Brands as People

Brands representing themselves as people who have personalities in your brain is the new frontier for advertising, it seems. Interpersonal relations are important for humans and evolutionary psychology is unearthing the heuristics that which informed our need to create social cohesion. It is this reason that the ability for brands to masquerade as people in our minds is dangerous.

Advertising is ancient, in fact adverts have been used very frequently to inform us about what kind of goods & services were available in Egypt, Rome, and Arabia (amongst others). However most forms of advertising were just a poster or a picture indicating a service offered, a good for sale, or an item that was found or was missing. This doesn't, to me at least, invoke quite the same feeling that the average brand account on twitter does today.

When did the advertiser realise the power of this kind of representation? Television and radio advertisements have always seemed to have an inherent memetic quality to them (see: wazzup) perhaps these forms of media that are usually used to convey humanity (voice, visual representation) are tricking us (subconsciously perhaps) that behind the corporate message are humans. And, there are to an extent, humans create these advertising campaigns for humans for the most part at the moment but as we move unto a new future of automation not everything we see is actually put together by a human merely suggested into a form and completed by a computer. For instance targeted adverts already are very prevalent and have been for years but soon we will see more and more targeted advertising content to the point where it will be very hard to pry apart the advert and the 'real content'.

What needs to be addressed is the ability for brands to nestle themselves into your mind and stay there as if a virus in the guise of a human. A good case study is the Wendy's twitter account. Wendy's is one of the premier 'brands that are people', the character played by the account takes jabs at it's competitors online and replies to messages playfully. It has gained a mass-following of 2.4 million followers. Of course, this account is run by a PR team somewhere that deals with more general complaints and feedback as most companies that utilise social media do, however it seems that they have succeeded in creating personhood for their brand at a very effective level; reading the tweets it does not seem as if there are a team of people behind the account (some accounts use signatures to denote this) but as if it was all one cohesive 'person'.

Is this actually bad? It's hard to say but to grant the brand's image personhood may afford some liberties that it would not otherwise have. You don't wonder what the computer has done recently but you may catch yourself checking up on your favourite brand's recent posts and laughing along as if they were your friend posting them. That being said to keep the cloak of personhood on they need to step much more carefully, automated messages rip off the cloak and show them for who they are.

In a world of faceless megacorporations the friendly pseudo-face of these brands can seem comforting and create a trust that would not be there without this personhood. It also preys on the idea of the local business, to know the local business owners is assigning a (more-valid ?) personhood to the brand of the business which implies a longer-term relationship with the business to generate.

That being said these relationships are tending to spread as advertisers realise the effectiveness of the manipulation of the representation into personhood. That being said there have been plenty of occasions where attempts at 'putting a face on' the brand has failed and left a representation of the brand as a person on social media but a faceless corporation outside of it. Usually these tend to be very large companies that get press external to their social media.

As a last note, brands that have names such as Wendy's and Frank's seem to have more success, could this be due to an already preconceived personhood for who 'Wendy' or 'Frank' are based on the interactions we have with these brands? Wendy's also has a face as a logo, this helps to increase connection. You can imagine that when you talk to the Wendy's twitter account, you are talking to the person in the logo (Melinda-Lou "Wendy" Thomas, the Daughter of the Founder).

The addition of new technologies to allow an automated-but-realistic approach to direct customer interaction will only further this image of brands as people however subconsciously it is held. And the brand-hood of people that we interact with online also seeks to blur the line between person and brand into the future. The meticulous picking through our profiles to ensure that others create the right image (tulpa) of us for the ends we want to achieve online leads to a personal brand creation (already a growing industry!).

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