Brand My Donkey

“Brand” is the catchword of this decade. In the 1990s, if I remember well, brands are just logos that companies slap on their products. Now, the idea of “brand” is permeating everywhere, like a bean fart. Political parties talk about “rebranding” to attract voters. Old companies do “rebranding” for the “new market” (you changed the logo? Big deal). Corporate consultants write books about building and protecting your “brand”. Management gurus like Tom Peters yap endlessly about “personal brand”.

Personally, I can’t take this anymore. “Brand” has turned into a grotesque clichĂ©, a mockery of itself.

I remember a “brand consultant” who came to give a talk at my former company, a large investment firm, in 2007. This guy is a Mat Salleh who owns a “brand consulting” practice in KL. Since he is a Mat Salleh who goes around peddling the latest management fad to gullible CEOs and businessmen around the country, he is introduced as an “expert”.

A few minutes into his talk, I felt like I was getting squashed by a rolling, steaming ball of bull manure, like the scene in “Critters” where the poor guy got bulldozed by a bunch of small carnivorous creatures curled into a big ball.

This “brand consultant” showed us a large diagram in powerpoint, you know, the one with a big rectangle in the middle with a “key word” on it, and then a tangled web of lines connecting the central rectangle to smaller rectangles, and more lines connecting the smaller rectangles to still smaller rectangles and so on. I think it’s called a mind map, or something.

In this diagram, the central rectangle contains the word “BRAND” in large font. This is the “key” idea. The small and smaller rectangles contains every conceivable concept in business, such as “SATISFACTION”, “PROFIT”, “CUSTOMER”, “PACKAGING”, “BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT”, “EMPLOYEE UNIFORM”, “REPUTATION”, “LOGISTICS”, “FINANCIAL STRENGTH”, “EMPLOYEES DOING QUICKIE IN BROOM STORAGE” (I made up the last one).

“Great,” I thought to myself, “just what I need, another powerpoint slide with meaningless diagram and business jargons thrown in.”

Purportedly, the idea is that “brand” is so central to all and everything that any measure of business success comes from a good “brand”. This is the form of dumbing-down and oversimplification that corporate groupthink fosters. If everything is equivalent to everything then what does anything means anymore?

Towards the end of the talk, I almost threw up when I heard the phrase “Brand Synergy”. WTF? Are you serious, brand consultant man? Brand fuckin’ synergy?

Nowadays, everybody is joining the brand bandwagon. People on the street talk about “personal brand”. No thanks, I am not Quaker Oats. The idea of “personal brand” is stupid, useless, and unnecessary. It is just an empty shell devoid of any substance, which sole purpose of existence is for “brand consultants” to make money off gullible people who think that a “brand consultant” can suddenly turn them into Michael Phelps if they pay up fifty thousand ringgit.

News flash, people: the idea of “personal brand” already existed in our civilization before you “brand consultants” came along. It’s called “personality”, or “reputation”, or perhaps, “fame”. Oprah has a great personality and fame, she does not have “great personal brand”. Donald Trump has taken a beating lately from his failed real estate deals, but he’s still a quite famous guy. That’s it: say Trump is famous, not “Trump has a desirable personal brand”.

I hope, as the decade will end in two years, so too will all this bullshit about “brands”, although I feel I am too optimistic. Please go away, brands.

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