Disappearing into use

Marketeers spend much time and effort making their brands unique, so they stand out from the crowd; but branding acts as camouflage as much as display.

Display is a form of disruption. By standing out from what’s around it, a brand breaks our smooth perception of the world-as-a-whole and demands that we attend to a single, very focussed part of it.

That’s not an issue when we’re deciding what to buy. Individual brands need to shout loudly to be heard in the communications cacophony that is modern commercial space.

It becomes an issue once we’ve bought a given brand, and started using it. At that point, the function of branding changes. The best way to understand how and why that is to be reductive, and think about tools.

A tool is brought and used to achieve a given end. The most effective tools are those that disappear into use. That is, they support the achievement of an end without drawing attention to themselves during that achievement.

If I’m chopping wood, I want an axe that I don’t notice that I’m using. I don’t want one that constantly draws attention to itself through (for example) being blunt, or poorly constructed, or the wrong size for the task at hand.

I only want to notice the well chopped pile of wood I end up with, not the means by which I create that pile. And then I want the pile of wood to disappear into being a fire, without being slow to light, spitting on the carpet, or creating too much smoke.

When in use, brands work in a similar way. They are never an end in themselves; none of us live to shave with Gillette Razors, or travel by British Airways.

We live to be attractive to other people, or to visit interesting places. Brands support us as we achieve these goals, disappearing into the wider actions we take to fulfil our rational or emotional drives.

This is where brands need to camouflage themselves. As well as standing out, each one  should also disappear, harmonising with a chorus rather than just shouting through a cacophony.

As branding people, that’s something that’s easy to forget. Brands aren’t just about differentiation; they’re about integration too, fitting efficiently and effectively into individual lifestyles, supporting a broader personal push towards entirely personal goals.

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