What a Brand is, What a Brand isn't: Do We Need to Draw the Line?
February 11, 2009 ‐ 0 comments


 In an NPR interview last week, Obama's new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, discussing the administration's approach to the next 4 years, mentioned the possible need to "re-brand" the No Child Left Behind act, which is ironic given that No Child Left Behind itself is a "re-branding" of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (The actual reference to brand occurs in the audio, not the write-up).

Something about this comment caught our attention, and it wasn't just a new opportunity to ply our trade. We think it's time that we – and all communicators – think about the limits of the term 'brand'.

Wikipedia, that categorical source of truth, tells us that "a brand is a collection of symbols, experiences and associations connected with a product, a service, a person or any other artifact or entity," but let's add a layer of honesty to that definition: branding is about persuasion, and when it comes to persuasion in a competitive commercial marketplace, truth has a certain elasticity. Businesses accept it, consumers accept it, and branding professionals sure as hell capitalize on it.

We don't believe the same elasticity applies to government policy. In a world growing increasingly skeptical about marketing, talk about re-branding a vital piece of legislation undermines discussion of its substantive changes.

We admit, we've gotten caught up in brand-fever as well in our observations of the 2008 presidential campaign. But we maintain that too much focus on Obama as a brand actually detracts from his credibility.

Previously we've been dismissive of the overuse of the terms 'brand' and 'branding'. This time, we get downright prescriptive.

A brand is the image of an organization, product, or service that is meant for consumption.

There - we've put ourselves out there. No proprietary models, no 4-dimensional graphs, and only one subordinate clause. Now, on to the debate of what 'image' and 'consumption' mean...

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