SFAU #14 [Which includes a self-portrait as decades older, and as Howard Beal in Network].

I used to work in the marketing department of a computer memory company. One day on the sales floor a giant banner appeared that read, “HAVE THE KILLER INSTINCT!” I had an idea what that meant, and it had something to do with knowing when to close a deal. But the metaphor was horrible. I had to be the one to go to HR and talk to the nice older lady who happened to be the only other liberal I knew of in the company, and explain why this would be offensive to our customers: if we were the carnivorous predators, they were the slaughtered prey. In short, we had a sign announcing that we considered our customers chumps to be preyed upon.

Sometimes it’s tough to use marketing and advertising terminology without inadvertently dehumanizing both the buyer and the seller.


In the definition above, a brand is a product that is made by a company. The company isn’t a brand, let alone the people behind it. Cheetos are a brand, made by the company Frito-Lay, which is a subsidiary of PepsiCo. Pepsico has 22 major brands, and the CEO is Ramon Laguarta. Neither Ramon nor any of the people who work for Pepsico are themselves brands. A brand is a product, not the person or people who are responsible for it. Even in the case of a celebrity endorsement, the celebrity isn’t the brand, the product is. George Foreman is not a brand, George Foreman Grill is.

What has the world of obsession with money, marketing, self-promotion, and selling out come to when we are given wholesome advice from WordPress on how to improve our brand? Somehow a blogger became a brand. Now, before I launch into this, I gather most people want these kinds of helpful promotion tips, that it works in mutual self-interest between them and WordPress, and I am an outlier, perhaps even an eccentric, or a fool (others might say I was a philosopher of armchair sorts).

Soooo, this post isn’t for everyone who’s happy perpetually selling and being sold to. It’s a dog sell dog world, and the general populace is fine with that. If you want to be a brand, and want to know how to maximize profits, click away.

I got this loving tip in my email today, and I gather nobody even suspects there’s anything possibly strange about it.

How to Cultivate and Convey Your Online Personality

Your brand voice has the power to draw your desired audience’s attention — and convert them to customers.

Your voice is now synonymous with a brand voice, and your ultimate objective is to convert your audience into customers. NO! Goddammit, everything is not about milking the living F out of everyone for cool, hard cash. This reminds me of the study that showed that millennials, as a group, can’t fathom the concept of selling out. Marketing, advertising, and self-promotion are now so intertwined with people’s conception of reality and how the world works, and so accepted as just how things are, that it’s impossible to untangle them. I’m guessing the people behind this new campaign are younger than me. When you live long enough you can span more than one or two zeitgeists. Decades have different feels about them. You can study the 60’s, but if you weren’t alive then you probably can’t know the real texture of it. I was born in ’65, and I remember a time very well when money was not only not everything, it was merely a necessity, and tainted with evil.

But when we conceive of creators as a brand, we encapsulate their contribution in terms of revenue generation. Everything becomes a means to and end, which is always money, and there is nothing more valuable than money. In this context, Shakespeare’s plays, Beethoven’s symphonies, Toni Morrison’s novels, and Van Gogh’s paintings can be best understood in terms of numbers on a spreadsheet. Jesus is a brand. The Buddha is a brand. Enlightenment is a brand.

While we all need to have money in order to survive, our voice has a much greater intrinsic purpose, which is to communicate, share, engage, and provide intellectual and emotional substance and sustenance to our audience.

Humanize your brand to establish an emotional relationship with your visitors, gaining their trust and paving the way to business growth.

This strikes me as bizarre. I’m not sure what trust has to do with blogging. I’d think if anything it might have more to do with valuing your content. We are supposed to cultivate trust in order to take advantage of it. This reminds me of the tobacco ads that would gain our trust by telling us that doctors themselves smoke cigarettes.

I might also want to challenge people’s preconceptions, or share uncomfortable truths. This means not always playing it safe and shrinking from the possibility of being controversial or offending someone. If you are a brand, than the customer is always right, and everything you do is calculated to garner revenue. If that were my purpose for writing, or making art, I would do far better to spend my time doing just about any other money-making venture, including temp work, working for minimum wage, mowing lawns or delivering newspapers.

Define Your Look with Brand Guidelines

No! Never! I’m an artist, by Gad! I have my own aesthetic which I’m not going to sacrifice for someone else’s guidelines that are only geared to maximize profit — and short term profit — at all costs.

Death of the Android, by me.

Meanwhile back in reality I used to have ads on my site, which I didn’t have a choice about. In fact you have to pay to remove them, which I’ve done. But at one point I’d made over $75 in ad revenue, which brought me dangerously close to being able to collect the money, which you can do when you reach $100.  Suddenly I was notified that my blog was blacklisted from making a profit because it wasn’t “family friendly,” which also meant I wasn’t entitled to any of that $75. Nevertheless, ads would still appear.

Well, of course my site isn’t family friendly. It’s not for kids. It’s not X-rated or anything like that, but it’s for adults and sometimes grapples with the human condition, which is not always going to be a rosy affair. So, for me, making my voice into a brand would also mean self-censoring, changing my content — and it would have to be a new blog — and, well, finally going in to get that long overdo frontal lobotomy.

I do get donations, and I have patrons, which I greatly appreciate. But it is voluntary, and because people value my content. I’m not trying to trick anyone, or lure them in. I’m not strategizing how to get more money. I feel the best way to get customers, if that is the goal, is to have the best product, and I’m using product as a convenient metaphor here. Content would be a better, but more elusive word, and it should have quality. When I think of other people’s art and music, most of which I can access for free over the internet, I don’t see products made in order to accrue revenue: I see gifts to humanity which come from people, and not brands. When I was working a full-time job I would buy CDs and even make yearly donations to my favorite free-form, commercial free radio station [WFMU] out of appreciation for the music which made my life richer. Nobody needed to hoodwink me. I just wanted the musicians to keep making music, and the radio station to keep playing it, and to show my appreciation.

When a person, their thoughts, writing, art, and their blog is defined as a brand, that person and their content are reduced to a mere mechanism for generating revenue, and more likely than not for someone else (ex., I would make a tiny fraction of the revenue for ads served on my site).

Do you want to know what someone looks like when they are a brand?

Neo waking up in the Matrix to discover he’s a human battery.

I am not a battery in someone else’s matrix. I’m an individual, a point of light, and my own perspective and portal on the universe.

How else could WordPress have presented their helpful ideas? I think we switched out the banner on the sales floor with something to the tune of, “KNOW HOW TO MAKE YOUR CLIENTS HAPPY!” I’d ditch the term “brand” and instead just talk about how to offer better content, give it more of a personal touch, and facilitate financial transactions. You can read between the lines for the crass commercialism, instead of making it the (unintended) headline. I am terrible at self-promo, networking, and marketing, and could use some tips, but when I’m defined as a brand, I flee the building clutching my integrity.

~ Ends

13 replies on “I AM NOT A BRAND!

  1. Well said. Thanks for this, Eric. Runaway capitalism is an extremely bizarre phenomenon and seems to have surpassed our humanity a long time ago. One hopes for enlightenment.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh good. It’s not just me. I think the people behind it wouldn’t even imagine there’s anything in their wording or statements that would put people off. I see that in other things as well, which is that if people only have been exposed to one belief system/worldview, not only do they not take others into account, they don’t even know they have a belief system because they can’t see outside of it. For them, it’s just how things are. Then, if someone expresses a different opinion, they become some crazy, outlier, and the enemy, and that’s pretty much what I feel like I get to be too often these days.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Eric, I think one of the reasons my YouTube channel hasn’t been more successful is because I refuse to create an online persona (or brand) that defines what my channel is. I won’t scream and holler and jump around and say outrageous things just to get more attention and more views. For a while I did limit the kind of videos I did because of the advice I got online about “branding your channel.” But eventually I just decided I had to be who I am, and if that means fewer views, then I am willing to live with that. So, I get where you’re coming from.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you nailed something there, which I didn’t manage to articulate myself. That is that the supposedly more personal, online persona that is one’s “brand voice” is NOT the same thing as who one really is, in which case you have to sacrifice your individuality and independence in order to merely create the illusion of intimacy and being quirky (while also trying to piggy-back on whatever is popular in order to get hits).

      Like

  3. This, this and this.

    I fucking hate how EVERYTHING needs to be treated as a business now. What ever happened to AUTHENTIC communication and self expression? Authenticity in general?? Everything’s a business, and everything’s a competition. Why be creative and authentic when you can just be a phoney, money grubbing prick? Ugh. It’s vile.

    Anyway. I’m glad there are still a FEW people out there who have their bullshit detectors switched to “ON”. Cheers for not catering to the crap. We appreciate you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ha ha … after reading this post, I received the same e-mail. I just took it with an eye roll as WordPress trying to sell me something again. It’s basically just an ad.

    I started blogging at all because supposedly an author needs to be “findable.” Well, no agents or publishers have “found” me yet, but it has been fun to connect and discuss with people who share common interests … even if it’s only a handful.

    I was told that the purpose of an author blog is to help readers “get to know you.” So you include a picture of yourself, etc. And that jives with what I am looking for when I search for an author on line. So I don’t mind that. Sure, it’s not all of me, but even in face to face interactions, nobody gets all of who I am. Nor should they. Every social face we present is curated to some extent. And as an Introvert, I’ve never expected to be able to fully communicate “who I am” nor to be fully understood. It’s just not possible.

    I actually do worry a little bit that people who know me very well might be hindered from enjoying my work. They will be thinking of my voice and my personal flaws rather than interacting with the book itself. So I guess that’s a down side to people encountering our blog before they encounter the work of art that we’ve spent so much more time on. I usually get to know authors through their work, and then only after that might I search for anything on line or anything else they’ve produced.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Not sure I got that email—I toss anything that seems to be asking for money unread. I could also not worthy click-wise for their attention.
    Good matrix analogy. “dog sell dog world” and “I’m mad as hell…” too.
    Wordpress’ income comes from, mostly I assume, ads. It. no doubt, charges advertisers by the click, so to maximize profits, it maximize clicks. Cultivating “your brand voice” is not about humanizing, establishing, gaining, paving the way to anything for you. WordPress exists ONLY to generate profits for its investors. You and your free content are a means to that end.
    But you know that. Good thing being “crusty, but benign” is its own reward.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Good thing being “crusty, but benign” is its own reward.’

      Once again, I think great minds a thinking alike. May just be “crusty” ones, but it’s morning here, and while I’m sipping cofee, I’ll stick with “great”.

      Like

  6. Terms like “branding” and “brand voice” make my skin crawl. As individuals with our own personalities and voices, why would we need to “cultivate” what we already have? Why the hell do we need to humanize our brand when we’re human already? Asshattery, all of it.

    Being told we need to brand ourselves also suggests our works are mere commodities, not unique expressions we toiled over out of the love (or necessity) of creating after years or decades of hard learning, crushing failures and those elusive but incendiary successes.

    It’s not just corporate entities assaulting us with unsolicited advice about how to generate revenue, either. Well-meaning family, friends and even strangers on the street have often accosted me with ideas about how to sell more work. Their ideas usually involve turning laboriously crafted, one-of-a-kind pieces into mass-produced commodities.

    We shouldn’t be told we need to cheapen ourselves or manipulate and degrade the people we want to reach for a bigger payout or larger target audience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Couldn’t have said it better myself! And you are right on your central point, which is that it should not be considered a good to cheapen ourselves or our audience.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

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