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weblog archives
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Monday, December 08, 2003
The first grid blogging congress, [grid::brand], is up and running (we're slightly dancing around the edge of this experiment, what with being a week late into the fray). The inaugural discussion is brands (update). We'd like to offer the observation that brands are dead, dying, or at the very least, doomed to extinction.

The motor industry is an interesting example of how a manufacturing and innovation-driven industry became a brand-driven industry over the course of a decade or so. Given that each major company is essentially a portfolio of smaller brands (Ford, DaimlerChrysler, PSA, Renault-Nissan, General Motors, VW Group, etc.), the science of car design has become an exercise in decoding, distilling and bottling brand essence - the perceived qualities and characteristics that separate one car from another. Shared platforms and components are widespread within this most incestuous of industries, so it's unsurprising that product differentiation is of crucial importance.

So why does this mean that brands are dying? The brand is a distraction, a cypher - a non-existent thing. Instead, it's a collection of memories and expectations, applied - often incredibly skillfully - to a product. For a brand to be satisfying, it has to fulfill a consumer's expectations. Yet these expectations are constantly being manipulated through saturation advertising. things gets to spend quite a lot of time with car designers, for better or worse, and contradictions emerge.

There are two main paradoxes. The first is that branding is ultimately contrary to the manufacturing model of capitalism - that new products must always supersede existing products in some way in order to stimulate and accelerate demand. In contrast, branding is an evolutionary process, a slow accretion of ideas and opinions. Admittedly, evolutionary design can create a steady increase in demand, but rarely produces the exponential leaps and jumps that drive international capital.

For example, Audi have spent two decades hawking an ever-more refined image of modernism. Yet to take the company to another level, another image is needed; that of a more aggressive, sporting vehicle, partly to open up new markets and partly to differentiate from other VW Group brands (Volkswagen, SEAT, Skoda), who are all making supremely competent expressions of modern automotive design. Are they extending, or undermining, their brand? So should brands change to survive, and is this possible while they are simultaneously extolling solid, timeless values. It's a balancing act that can only become more paradoxical as brand values become more ingrained.

The other inconsistency, most especially within the motor industry, it to do with the changing attitude to design. Is design a means of expressing function, the creation of the very best packaging solution available. Or is it a means of triggering and reviving our mental associations with the product in question, be they regarding function, performance, heritage, luxury, practicality, whatever?

In this latter scenario, the brand becomes everything: a car is no longer an independent object, but a collection of elements intended first and foremost as cultural trigger points: a leather interior, a walnut dashboard, chrome trim, fancy lettering, bull bars, a curved flank, a radiator grille. These elements only have meaning when they are combined with our ingrained knowledge of the history of the manufacturer.

So why is the brand dead? Wait for the first no-brand, Muji-style automotive manufacturer as a sign that branding isn't the be all and end all of marketing and production. Ok, so Muji is itself a brand, albeit one predicated on the notion of anti-branding, but can an object as culturally loaded as a car be presented in a similar manner? The dislocation between reality and image, object and memory, thing and feeling, will ultimately set the brand free from the world of material goods. And then the brand will cease to exist.

City of Soundís entry included an image of the Campari pavilion designed by Futurist Fortunato Depero in 1933 (and also offers a meditative post on peopleís response to the Weather Project, surely the most-blogged art event ever? Also read Envisaging Memorials, on architectural rendering. It really is an excellent weblog). Glowlab gives us a potted history of Times Square.

Elsewhere. Art by Dee Rimbaud / drawing in sand (windows media), via mediatic / Playtype, neat flash-based font tool / a list of Japanese car names / Space Hijackers, the excesses of flash in architectural website design - a surprisingly accurate parody. We like the concept of urban letterboxing / Music as Therapy, a charity well worth your money (use their amazon portal next time you buy a book).

Inspired by this news story, I googled the church in question. They have admirably restrained web design skills, Iíll say that much. Related: The New Creation, 'British Columbia's all-but-forgotten Jesus rock trio' / prison cells photographed by Michel Gasarian (via NSOP / Cool French comics.

Research issues in art, design and media / Moscow metro, via the cartoonist, who also links to skulls and skeletons / pixeldiva, a weblog / recommended: Smoke magazine.

An advent calendar from Leslie Harpold. soul food cafť has an Australian-themed advent calender: 'The iconic advertising symbols in the centre of the calendar change each day and a highlight will be Red Umbrella Day on the tenth of the month when the cafe features lots of frippery to add colour and gaiety to December.' Staying seasonal, a virtual snowglobe (similar to the virtual stapler, but without their not exactly completist list of staplers in film. We can think of at least one more star appearance).

Publishing news: things 17-18 slowly nears completion. You can now see the issue index and read selected articles online. Please, email us if you'd like to be informed when the issue is ready.