Why do we need brands, literally?

The abrupt dismissal of New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson last week highlights our obsession with the first mover advantage ideology i.e. Ms Abramson was the first female executive editor while Dean Baquet, her replacement, is the first African-American in the role. Much of the agro seems to be about Abramson hiring another person in on top and across Baquet, the then managing editor (now boss), to work,  it would seem, against rather than with him.

An aside to this media circus is the issue of Ms Abramson’s tattoo of the New York Times on her back and word on the street is it’s there to stay. Big dilemma – to keep it or to get it painfully removed? An even bigger quandary for me would be why would anyone get a tattoo of their employer in the first place?

Well it seems in an interview published in April, Abramson told Out magazine that “it’s become for me a strange form of personal hieroglyphics. I have now four. I think eventually, when I finish doing them, will tell the story of me, of where I lived, and what things have been important to me.”
Apparently, she has four tattoos, two of which are on her back representing the two institutions she reveres – the ‘T’ in The New York Times newspaper and a Crimson Harvard ‘H’ where she studied.

As a marketer I understand the power of brands – they reassure, they’re consistent, they minimise perceived risk.  We pay more for certain cars because we believe they are safer, we go to multinational restaurant chains because the “sandwich” is exactly the same no matter where you are in the world and we wouldn’t risk injury by going for a run in a generic trainer. Sometimes, we just use, buy and wear brands because we simply want to fit in –
my teenage son pays handsomely to look like a Hollister pimp, a moderate improvement from the polyester premiership football jerseys of yesteryear. In a shallow, throwaway, quick fix, first impressions last sort of society, brands are probably useful to box and stereotype people and things in that nano second of attention we give. Gosh I’m not really that cynical but often brands are used as shortcuts in much the same way as our accents – we know in our hearts it doesn’t really matter how we speak, it’s what we have to say but others may not agree, that’s all I’m saying.

You know I’m all for a few branded freebies as I type here in my Tourism Ireland fleece while my Sonru.com case protects my iPhone and I’ve deleted more than a few unwatched PowerPoint presentations from freebie memory sticks given out at trade shows. That’s ok, it’s probably win-win. I have a jumper, a baseball cap, a phone cover – something I need or want and in exchange for paying nothing, I can deal with a small logo or subtle branding.

However, I’m not sure if there’s any win-win or even just win for getting a corporate tattoo even if it’s just one letter in an internationally recognised font. What value or gain is it offering the wearer? Will the ‘T’ or ‘H’ protect us in a snowstorm or prevent our phone from smashing? No.

Abramson says her tattoos will tell her story, what was important to her.
Do we need our story pasted on our bodies in indelible ink?
What’s wrong with memory or old fashioned scrapbooks?
We all know that brands were first used to mark our cattle, ownership.
Are we returning to that?
Are we owned by corporations?
Do we need something so dramatic to give us a sense of permanence?

Well it’s all academic at this stage because Abramson’s tenure at the helm of the Grey Lady was anything but permanent and her historic appointment as the first female executive editor turned out to be as flighty and tenuous as an intelligent woman getting literally branded by a company that doesn’t want to own her anymore.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *