The word branding has taken on the predisposition that it pertains only to businesses. It seems to come with the territory that the only reason you are branding something is so that you can sell it. Certainly there are examples of branding in the world whose goal is less about business enterprise and more about presence or influence: Shepard Fairey’s “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” / “Obey” campaign, or heraldic coats of arms, or the Jolly Roger flags of pirates (though, they were all about money), or the Girl Scouts of America.
This month I’d like to dig into the roots of branding and find out how we took the process of identification and influence and molded it into selling things. There’s bound to be a plethora of examples that sneak in between those concepts, as nothing’s ever just black and white, but at the very least we can get a map of what branding looks like when its not out there as a scary curtain for a bankrupt wizard, but used as a means to communicate identity solely. And funny to even bring up the Wizard of Oz because in the end, all he wanted was the Wicked Witch of the West to be killed—he lived in a freaking palace made of emeralds and he STILL had to promote himself as something he was not.
It all comes back to the premise that branding is not about truthful identity. Branding is the mask that reflects how one wishes to be perceived. Sometimes the mask is very similar to one’s real face, and sometimes it is completely antithetical. In the end, it’s really just human beings behind that mask, flawed and hopeful and frail; but the mask gives them power and strength and nobility—and all the qualities one truly wishes to have. More importantly, it gives them the presence that they wish others to perceive them having.
The vehicle I’m going to use this month to help me explore this topic comes in the form of a real client with an interest in branding something that has nothing to do with money, has nothing to do with business, and pretty much has nothing to do with presence or manipulation. Family friends of mine have a delightful home tucked away on a rushing river in the beautiful state of Oregon, and they’ve asked me what it would take to have branding done for their house. My initial reaction was that … if you’re not selling anything, and you’re not looking to influence anyone … what do you need branding for?
Well, they love their home. That’s all. I mean, that’s the gist of it, and they’ve worked very hard to make it comfortable and inspiring and worthy of a retreat. Any form of branding that is outward-facing would come down to esteem. And there’s nothing really wrong with that I feel—it’s the perfect rug for their wooden foyer, the exact amount of light on the porch so as not to overcome the fire pit, it’s the horseshoe over the door that represents something they found or bought or built that speaks to them, identifies them.
They’ve offered these words phrases to help identify the home to be branded:
- river & forest
- family & friends
The purpose of the brand is to cull all these notions into a graphic, something that can be represented quite uniquely and is identifiable, again mostly for them. There’s no real name for the house, in fact, there’s no real identifier other than the sentiment of the place. Phew, this is strange challenge, something very different than what I’ve done and a very welcome change from the more commercial graphics that have somewhat burned me out over the past few months. For purposes of ease, we’ll call the project “A House In Oregon” and the clients “Mountain Man and Dotty.” Hopefully we’ll come out of the process with something that sings to them, that fits easily in their home, and has the spirit of their little nook in the woods.