Awhile back Allen Adamson wrote a book called Brand Simple which really lays out neatly why brands are so appealing: They prevent us from having to do the difficult work of thinking.
In a world where our brains are constantly being pummeled with stimuli, helping us to think a little less reduces our stress level.
The job of a good brand, says Adamson, is to create a mental shortcut. We don't want to think - we reach for our "favorite," automatically. (It's the favorite they've taught you to want.)
Yesterday we went to Ikea. This store is a prime example of mental overstimulation. Every single thing in Ikea looked good. Every single thing was affordably priced. All the individual things. All the combinations. All the variations. The mirrors, the storage bins, the fake plants, the Audrey Hepburn posters, all of it, all of it, all of it, all of it.
I grabbed two of those yellow bags and followed the crowds, gulping up the excitement.
Not less than fifteen minutes later I was slumped over in a chair. One of us wanted the $7.99 folding chairs, one of us wanted the $14.99 chairs, and all of us were calling each other names in exhaustion and irritation.
We are totally overstimulated. We need a break. (Another good book on the subject: Simple by Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn.)
There is not room here to start complaining about every single example of how overcomplicating is ruining our lives. But I could throw in the tax code, children's education, the necessity to have 5,000 certifications to apply for just about any job, and more.
Suffice it to say that our brains are craving some simplicity. Remember when you were younger and you just sat there and watched TV all day on Sunday?
What has happened to that?
A disturbing side effect of branding, which is totally to be expected, is that we have now come to demand not only the brands we want, but also the simplicity of thinking they offer in such a seemingly easy way.
If we can't have it, grasp it, or deal with it in five seconds - we are over and out.
Unfortunately, the world we actually live in has grown so much more hyper specialized and complex that this kind of approach is maladaptive. We need to think a lot more deeply and critically, just about fewer and more relevant things.
Take for example the 2016 election in the United States. I understand that we have lots of opinions, very strong, on all sides. It is important not just to have a view of course, but to extend respect to those who wildly, wildly, wildly hate what you have to say and hope you never say it again.
That's the very definition of free speech in a democracy, right? The ability to say your piece and be done with it.
But in this election season, we are seeing the impact of no-thinking thinking everywhere. Without making reference to one candidate or the other, I have lost count of the number of completely senseless headlines, the clickbait titles, the escalated rhetoric and obvious agenda-laden op-eds, all of it designed to market a very simple and global point of view to the average voter.
On top of this we have the normal and abnormal campaign stops and protests, designed to make a statement for YouTube.
It's all very frightening to me because marketing T-shirts is one thing. Marketing life-altering policies to hundreds of millions of people at a time is quite another.
What if we decided that for just a few months, this election deserves our full attention?
What if we actually took some time and immersed ourselves in the issues we care about, serious issues, and tracked how they've been handled over time? How we think they should be handled tomorrow?
What if all of us got off the sidelines or our simple soapboxes and really engaged with one another in pursuit of a really simple thing - that thing being The Truth.
There is a Truth that is tangibly and scientifically valid. I don't know why they wished that away in graduate school.
All of us have to live together on this planet but some of us have more influence on the conditions of such coexistence than others.
It's time to stop playing baby games and throwing shade and labels and start to really talk to each other as adults.
I keep waiting for the adults in the room to jump in.
Photo by gabia party via Flickr (Creative Commons). All opinions my own.