Master Thesis Topic (update)
After getting a lot of useful comments (thank you!) on my initial brainstorming on possible topics for my master thesis I cut them down to three and handed in a description of three very broad topics, all with some more concrete research questions: (1) ‘Post-Postmodern’ Uses of Brands and Media?, (2) ‘Continuities from Propaganda Theory to Planning:’ and (3) Reception and Usage of ‘Transmedia’ Narratives.
So here’s my translated description of topic (1), that I handed in before leaving and which has got a strong endorsement from the prof while I was in Tanzania.
‘Post-Postmodern’ Uses of Brands and Media?
According to Holt (2002) there are two relevant branding paradigms in the 20th century. The first is called “Modern Branding” and was based on a domineering, cultural engineering approach. It was dominant until the 60s, when the ‘creative revolution’ around people like Bill Bernbach appeared.
This modell – now being popularized by the TV series Mad Men – was inspired both by Freudian psychoanalysis and the scientific approach to advertising and persuasion at the time, provoked rising resistance in the 60s, with books like The Hidden Persuaders and other critical analysis appearing on bookshelves. With the increasing professionalization of the industry and knowledge about the branding paradigm more and more entering the public sphere, the public opinion was increasingly directed against the supposed manipulation of the individual.
In reaction to the creative and anti-commercial countercultures of the 60s – and with that at the time when interpretative approaches started to challenge the predominant stimulus response thinking – a new branding paradigm emerged. Holt calls this paradigm “Postmodern Branding”. In a postmodern consumer culture, the role of branding would emerge from the supplier of a cultural blueprint – “How should I live?” – to supposedly authentic, cultural ressources to be used for the identity projects of consumers who strive for independence from paternalistic and authoritarian corporations.
All of these techniques however, are confronted with substantial contradictions. Ironic distance has been imitated without end and is now outdated, stealth marketing is getting more and more aggressive and reaching its limits, marketers are running out of counterculture content to tap for their campaigns as the authenticity market heats up, consumers are increasingly peeling away the brand veneer and “collectively, postmodern branding floods social life with evangelical calls to pursue personal sovereignty through brands” (ibid.).
For Holt these phenomena (published in 2002 – before ‘social media’ even existed) pointed to an expiration of the postmodern branding paradigm. Whereas brands in the future would still have to offer authentic and relevant resources, authenticity won’t not be conveyed distance the brand from a profit motive, but through a role that Hold calls ‘citizen artist’.
The citizen part on the other hand is concerned with the socially responsable behavior of corporations and their brands, basically answering the question of what is behind the brand veneer.
This topic and Holt’s only superficially covered hypotheses give rise to a lot of questions that might be covered in a master thesis. (Not all in one of course …)
Frank, T., 1998. The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism, University of Chicago Press.
Holt, D.B., 2002. Why do brands cause trouble? A dialectical theory of consumer culture and branding. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(1), S.70–90.
Klein, N., 1999. No Logo: no space, no choice, no jobs ; taking aim at the brand bullies, New York, NY: Picador.
Mad Men - AMC. Mad Men. Available at: http://www.amctv.com/originals/madmen/
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