up by London Telegraph columnist Tom Utley: “‘Supermodel scoffs doughnuts’ - now that really would be a story. But ‘Supermodel snorts cocaine’ ranks somewhere between ‘Dog bites man’ and ‘Gardener mows lawn.’”

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PUBLISHED ON Nov.30.2006 BY debbie millman
Keith McCord’s comment is:

We live in a time when we know that our celebrities have faults and vices, but we view it as an endearing characteristic.  As much as we would like to condemn and shun this sort of person, they are our icons and we like them when they're edgy.  When they struggle, we want to see them come back, it is a truly American attitude.  Why else would Madonna be one of the most successful female artists of our age?  She is continually doing things that test the edge of acceptability, and just when we thought there was nothing left for her to do, she "re-invents" herself.

Musicians do Farewell tours just to come back the next year to do a Reunion tour (and how many "Comeback" tours can Cher do?).  Athletes retire just to come back the next season...and yes, celebrities get involved in scandals just to come back and be our shining stars again.

On Nov.30.2006 at 04:10 PM
Doug B’s comment is:

think it goes a step farther today, especially in light of the last few weeks' current (entertainment) events. Celebrities don't need a 'comeback' to comeback anymore. It's as easy as getting drunk on the View and ranting, or dropping a few N-bombs at a comedy club with the home video camera rolling. The key seems to be publicly apologizing even BEFORE most of the public/media know what has happened. Even better, apologize at the doors of a treatment center you are about to enter in advance of the public finding out what you did. Make sure to blame it on an obscure bi-polar disorder exacerbated by an allergic reaction to prescription pain medication you became addicted to due to your family history of alcoholism and/or domestic abuse...

On Nov.30.2006 at 04:11 PM
Meka’s comment is:

Who gives a damn? Save it for Entertainment Tonight.

On Nov.30.2006 at 04:12 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

I'm not sure if I buy the 'everyone is a brand' idea. Can someone explain how Kate Moss is a brand where the word 'brand' cannot be used interchangeably with 'really popular celebrity'?

On Nov.30.2006 at 04:35 PM
Keith McCord’s comment is:

I'm not sure if I buy the 'everyone is a brand' idea. Can someone explain how Kate Moss is a brand where the word 'brand' cannot be used interchangeably with 'really popular celebrity'?

As usual, I agree with Jeff on this one. People like P Diddy (or whatever he goes by these days) have made themselves a brand, they market themelves, their own clothing line, their own VOTING CAMPAIGN... Kate Moss is just another in a long line of celebrities whose lives we love to watch and revel in their indiscretions because ours lives are just so much duller by comparison. Just because she is a supermodel who represents a vast array of fashion lines and really bad magazines doesn't make her a brand.

Earlier this month, Yahoo! reported that the post-rehab Moss was earning three times what she earned pre-rehab, to the tune of $56 million this year alone. Furthermore, Kate was recently honored as Britian's Model of the Year. "Kate Moss is a fashion icon, and without doubt, one of the most prolific models in the industry," the British Fashion Council said in bestowing the prize. "She has now been modeling for over 15 years and remains at the top of her game."

So Americans aren't the only ones duped by over-paid celebrities...
Large corporations also benefit from the fact that to hire a Kate Moss is a bit "taboo," but all that means in today's society is "more marketable."

On Nov.30.2006 at 04:52 PM
Jason L.’s comment is:

Generally celebrity doesn't equal brand. However, in the case of Ms. Moss, she certainly has elements of a brand. Perhaps she received these elements as a product of the brands that use her in their promotion, yet, it can't be denied that she herself (and her baggage and attitude and size) lends an edge, and a sex appeal quality in ways that say, Cindy Crawford did not and does not. Nikon's new promotions have an entirely different meaning to them with Kate Moss holding the camera, and that seems like Nikon leveraging the brand that is Kate Moss.

On Nov.30.2006 at 04:53 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

A deep and intriguing look at how celebrity image can go beyond looks, and delve into values, audience, systems, missions, and extensions----even damage control. But which comes first, Celebrity or Brand?

On Nov.30.2006 at 05:36 PM
ps’s comment is:

i guess kate is what "intel inside" is to the pc.

On Nov.30.2006 at 09:13 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Addictions are serious. And supporting someone who is trying to bounce back from a low point in their life is a highly admirable expression of humanity and kinship.

But I can't help but fear that somewhere in the reality-distorted celebrity world, someone is going to start framing self-destructive behavior as a strategically-necessary career move.

Gosh, I hope not.

On Dec.01.2006 at 08:44 AM
Keith McCord’s comment is:

But I can't help but fear that somewhere in the reality-distorted celebrity world, someone is going to start framing self-destructive behavior as a strategically-necessary career move.
Seems like it is already the case, doesn't it?

On Dec.01.2006 at 09:15 AM
Jason L.’s comment is:

I knew long ago that my rock 'n' roll career was going to a dead end, due to my Cleverish upbringing.

On Dec.01.2006 at 10:10 AM
debbie millman’s comment is:

>But I can't help but fear that somewhere in the reality-distorted celebrity world, someone is going to start framing self-destructive behavior as a strategically-necessary career move.

>Seems like it is already the case, doesn't it?

Yup. Check this out: "Nicole Ritchie Takes Her Cues From Kate Moss..."

On Dec.01.2006 at 10:11 AM
Keith McCord’s comment is:

Scary...the similarity/timelinesss and the website itself

On Dec.01.2006 at 10:27 AM
yi’s comment is:

I'll tell you what growing cultural trend led to her readmission into society: shrinking attention spans. People care less and less about what celebrities did 3 months ago, let alone a year. Plus I doubt anybody gave two poops about it to begin with. Coke is practically synonymous with supermodels. She's a rockstar in my books. It's all slight of hand tricks in these industries anyway- just wait around until someone else screws up, and surely everyone will welcome you back like nostalgic gold. Unless you're Paris Hilton.

On Dec.01.2006 at 02:33 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Cool article. Interesting way to address the (in my mind) very unfortunate reality that people can be brands, which is to say that they're commodities.

"Celebrity" just means "human being as consumer-packaged-good." The ultimate CPG account! It's dehumanizing. The entire fashion industry is dehumanizing for that matter, but knowingly and gleefully so...which does NOT make it okay somehow.

I'm not sure how much Kate really had to do with rebounding herself--aside from not totally falling apart in the looks department, staying in decent shape, and I assume showing up to shoots on time and behaving professionally. Perhaps in addition to her drug history, she also has a history of forming a good network and a record of being good to work with? I don't know. Its all speculation. But I know that getting work and keeping it isn't necessarily that hard or complicated. She's back where she's at because decision makers in this industry WANT her to be.

On Dec.01.2006 at 02:57 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Jason L.’s comment is: Nikon's new promotions have an entirely different meaning to them with Kate Moss holding the camera, and that seems like Nikon leveraging the [really popular celebrity] that is Kate Moss.

See what I mean?
I'm not trying to make a point here. I really would like someone to explain how Kate Moss is a brand, not like a brand, not having elements of a brand -- actually when I think about it, the reality seems to be that brands have some elements of a human personality, they are anthropomorphised. So can someone explain to me how "a person is a brand" rather than "a brand begins to take on some aspects of a person"?

On Dec.01.2006 at 03:24 PM
Jason L.’s comment is:

Hmmm. I don't know if this will get at what Jeff is asking necessarily, but maybe it could be said that "really popular celebrity" is one of the aspects of the Kate Moss brand.

I'm working on being devil's advocate here, so try not to skewer me if I'm talking in a circle. Perhaps we are all a brand. And part of the Moss brand is celbrity, like part of my brand is designer. Each person has a style of dress, personality, opinion, etc. that creates their gestalt. So it sure seems like a brand. Feel free to disassemble my logic and crush my spirit at your will.

On Dec.01.2006 at 03:52 PM
yi’s comment is:

@Jeff Gill:
I believe everyone is a brand, it just depends on how well we market it. Anytime anyone has a judgement, or some preconceived notion about another person, they are exhibiting the characteristics of brand association. Let's say you have a friend that you know very well. If you can make certain assumptions or create distinct expectations in his absence, like saying "He's the life of the party, lets invite him" or "He's the gadget guy, lets ask him for advice" then you have engaged in his brand experience.

Michael Jordan is a brand because he represented excellence and great sportsmanship, Paris Hilton is a brand because she's... well.. she's Paris Hilton. What it boils down to is how well you can conjure up this myth, or gut feeling, about another person built up by your own personal experiences. Im not too sure how "strong" Kate Moss is as a brand, but you would definitely feel a difference if, let's say, 50 Cent was holding up a Nikon camera. They don't need to say a word but you would already have strong emotional ties to what they represent. These celebrities just introduce a lifestyle aspect that contributes to the whole emotional branding side of things.

So next time you hear a name, and you immediately see an image of their persona in your mind, then they are a brand. And also remember, logos are not brands. Logos are like the the looks of the person - the hair, the clothes, their scent. And the brand is what you take away from your interaction with that person. So if Kate Moss shooting up left you with a complete lack of respect for all supermodels, then that's like saying drinking Coke Blak convinced you to give up soda altogether.

I dunno, thats just my two cents.
Good self-brand management starts with proper hygiene!

On Dec.01.2006 at 04:22 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

I had no idea how strongly I felt about this. I could post something longer than Debbie's article, but I am very tired and going to bed now. I shall leave it with this: Read and re-read yi's comment and ask yourself, Is this really the way I want to live?

I'd almost rather be an honest prostitute with all the exchange of bodily fluids with strangers that that entails than engage in brand experiences with my fellow human brandings.


I fully realise that I may be taking this far too seriously, but the more I think about it the more repelling the idea that everyone is a brand becomes.

On Dec.01.2006 at 06:27 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

I read this on the blog Adshift, and thought it was an interesting perspective for this conversation:

"Branding a person can happen in two ways. One, that person deliberately sets out to make there name a brand that is know throughout the world. This can be done through crazy publicity stunts (Richard Branson), creating a line of products such as perfume and clothing and putting your name on them (Jennifer Lopez), or it could be done my signing all sorts of endorsement deals (Sydney Crosby). (or Kate)

The second way is one where the individual lives their life in a certain way that leaves an impact on society. They have a certain set of beliefs that carries them through life that they share with the world at every possible chance. People such as Mother Theresa, Hitler, Winston Churchill, and Gandhi are all brands, but in very different ways."

On Dec.01.2006 at 09:41 PM
pk’s comment is:

one aspect of this i haven't seen mentioned in the comments: no celebrity makes themselves. it's just impossible. it's a brand-buidling factory: a huge passel of people around you at all times, making you into what you say you want to be.

su and i are working with a small bands these days who's getting chart action in europe and making a bid for american pop star status. it's just crazy the amount of work that goes into it.

a conscious effort to become a (profitable) celebrity is admirable, in my mind, for the sheer volume of willpower and financial investment required.

the guys we work with are relatively unknown, but they're awe-inspiring to watch. they're on a plane or bus almost every day, have a press event at least once a week, play a show as often as they can, and they talk to their fans on their own time. celebrity is not for the faint of constitution.

On Dec.02.2006 at 04:02 AM
Josh’s comment is:

Is it just me or is anybody else creeped out by the fact that her picture on the cover of W reminds me of Meryl Streep getting her head twisted around by a shovel-wielding Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her?

It's definitely a comeback story/brand rebirth, but like others said from an industry where drug use and illicit behavior run rampant, i'm surprised she even went to rehab. Maybe it's just my early Saturday haze, but i find it not so interesting.

I do enjoy the Design Matters shows though Debbie. :)

On Dec.02.2006 at 10:33 AM
Von Glitschka’s comment is:

Tony Hawk's ability to market himself as a brand has been sustained far longer then Kate Moss and has crossed over into all types of sponsorships throughout a multitude of industries and product types.

All the while avoiding the self-serving pitfalls of drug abuse and scandal. Unlike Kate Moss he's actually a good role model who deserves what he has based on his own hard work and talent.

Have you ever heard of a top brand not having a web site? Kate Moss doesn't seem to have one, but Tony Hawk sure does.


On Dec.02.2006 at 12:45 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Now that I have slept...

We all know Walter Landor's famous statement, 'A brand is a promise.' But that is not the whole story. A brand is a promise that I make so that I can make a profit from you. The word 'brand' is inextricably linked to commerce, and there is nothing remotely wrong with that.

Some may argue that language has changed and the link is no longer inextricable. That's an argument I think you would lose if you had it with the general public, at least for the next decade or so.

Celebrity too is nearly universally tied with commerce, but the difference I see between Ms Moss and, say, Jay Z is that you cannot buy anything that is Kate Moss (except I'm guessing some books and calendars). She is a component in the marketing of many, many things, but she herself is not the thing that anyone can go out and buy. On the other hand I can buy Jay Z products. To me, that is the difference between a celebrity and a brand. I admit I may be splitting hairs.

Onto the thing I really hate. Saying everyone is a brand, that Mother Theresa, Adolph Hitler, Winston Churchill, Gandhi and you and I are all brands. The reason is this: It attempts to reduce kindness and grumpiness, bravery and cowardice, love and selfishness, good and evil to tools of commerce whereby I may advance my personal brand. It doesn't work though. A brand cannot be altruistic, neither can it sacrifice itself for others when there is no possibility of reward. A brand only gives in order that it may make a profit.

In a world were everything is a brand a man marries a woman, not because he is deeply in love with her and chooses to give his life to her no matter what, rather he chooses to give his life to her so that he can get laid twice a week and possibly procreate. Inevitably, that kind of thinking applied to any human relationship results in people getting the exact opposite of what they want. How many really good friends do you have who calculate all of their interactions with people based on potential for personal profit (of any type, not just monetary)?

There are many interesting parallels between brands and people, but that is because brands mimic people and not vice versa.

On Dec.02.2006 at 12:58 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Hey Jeff--thanks for your really thoughtful comments.

I totally understand what you are saying, and agree with many of your points. But I do think that Kate is a brand. I agree, for the most part, with Walter Landor's statement that "a brand is a promise." The promise that you get with Kate, despite who or what she is posing for, is that however unrealistic or even unimaginable, for one brief subconscious second, you can be like Kate.

This is one of my favorite assessments of "Kate, the brand," right after her coke scandal broke, from the website Fashion. Verbatim:

"Fashion and style are about individual thought and expression....The core of the Kate Moss brand has always been what I like to call, "admirable imperfection". Standing at 5 ft. 7" (depending on who you talk to), she measures well below other top models, who often start at 5ft. 10." Facially, her wide-set eyes and flattened nose are not consistent with traditional views of American beauty. And style wise, her disheveled, rock chic persona set her apart from the ultra glam, polished looks that were being pushed by Hollywood.

In other words, Kate Moss, the brand, proposed a democracy of fashion - this notion of something being incredibly achievable about her. That said, this was - key word here - hypothetically achievable. I mean, could the average woman attain her lithe body, which is only possessed, momentarily, by 13-year-old girls? How about her ridiculously expensive vintage frocks that only resembled street market-fare? Or the fact that she dates a true rock star?

Though the times have changed. Once gracing the covers of solely Vogue Italia, she now rests amongst People's Best Dressed, between Jessica Simpson and Eva Longoria. Considering People is the glossy for everyday-people-turned-reality-TV stars, it's not hard to see how some of the appeal has been lost. Style wise, her signature skinny jeans and ballet flats are now staples of Wal-Mart's fashion line and to be honest, she doesn't seem to be consciously moving it forward. In other words, Kate has essentially been "achieved" and people have taken notice. Poster Lemeray on The Fashion Spot Forums said, "I'm kind of getting over her style. One day it's great and the next its boring...", while poster Pucci mama commented, "She dresses so boring." So has the woman who single-handedly brought back skinny jeans and vests lost her edge?

Kate herself once said, "You've got to stay ahead of the game to be able to stay in it." WIth awareness like that, I'm not counting her out just yet."

On Dec.02.2006 at 01:40 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Debbie, I'm still not completely convinced, but I am willing to bow to your superior brand knowledge and stop trying to split the hair that is Celebrity Brand.

This does not negate any of the other stuff I said (which is still a better climbdown than you will get from any politician). (insert smiley)

On Dec.02.2006 at 03:21 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> A brand is a promise that I make so that I can make a profit from you

Jeff, I think you are trying to cope with branding by making it into an evil, profit-driven endeavor. I would change your thought above to read: "A brand is a promise that I make so that I can engage you". The Salvation Army, the Red Cross, the U.N., the March of Dimes are all as much brands as Target, Apple and Bono. Generating meaning around a brand is meant to establish a connection between A and B, the result from that connection does not always equal B giving money to A. Which is why I do think that people are like brands are like people. This is not to minimize the human aspects of people or elevate brands to that of humans, it's simply a matter of a shared set of conducts, many of which Yi has pointed out.

> Celebrity too is nearly universally tied with commerce, but the difference I see between Ms Moss and, say, Jay Z is that you cannot buy anything that is Kate Moss

To semantically split hairs even thinner, you are not buying anything that is Kate Moss, you are buying into the "idea" that is Kate Moss and what she represents. When you buy a Mac you are buying software or hardware but you are also buying into the idea that Apple represents and the associations that it triggers. This is where person as celebrity as brand as association starts to work and where some people are stronger brands than others.

Take Tom Cruise for example, as a brand, he has lost market share, his female fans did not show up for Mission Impossible III; his male fans couldn't care about a couch-jumping freak. He is losing equity and bankability. It's been more than a year since he started going cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and is nowhere near rebounding. (Perhaps he could use some of that fine FlubberBrand shading and rebrand himself).

Kobe Bryant, the heir apparent to Michael Jordan has lost all of his endorsements after the rape accusations and has dissapeared into relative obscurity as a brand. He just plays basketball... Can you imagine if his 81-point game had happened without the accusations? He would have rescued the NBA single-handedly.

In contrast, Michael Jordan is the ultimate brand of celebrity brands, and very much similar to Kate Moss. During his multiple heydays he was consistently in the spotlight for his untameable gambling, his screaming at teammates and, towards the end, for cheating on his wife. Yet despite all of this he rose as a global brand making millions of dollars for Nike, Gatorade, Hanes, the NBA and himself. He had the staying power that is rare in anyone or any brand.

And Just like MJ, Coca-Cola came back from New Coke and Kate Moss came back from powder coke. Because they are all icons that have, throughout the years, been there, they are recognizable, persistent and stand for a certain promise that few others can fulfill. And that is the power of brand.

On Dec.02.2006 at 06:28 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

I think you are trying to cope with branding by making it into an evil, profit-driven endeavor.

Armin, I'm sorry, but you are so, so wrong. I quote myself: "The word 'brand' is inextricably linked to commerce, and there is nothing remotely wrong with that."

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a business being profit-driven. If it isn't, it is more likely a hobby. (I'm talking about profit on a very basic level here, so nobody jump down my throat about your noble reasons for doing design. If it wasn't providing food and housing for you and your family, you'd be doing something else.)

Commerce is a good thing.

I would change your thought above to read: "A brand is a promise that I make so that I can engage you".

That is probably more accurate, but still, look at the vast majority of brands -- they are about making money. The word has a whiff of commerce that won't go away any time soon.

It's not a bad whiff; it just needs to stay in its place. I rather like the smell of gasoline, especially in my dad's shop, but when I'm in the kitchen cooking that smell is not welcome.

On Dec.02.2006 at 06:57 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Jeff, got it. My bad.
So, it is that inextricable link to commerce that irks you so much about having people compared to brands… And even though you don't think there is anything wrong with it, it is the association of that with people that is is wrong with it. But if you considered a brand something beyond commerce you might not be that disappointed about the comparison. I think that's where I was trying to go.

On Dec.03.2006 at 09:16 AM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

On Dec.03.2006 at 09:18 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Armin, I'd say that is a pretty good synopsis. I hate the reduction or perceived reduction of people to their monetary value, the all too common occurance of identifying people primarily as comsumers. And identifying people as brands (excepting of course the people who choose to become brands & celebrities) fits right in with all that.

At best, I think it is mildly amusing to describe human interactions as brand experiences. At worst, it is an indictment of the way a shallow culture devalues and degrades humanity.

I remember *Tan Le once wrote that he was 'offended as a consumer'. That phrase stuck with me. Surely, there is enough depth in life so that one's offences don't need to happen on a consumer level.

Okay, I'm wandering and being frightfully earnest. I'll stop now. Debbie and Armin, thanks for sparking my thinking and giving me a place to do it out loud.


*Where is Tan? I enjoyed arguing with him immensely, and I think we did it rather well.

On Dec.03.2006 at 10:27 AM
designr66’s comment is:

As a freelance designer and a teacher of computer graphics to high school students, I've had the unique opportunity to see branding from both ends of the spectrum.

Before I was a teacher, I spent ten years as an art director at the NBA. During my tenure there we developed the league into the formidable powerhouse it was until around 2002-2003, when the departure of myself and several other staff members disrupted the creative upturn we had spent a decade developing and tweaking. Other leagues were more than ready to fill the creative void left in our wake and several of them have done admirably.

Now, I have developed a curriculum to teach computer graphics and design to high school students. The program is a great success and I feel that in the past few years maybe I've done some good, getting them started down a path of awareness that they would not have otherwise. The interesting this is how they've also taught me a thing or two - especially about the power of branding.

These kids don't care that their t-shirts all come from a couple of mills in North Carolina - as long as they say "American Eagle" or "Abercrombie & Fitch" or "The Nightmare Before Christmas", the shirts have an indvidualized message that speaks directly to them. They claim to not care about branding, that it is the quality of the products or the emotions that they evoke that matters most. But they've all fallen under the spell of what the marketeers wanted - invisibility. These kids are hooked into their fixed brands and the details don't matter. Girls willingly wear Playboy bunnies on their shirts or jeans, speak of each others as "ho's" and "biotches" as if they were from the Bronx, not suburban New Jersey. Boys admire rappers like "50 Cent" because he was shot and survived to tell his story. The role models many of us had growing up have been replaced by drug addicts, violent convicted offenders and sexual manipulators.

These actions serve only to further glamorize the whole "badass" connotation. What Debbie speaks about is right - people are willing to forgive a celebrity's flaws if they only serve to add to the status of their legend. Why else would Kate Moss be working so soon after her release from rehab?

Everyone has some skeletons in their closet - events or actions that they would rather keep private. The unfortunate thing about the times we live in is when such things are unveiled for the public to pass judgment on, it's likely that these skeletons will only serve to augment the brand, not help the person.

On Dec.03.2006 at 09:50 PM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

A bit off topic, a bit on-topic. What about the revival of the cocaine "brand"? Coke is cool again, right? At least that's what the weeklies are telling me...

On Dec.04.2006 at 11:12 AM
Doug B’s comment is:

I heard that too. You mean this drink?

On Dec.04.2006 at 11:46 AM
Abe’s comment is:

To quote LL "Don't call it a comeback". This is all interesting stuff, but there is an important subtext under it all. Truth is that Moss never really was out at all, and in many ways what we are really witnessing is some serious kickback against the tabloid/gossip press. The fashion and ad world never really abandoned Moss, minus I think one or two campaigns right as the story broke. Most I think saw the absurdity, the average fashion/advertising person's reaction ranged "she does cocaine, big deal" to "how can I get invited to THAT party?!" Meanwhile the tabloids in almost blind rush acted like they where breaking a career ending scandal. And at times that of course is exactly the sort of power they could wield, but this time the fashion/ad world reacted to throw their own clout back. The magazine covers in particular mark not a passing of the scandal, but an explicit firing back, a statement that they stand behind Moss and perhaps even that aren't necessarily opposed to cocaine use. There is a bit of a powerplay there too, one segment of the media world built up Moss, and they were not about to let another segment tear her down.

On Dec.04.2006 at 05:36 PM
designr66’s comment is:

So the question begs itself - if the fashion industry lined up behind Moss to forgive her problems and support her, mistakes or not, what makes them able to do so? Are the gurus of 7th Avenue so powerful that they can erase the (sometimes) fatal errors of these obviously troubled young women?

Why is this not the case for sports superstars? Did Kobe Bryant's star really fall so far because of his rape accusations, or was it simply that David Stern and the NBA did not have the clout to erase it from people's minds?

When the NBA acted as Michael Jordan's covert travel agent when he was cheating on his wife down in the Carbibbean, the word never got out because the NBA did such a good job of keeping it quiet. However if it had, how would it have affected his career?

The "How can I get invited to THAT party" mentality is just a way that people live vicariously through these poor girls' lives. Do we as a society get our yah-yahs out when we hear about Kate Moss or Paris Hilton falling from grace? Hell, yeah - until we get bored with the person and move on to the next. What will the papers be saying about Danny DeVito's limoncello debacle when he's on his next press junket? Will the press be kinder to Devito or his drinking buddy George Clooney?

Better yet - is limoncello the new Coke?

On Dec.05.2006 at 09:20 AM
designr66’s comment is:

I just saw a video on CNN's website about a street artist in London named "Banksy" who issued a set of prints of Kate Moss similar to Warhol's Marilyn prints. Originally sold for $3,000, an auction house is now selling them for $60,000. A tribute to Banksy or Kate Moss?

On Dec.05.2006 at 09:44 AM
Doug B’s comment is:

Banksy is great.

On Dec.07.2006 at 10:16 AM
Pesky’s comment is:

Banky is a shallow idiot. He stacks images like they're some kind of "clever trick" instead of an idea. The class clown in art school type.

When I saw his so-called manifesto, at first, I changed my mind, I was moved by the inclusion of a first hand description of Bergen-Belsen, it must have been a real horrorshow. And I thought: this is real and I hope this guy is sincere, putting it all in context about art and real life... and then I returned to the top of the page and saw pink lipstick put on an old concentration camp photo and thought: no, I was right the first time: this guy's an idiot.

On Dec.07.2006 at 11:20 AM
schwa’s comment is:

slightly off-topic, i believe it was the 2nd matrix flick that positioned the escalade as, as you say debbie, "edgy and urban." it was driven in the chase scene, and i was shocked at how insta-hip it made the brand with the previously ducky logo.

On Dec.12.2006 at 08:40 AM
Zihtuvgl’s comment is:

On Oct.01.2007 at 11:07 PM
Zihtuvgl’s comment is:

On Oct.01.2007 at 11:08 PM
rachel’s comment is:

branding is just putting a face to a name. telus wants to show a quirky, fun side to the public, so they show us quirky, fun commercials; people often do similar things to characterize themselves, or "market" themselves.

others don't have to try, but are still perceived in a a distinctive way, and so are branded BY the public, not for the public. others people are just ignored:)

On Jun.26.2008 at 05:27 PM