Is it my brand, or your brand?

Andy sure had fun creating his own brands. Did he foresee a time when we would all do the same, a time when the package would become one more pliable element in our own personal brand building exercise?

Asked another way, was Andy Warhol on to something when he created his personal vision of the Campbell’s soup can or the Chanel No5 bottle in the 1960s? Did he anticipate, by nearly 40 years, a time when all brands are merely a reflection of the each consumer’s personal vision to a similar set of stimuli?

I’m confused. I’ve always felt that the package is the brand. That all other forms of media change, adapt, and support the immediate needs of the brand message. But the package remains true to the brand’s core, communicating its message through long-term equity.

This has been one of my strongest and most fundamental beliefs, but I’m beginning to wonder. Is there more, and was Andy right?

Just finished reading a piece by Valerie Jacobs, Group Director of LPK Trends, in the online version of the DMI Review. Entitled, “Platforming: Evolving the Paradigm of Branding”, it lays out a case for creating “scaffolds-or platforms-for consumers to experience the brand in a personal, relevant way”.

This is an approach that Liz Sanders of Ohio State has begun talking about in her work.  As Ms. Jacobs suggests this scaffolding might look something like this,

“people are given abstract tools (the scaffolds), which allow them to build whatever they want and then fill in the blanks, projecting their needs and dreams onto their own creation. The future for brands may be the same—creating an interactive platform for storytelling and meaning-making that is more generative and open-ended, less prescriptive and controlled. Brands will be more interactive and cooperative with people, rather than isolated creations that are revealed to consumers.”

Andy might have agreed, or not, with this approach to brand building, but he certainly would have described it a little more directly. In Mike Wrenn’s 1991 book “Andy Warhol: in his own words”, Warhol says of his work,

“I’d prefer to remain a mystery. I never like to give my background and, anyway, I make it all up different every time I’m asked. It’s not just that it’s part of my image not to tell everything, it’s just that I forget what I said the day before, and I have to make it all up over again.”

I will be at the FUSE conference in Chicago for the next few days – a place where brands are discussed with reverence and derision. If brands are changing, and package design is being redefined, this is a place where I should pick up that scent.

I plan on posting throughout, and I’ll let you know what I hear about scaffolds, meaning-making, and making it up.


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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One Response to Is it my brand, or your brand?

  1. Neil Hopkins says:

    To my mind, the brand is every single association that an individual makes when confronted with any aspect of the product/brand.

    If I pass someone wearing a particular scent (one which I know and can identify), I interact with the brand in my own way and can (depending on the relevance of the brand) begin to construct the brand-story for that individual.

    This is distinct from the packaging, naturally.

    I also believe that formal brands (i.e. company brands) are adopted by individuals to bolster their own personal brand. Why else would creative-types and techno-geeks flock to the iPad?
    “Look what I’ve got and what it says about me”. Fashion is no different.

    And I think, in answer to your opening question, it is our brand. I bring my perceptions and understanding, you bring the building blocks and the back-up.
    Without me (read: generic consumer) you are nothing. Without you, the consumer has nothing.

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