Illustration by Shenuka Corea

The Power of Branding: Diesel and Deisel

The social sway of branding reflects a real collective condition: the power of first impressions and the desire to follow and be valued by the herd.

Feb 17, 2018

You notice a new pop-up store on New York City’s famously fraudulent Canal Street.
Deisel, For successful living, the products proudly proclaim. A man vehemently denies any accusations that they are fake. You do not even stop to look.
A day later, you cannot even enter the street and queues snake around corners. Diesel has announced the store as authentic. In the span of a few hours, a 60-dollar Deisel sweatshirt shoots up to 500 dollars and earns the rank of a limited stock collectible, with the likes of Gucci Mane publicizing it on social media. Fans who previously turned up their noses at exactly the same product are suddenly keen on going with the flaw.
Diesel claimed that the release was aimed at encouraging fans to wear whatever they wanted, but the response made it clear that society just is not wired to function that way.
This fascination with brands stretches back to the seventeenth century, when people experienced the viral power of branding in the Tulip Crisis, which was far more destructive than it sounds. This refers to a three year economic bubble, where a single tulip bulb became equivalent in worth to the annual earnings of a skilled crafts worker or the value of 12 acres of land. That is, until prices crashed, destroying fortunes and livelihoods, ending the first-ever speculative mania. Before you scoff and exclaim, now we know better, do not forget that, today, high-fashion rock studded Crocs can sell for 1,322 AED.
Is yearning for brands a part of human nature?
Humans are social animals. Society’s opinion is a make-or-break factor in numerous facets of our lives. Picking and choosing with whom we associate is strongly influenced by our preconceived notions about them.
Picture this: you sit next to a stranger on the bus. Your eyes immediately skim over their possessions: a Louis Vuitton purse, from which they pull out a wallet sporting a Gucci logo, and the glint of a Chanel watch as they rummage through searching for, you presume, their Dior perfume. I did not describe the person, but you have already determined this person’s gender, social and economic status and lifestyle, and your conclusion probably coincides with that of most other people. Therein lies the power of branding. Remove the brands and all you get is a person taking out their wallet. You are no longer able to tell, from my description, if they are an elite posh lady or a scruffy druggie.
The brands people bear help us to read them better. The same way branding on a cow tell us to whom it belongs, brands on a person tells us where they exist in the social hierarchy; they are certainly easier features to manipulate than one’s face or gait. Cough up some big bucks and you can purchase your own social climbing starter pack. If the big bucks notion puts you off, you can get yourself an authentic-looking fake at a retail store. This second option has further stratified society, dividing us into the rich who buy the real deal and the less rich who are content with the roadside store’s version.
Then there is the dwindling population that is unaware of branding because they have a different set of concerns. You watch a news report with a photograph of a boy in the rubble, his dirty, ripped T- shirt feebly suggesting, Just Do It. We immediately assume — and we could be completely wrong — from the comfort of our couches, that it is a second-hand donation. It is then that we become shockingly aware of the fragility of this concept. If you do not know a brand, it does not exist — the house of cards collapses. This intangible and imaginary construct, created by sellers of a product, with its compelling power, makes you spend ten times more on a product just for the little logo stitched on it. It is able to induce you to part with unconscionable sums of money to fulfill greed, not need.
The social sway of branding reflects a real collective condition: the power of first impressions and the desire to follow and be valued by the herd. But the exclusivity of brands may thwart the chance for genuine human connection. Remember: it gets lonely, especially in an ivory tower. The people who value us deeply are the ones who look past the brand and appreciate us for the people we are. Maybe, unknowingly, we buy into brands or fakes so we can identify those who look beyond them.
Shalini Corea is Deputy News Editor. Email her at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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