Arquitectura Viva
Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Branding in the 21st Century

Teófilo Marcos

It has been more than fifteen years since Naomi Klein, with her nologo, began a crusade against big brands. The cultural model of brands, their omnipresence, the ideas and lifestyles associated with logotypes and brands, advertising bombardment, have generated – she would say – an appropriation of all public spaces and seriously altered the foundations of culture, which has succumbed to marketing, and put society completely under the empire of brands. And she did this, curiously, with a book whose cover was presided by a logo, nologo, in fact a well designed one. Convinced as however she was that globalization was an irreversible process, she ended up centering her attacks on the large multinationals that were responsible for the creation, proliferation, and implantation of the empire of brands.

Fifteen years have passed and it’s clear that, apart from excellent business generated by mass sales in the world of her NOLOGO (thanks, incidentally, to a brilliant marketing campaign), Naomi Klein’s predictions have not as yet come true, and consumerist society, like brands, is as healthy as ever.

During the economic crisis of these past years, the companies that have been reaping the best results are those that commercialize established brands. These are propped up by their reputation, by the appreciation of citizens and their clients, and by the values they represent, even in the luxury sector which, paradoxically, the most vigorously growing brands fall under during these hard times.

If brands are in the best of health, it is to a large extent because the ‘product’ they sell is precisely the brand itself. Nike doesn’t sell sneakers, not sporting goods, but the brand Nike. Ikea is much more than a manufacturer of urban living furniture; it is the symbol of a way of life, of a kind of home (class and age identities aside) equipped with everything that’s necessary, with design pieces available at the best prices. And it’s modern. It’s for today. Plus it’s successful. Like Nike.

I emphasize the word ‘successful’ because success is one of the main factors behind the lure of a brand. There’s a part of the citizen that seeks to connect with a success denied them in everyday life, and which is achieved by means of the aura of brands, through a transference of the values they represent, thereby receiving something subtle but efficient: an illusion of that coveted professional and vital success which reality habitually denies it.

So important now are these transferences of values that companies, to maintain the reputation of their brands and defend them against attack, have created a new professional figure: community managers, in charge of the management and control of the contents of everything that appears on the Internet and in social networks in relation to their brands – that omnipresent digital world which is permanently at work, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. And while keeping an eye on, putting a break on, and deactivating negative or conflictive news items or opinions, they act as broadcasters and disseminators of the essential values of their brands. The idea is to uphold the qualitative (the identity and attributes of the brand) over the quantitative (the massive and continuous online appearance of the brand in the context of harmful comments, condemnations, lies, undesired truths, and manipulations by vested interests.)

And the brand is not just a matter of companies and markets. Today, to be in a position to compete, a politician needs a brand, and so does a businessman, a country, an association, an athlete, and a celebrity… everyone.

Team Mates is a service of the McCann Group that manages the brand of athletes, sport clubs, or celebrities. Rafael Nadal, for example, is a client, one of the ‘brands’ it manages with an online community of 14 million followers. So is Fútbol Club Barcelona, and yet another is Pau Gasol, plus numerous more celebrities including Maria Sharapova and Alejandro Sanz. Team Mates manages their brands, maintains and sparks up their online networks, identifies sponsors and creates new sources of income for their clients.

On another note, there are numerous companies specialized in personal branding which give courses and private advice on how to create one’s own personal brand, how to spot and isolate its differential attributes, how to convey them, how to manage them through time.  

The brand identity is not just graphic: logotype, an icon to accompany it, or color codes (the look and feel, as brand consultants call it). The identity is verbal too, depending, as it does, on the meaning one gets from reading it, from its verbal register. When Future Brand, the American consulting firm for brand design, management, and architecture, began to work for Meliá, the group brand was ‘Sol Meliá,’ which meant leaving out a large part of the brand offer that was more than sun-and-beach vacations. And it suggested a change to ‘Meliá,’ simply ‘Meliá.’

In the world of brands, too, there are ‘acquaintances’ and there are ‘friends.’ The former are logotypes, the latter are brands. It frequently happens that they coincide. In any case, the former make us recognize a product, while the latter create an ‘affective identity’ with the values it conveys.

Starbucks is not only a brand that suggests coffee, nor is it just a chain of establishments. Above all it conveys to its clients the image of an experience, a special, distinct atmosphere forged by the configuration of its physical spaces: the furniture, a feel of time unhurried, the attitude of the employees.

Some weeks ago, in an article with a title that would translate as ‘The iPhone Index is Born,’ the newspaper El País published the results of the ‘Prices and Salaries 2015’ study made by a Swiss investment bank, in which the cost of living in 71 countries was analyzed. One of the methodologies used, the iPhone index, is based on comparing the number of hours one has to work in order to purchase an iPhone. While 21 hours will suffice in Zurich, a person in Kiev needs 627, in Cairo it’s 353, in London it’s 41, in Beijing it’s 218, and in Madrid we have to put in 61 hours.

The Economist did a similar analysis when it created the Big Mac index, in reference to the actual price of a product: the Big Mac hamburger brand which in turn belongs to another brand, McDonald’s.

All are consumer product brands that are ingrained in the uses and customs of all-powerful and universal references in the financial world, that essential and intrinsic part of ‘Big Brother’ that dominates our global world and presides over the decisions of politicians, companies, governments, and countries; that mysterious god we know by the name of ‘market’ – yet another brand loaded with immense symbolic power.

Brands are in splendid health, so much that they are being reproduced exponentially. Logos and brands invade the commercial zones of our cities, the screens of our computers and mobile phones, the images on our TV sets, and not only through advertisements. Everything televised contains a legion of logos and brands. They decorate any visible space. In the world of sports, athletes wear their clothes stamped with logos and brands. And it’s rare for any one of us not to have some logo visible on our shirt, sweater, or bag. Anyone starting up a business or practice now has to conceive some kind of logotype, even if only an acrostic made up of one’s name and surname, and also immediately gets into the Web, even if only at first through an email address.      

Hence the increasing importance of brand management and the need to personalize it, identify it, and give it content. For in brand management lies the question of ‘to be or not to be.’

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