28 July 2010

Word Face

If words are a well developed symbolism signifying speech, then catchphrases must take the notion one step further.

We've talked, recently, about the kinds of word-shorthand we use. A fascinating aspect of this is the motto, slogan or catchphrase. Companies crave brand recognition, and spend millions finding the right name for a product, the right slogan. If I whisper "Zoom, zoom," can an identification be more cryptic (but effective)? Political campaigns rally around one nutshell notion - "Yes We Can!" Even the Boy Scouts have a motto: "Be Prepared." We have Brangelina, leading us to the logical conclusion that Brad and Jennifer couldn't have a lasting relationship because their names could not be formed into a catchy blend.

The famous aren't the only ones doing this, of course. High schools are known by their team names, even though sports are an extracurricular and (presumably) not the school's core mission: Devils, Gators, Tigers. Notice how the names are generally tough-sounding: what societal shift might take place if they called themselves the Diplomats, the Benefactors, the Peacemakers. Hmmm... Granted, calling yourselves the Nice Guys seems to beg defeat on the field. However, before you jump to any conclusions, let me note that for years the toughest team to beat in my hometown was the Bluebirds. Whatever ribbing they may have taken, they pretty much beat the stuffing out of other teams.

The process by which a group chooses an identity is fascinating. Individual identity-building has a lot to do with the processes and philosophies of groups we gravitate to as we grow: for me it was the anti-war sixties, and the corresponding language. What was groovy for me is sick for my kids. The cultures in which we participate have a lot to do with our self-image, and the language we speak in our heads. It is interesting to ponder what the effect might be when media supplants the natural local language with a commercial mega-language. What if Madison Avenue (or Hollywood) is speaking so loudly in our ears that their voice is the one lodged in our self-concept?

Are the logos we surround ourselves with on a daily basis, on pants, school supplies, shoes, cars, lunch bags, etc. starting to define us? Do you Google? Branding is a not a new notion, but how we apply it is; in the past, products were branded, and now people are. Tom Peters has an article called The Brand Called You, in which he suggests that branding ourselves is a good thing. We identify ourselves in other people's minds as unique, special. The danger is that we become the brand, rather than the brand signifying us. When Mr. Peters talks about branding, he means that our actions are perceived as valuable to others. Our interior, not our exterior. We are not valuable to the extent that we internalize a slogan, but to the extent that we create a sterling character.

In the not-too-distant past, only cattle was branded. What might this bode for us?

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