Branding is for Products, Not People

Barry Dredze
4 min readMay 20, 2021

“Advertising signs, they con you into thinking you’re the one that can do what’s never been done, that can win what’s never been won; Meantime, life outside goes on all around you….” ~Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”

October, 2010 issue of The Atlantic

Boomers, Xers, Millennials, Generation Z, etc.; it’s all bullshit. Generation brands are irrelevant to anything of genuine importance. Timing makes generations; and the cultural landscape they are born into determines the priorities these units of socioeconomic and historical measure introduce upon or within the greater human civilization, from one generation to the next and all the sloppy overlap. It is up for debate on exactly where to put a finger on those moments of cultural triumph over politics — and vice versa.

Meanwhile, back in the States, you can always tell an American conservative by their emotional, financial and political investment in America’s shortcomings. Whether white supremacy, wealth inequality or male chauvinism, Republicans frame their noxious policy priorities in mendacious marketing jargon like law & order, fiscal responsibility, family values and electoral integrity. This has worked pretty well for them since the Nixon era, plowing straight on through the years, decades and the whole alphabet soup of succeeding generations; and we should all be ashamed of ourselves for that.

From donkeys and elephants to the Obama campaign’s flag-themed rising star logo and MAGA hats, we are already intimately acquainted with the branding of parties and candidates, for good or ill. What is new and different in our time is the branding of demographics within the electorate.

There is a hell of alot more that goes into human identity than what goes into the branding of products that real live people buy (and ideas that we buy into). But we are always, all of us, at risk of approaching the whole process backwards. Market research is useful for the purveyors of products and services to figure out, according to demographic data, where to invest their resources most effectively in order to gain the most sales. This works the same way, whether the product is a car, pickup truck, a pair of shoes or candidates for elected office. Brennan Center fellow and author of Political Brands (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019), Ciara Torres-Spelliscy wrote:

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Barry Dredze

Just another mortal, tweaking my cognitive map on the fly.