Monday, October 24, 2011

Branding is not a moral enterprise

It's been in the gossip magazines that Kim Kardashian went to Saudi Arabia with her mom to - well, basically to make money by making burqas look pretty.

You may not care about Kim's personal or professional life but as an avid viewer of the reality show and a reader of gossip magazines, I just have to know. Plus it seems possible that Kim is headed for a nightmare divorce, possibly to be filmed as the sequel to the fairytale wedding.

In any case I noted the photos of Kim in the burka alongside the photos of Kim on the camel in the pink tunic.

It was a sharp contrast to the New York Times article a couple of weeks ago about domestic workers' abuse at the hands of their Saudi Arabian employers. One photo I can't get out of my head (in the print edition) shows an X-ray of a woman with nails driven into her skull.

Please know that I am not picking on Saudi Arabia here. Close your eyes and put your finger on a map. You will find that every nation commits human rights abuses and every nation also tries to portray itself as a great place to visit and invest in.

Marketers sometimes seem to feel guilty about plying so many unnecessary goods to unwitting buyers. Probably rightly so. Yesterday I was talking to someone who said she "just had" to have the Chase Sapphire card. I said, "What's so special about the card?" She said, "I don't know. It's just..." and I said "The blue?" She grinned a naughty grin, as if to say, "Well there really is no reason I like the Sapphire card more than any other - it's just stylish."

I remember hearing a speaker from Landor talk about developing the Sapphire card, and the blue, for the branding. It is a gorgeous card. I can see it. (Sorry, I can't find a link online to the case study.)

Is Sapphire the best value? Who knows and for my friend, who really cares? But for the marketer, sometimes we think about this stuff and care. And then we do pro bono work or talk about the importance of transparency.

So what I want to point out today is that branding is not a moral enterprise. And that you shouldn't confuse truth in advertising with morality.

Unlike socialism, capitalism is an amoral system. It's not about doing good. It's about making money.

Paradoxically however, socialists ultimately wind up abusing human rights in the name of "caretaking" dictators like Hugo Chavez. Whereas capitalism produces morality through a free-market system where vicious competition forces sellers to prove themselves to buyers. Often through transparency - by telling the truth about what they sell and how products are made.

Branding is the attempt to create an image of superior value. It stands or falls on how closely that image can stand up to inspection.

The motives of brand sellers are not moral, but financial.

But in the end this can produce more human rights than any socialist exhortation.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

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