220.127.116.11 Branding as Creative Cultural Activism
A last perspective changes the lens further away from an individualistic, to a social and cultural perspective. It is routed in a view of the market as mediating cultural meanings:
Holt argues that there have been different branding paradigms in the last 100 years. The first one, the modern branding paradigm as exemplified by pre-Creative Revolution (Bernbach etc) advertising was built on cultural domineering. This meant marketers relatively bluntly prescribing ways of life as templates for the then emerging culture of mass consumption. However, advertising and market consciousness led to an increasingly anti-corporate or advertising-skeptic audience that didn’t want to be domineered by marketers’ cultural power or life-style blueprints promoted by advertising.
The creative revolution that followed was in many ways a reaction to these social shifts and led to post-modern advertising and branding tactics Holt (2002, p.85ff) calls Authentic Cultural Resources, Ironic, Reflexive Brand Persona, Coattailing on Cultural Epicenters, Life World Emplacement and Stealth Branding. Tactics that were built on a distance from a profit motive. Holt argues that, like in the 60s, when Packard and other critics pushed the then dominant branding paradigm into public consciousness, today’s post-modern branding paradigm is confronted with major contradictions. Ironic distance as an aesthetic method has lost its power, stealth marketing came under scrutiny for more and more hidden and aggressive techniques, to be perceived as authentic brands must dig deeper then ever in counter- and subcultures and people more and more compare brands’ advertising and branding devices with their ‘real’ activities in communities around the world. Last but not least, people have been confronted with a torrent of appeals and suggestions of identity projects that can only be viably conducted using brands.
For Holt (2002, p.85ff) all of those phenomena pointed to an end of this post-modern branding paradigm. His projections about what comes after (a post-postmodern branding paradigm, as he calls it), introduce the concept of brands as ‘citizen artists’ (Holt 2002, p.87). While brands would also in the future strive to contribute authentic and relevant cultural resources, authenticity will not be communicated by distancing the brand from a for-profit motive, but through a genuine creative (‘artist’) and responsible (‘citizen’) contribution to society.
The question, then, is about how these authentic, creative and relevant resources should be understood. If one talks about contributing creatively to culture, advertising or in general marketing communication might only be one of many relevant measures a brand could take. John Grant for example – like Holt using post-modern identity crisis and social tensions as starting point for his argument – argues against what he calls the “brand image school” (Grant 2006, p.22) that relies heavily on image advertising and argues instead for a very action oriented way of building brands – what he calls “brand innovation” (Grant 2006, p.4). While this paper can by no means open the debate about authenticity and what is ‘real’ and what is ‘percepted’, the perspective of brands having a role as an active player in culture, or in Holt’s diction – as a cultural activist (Holt 2004a) should illustrate that creativity in brand management today goes beyond creative advertising. This consequently opens up the question about creativity as a feature of a company’s brand strategies.
Arnould, E.J. & Thompson, C.J., 2005. Consumer culture theory (CCT): Twenty years of research. Journal of Consumer Research: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, 31(4), S. 868–882.
Grant, J., 2006. Brand Innovation Manifesto: How to Build Brands, Redefine Markets and Defy Conventions 1. Aufl., John Wiley & Sons.
Holt, D.B., 2004. Douglas B. Holt on Branding as Cultural Activism. Emory Marketing Institute. Available at: http://www.emorymi.com/holt.shtml [Zugegriffen März 14, 2011].
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.
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