How to do free advertising

There he was, a young man wearing a black t-shirt with BALENCIAGA emblazoned on the back.

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There he was, a young man wearing a black t-shirt with BALENCIAGA emblazoned on the back. A human billboard: free advertising for Balenciaga, but also an advertisement for this young man himself, a statement about his tastes and the image he was striving to project.

The t-shirt itself was utterly non-descript; without the brand name in large letters on the back, nothing about it seemed to say “Balenciaga” — it could just as easily have come from a discount store selling remainders. Only this t-shirt must have cost him a fortune.

The shirt reminds us how pervasive the concept of “branding” is in our everyday life. Brands guide our decision-making; they send signals — both intended and unintended — about who we are or who we want to be; brands can unite, brands can divide. With the rise of “influencers”, more and more individuals are even turning themselves into brands.

Predictably, branding takes countless forms, from
this t-shirt screaming out BALENCIAGA to far subtler impressions. For example, there are brands that bank on their name — think Louis Vuitton, Coco Chanel — names and monograms that are an integral aspect of the product’s appearance.

Other brands adopt inimitable symbols, like the unmistakable Burberry plaid, the leaping jaguar hood ornament on the eponymous car, or Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes cereal. Bril-Cream had its rhyming billboards, Folger’s Coffee had its jingle (“The best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup!”) — the ways in which a brand can impress itself upon the consumer are almost limitless.

“Apple has created an entire ‘experience’ around their products”

But Apple may have reached the apogee of comprehensive branding with their packaging. Many of us have unboxed Apple products, and the unboxing itself feels like an event: every aspect of the packaging has clearly been carefully considered and designed to provide an efficient and elegant experience. The packaging of Apple products seems like a sort of amuse bouche; if the packaging and unboxing experience has been so thoroughly thought out, the product within must also be of the highest quality, produced with the utmost care. Apple has created an entire “experience” around their products, from their very distinctive stores to the packaging to the product to the Genius Bar and related services — every aspect of buying an Apple product has the unmistakable flavour of Apple. Even their prices.

A brand can sell its products with a name, a pattern, a symbol, or a song, but branding can also go deeper; it can be integrated into every aspect of a product so that the product transcends itself to become not just an object but an experience.

While the pervasiveness and consequences of branding perhaps require us to be more thoughtful and conscious about what we purchase and why, there is also pleasure in seeing companies such as Apple that take branding to a new level. (Although it may not be enough to justify their prices!)

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