Posts Tagged 'Branding'


On Silence by Aldous Huxley

The twentieth century is, among other things, the Age of Noise. Physical noise, mental noise and noise of desire — we hold history’s record for all of them. And no wonder; for all the resources of our almost miraculous technology have been thrown into the current assault against silence.

That most popular and influential of all recent inventions, the radio is nothing but a conduit through which pre-fabricated din can flow into our homes. And this din goes far deeper, of course, than the eardrums. It penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis, but usually create a craving for daily or even hourly emotional enemas. And where, as in most countries, the broadcasting stations support themselves by selling time to advertisers, the noise is carried from the ear, through the realms of phantasy, knowledge and feeling to the ego’s core of wish and desire.

Spoken or printed, broadcast over the ether or on wood-pulp, all advertising copy has but one purpose — to prevent the will from ever achieving silence. Desirelessness is the condition of deliverance and illumination. The condition of an expanding and technologically progressive system of mass production is universal craving. Advertising is the organized effort to extend and intensify the workings of that force, which (as all the saints and teachers of all the higher religions have always taught) is the principal cause of suffering and wrong-doing and the greatest obstacle between the human soul and its Divine Ground.

from Silence, Liberty, and Peace (1946)

Edward Bernays


 Whether you can’t stand him or just think he’s a bit of a tosser, Derren Brown is clearly on to something. And if you’ve read his book Trick of the Mind you’ll know that what he’s on to is ways to tap in to our fascination with how our thoughts and actions can be manipulated using some well-defined and researched techniques and principles. You can believe in the magical and mystical if you like, but Derren Brown is a creature of the Enlightenment and has no truck with any of that. He’s got psychology and science on his side.

It’s not just Derren Brown who has used the findings of psychologists to find ways to control people. Many of our current beliefs and the very workings of our society are based on this sort of manipulation. So it’s telling that the growth of consumerism in the middle of the 20th Century – especially after the War when we first began to move from a needs based economy to one fuelled by desire – was driven by the ideas of the nephew of Sigmund Freud. 

Edward Bernays became the ‘father of PR’ by first popularising his uncle’s theories in the US then by taking Freud’s ideas and applying them to mould the subconscious desires of the American masses. He did this not just in the name of commerce but also in that of politics because he believed that society was becoming increasingly irrational, immoral and dangerous. How the father of psychoanalysis begat the father of PR is evident from Bernays’ own writings. In his 1928 book Propaganda he wrote: “if we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it? The recent practice of propaganda has proved that it is possible, at least up to a certain point and within certain limits.”

The reference to propaganda is telling. It’s a dirty word nowadays, largely because of its association with the era of fascism and communism, but at the time Bernays wrote his book propaganda was still enjoying its heyday while sewing the seeds of our modern preoccupation with manipulation, media, the message and marketing. Bernays’ statement was very much of its time but still resonates today.

The outstanding documentary maker Adam Curtis made the manipulation of opinion based on this kind of thinking the theme of his amazing, eye-opening series The Century of the Self which was first aired in 2002. (The series is now available online at As well as describing the work of Bernays and his contemporaries, Curtis’ series brings the ideas described in this pre- and post-war era up to date and extends it to the actions of contemporary politicians, especially with regard to the government and its attempted, sometimes successful, sometimes cack-handed manipulation of opinion and thought.

What this demonstrates is that as soon as somebody describes a theory or discovers something about how people function, somebody else will take that knowledge and attempt to use it as a way of modifying somebody else’s thoughts and actions, not least while they’re at work.

A good example of this can be seen in the modish application of psychogeography. Psychogeography, as defined by one of its founders Guy Debord is “the study of the precise effects of geographical setting, consciously managed or not, acting directly on the mood and behaviour of the individual” and started life as an offshoot of Situationist thinking in Paris in the 1950s. Now while it may have originally been about the manipulation of the aesthetic and political, the idea has now been bastardised and reinvented by our post-modern sensibilities to mean whatever the hell anybody likes.

Talk of psychogeography, while at best nebulous, at worst meaningless, still has a particularly appeal given our ongoing fixation on the relationship between people and place. Which explains why the use of the physical environment to either manipulate people or enhance their well-being and moods depending on your point of view is a recurrent theme in both the domestic and commercial design press.

I can see two problems with the way this material is presented. The first is that there is often too much emphasis placed on cause and effect. We are sometimes told, for example, that a particular shade of blue will give an air of tranquillity to a room or make people more productive. Well it might, but only if the other 57 factors that make people feel calm and productive are also sorted. As well as their relationships with their work and their colleagues, these will also include some factors beyond the control of the employer; the person’s home life, what they had for breakfast, whether they like blue and that git who carved them up on the A57 on the way in. There is a clear limit to the impact that a factor such as the colour of your office can have in isolation.

The second is that much of the thinking about the way we design workplaces is still based on need rather than desire, the exact opposite of what we expect when designing our homes. Office design and management is still about rationality and practicality rather than the subconscious desire for stuff we just plain want.


99 cents

Gursky Part II. And one for Swiss Tony.

This is his picture 99 Cents, which, at the time if its sale at Sotheby’s in 2007, was the most expensive photograph in the world at £1.7 million. If it helps, the real picture is many hundreds of times bigger than this, so was created to have a real visual impact like much of his work. My gut reaction to it is the sense that we have too much choice, we are overwhelmed by commerce. The only real information we can garner immediately from the image is price.

Altered image


There was always something about Tony Wilson that got right up people’s noses. Nobody was remotely surprised that when they came to make Twenty Four Hour Party People, the film of his time as one of the three great driving forces behind the Manchester music scene of the 1980s, the movie was initially promoted with a poster illustrated with pictures of Ian Curtis, Shaun Ryder and Wilson accompanied by the tagline Genius, Poet, Twat.  

Typically, one of his last ventures before he died was greeted with both raised eyebrows and curled lips. Wilson, along with his partner Yvette Livesey was the ‘imagineer’ – and I can’t forgive him that – of ‘Dreaming of Pennine Lancashire’, a 20-page report outlining a  ‘Wish List: A Series of Consummations Devoutly to be Wished’ to regenerate and rebrand East Lancashire, including a ‘fashion tower’, Philippe Starck-designed ‘chic sheds’, the creation of a Rusholme-like curry mile by the canal and a football theme park called ‘Goal’.

So far so blue sky, but the killer touch as far as many people were concerned was that the region would be rebranded as Pennine Lancashire. And not even that – instead it would become PL, a bit like LA but more like MK, as Wilson readily admitted when he claimed that Milton Keynes was the most successful rebranding of recent years from, if you please, ‘the suburb with the plastic sheep into the new hip retreat for London’.

Now I know I’m just a northern monkey, but when exactly did this happen? As far as I’m aware ‘hip’ is not one of the five first things that spring into the minds of people when they hear the words Milton and Keynes. Even Google knee-jerks up an image of fake cows on its first page.

Rebranding is a real headache. Changing your image means having to worry about three things. It’s about what you do, how you make yourself look and how people perceive you, along with the various ways in which those factors combine. If you get any of them out of sync, you’re sunk. The word ‘holistic’ brings me out into a rash, but it’s the only way of describing how this works. You also have to be patient. Any attempt at a quick fix will invariably end up with somebody putting lipstick on a gorilla, to use Dieter Rams phrase.

And there you have the biggest problem with image changes. They’re just so damn hard to achieve. Tony Wilson may have had the best of intentions with his suggestion for East Lancs, but even if they managed to implement every single one of his proposals, if you were then to ask somebody in Harpenden the first word that sprang to mind when you said ‘Burnley’ to them, they’d never come up with ‘Starck’. At least not spelt with a ‘c’.

For people trying to change an image, the biggest cause of failure is preconception. Ironically Tony Wilson was the perfect example of this. Here was a man who helped to launch the careers of some of the best bands in the history of British music and who has enjoyed a long career in the media and some – possibly self-aggrandising – reputation as a polymath. Yet when they came to make a film about him, what word did they use on the poster to describe him?



October 2020

Desk Jockey