Enough bull about branding; it’s time to do more
You can talk about New Year’s resolutions until Shane Warne gets a wrinkle on his face but it’s time we recognised that all our resolutions are part of a greater inconvenient truth: Western civilisation is adrift on a rising tide of bullshit called “self-promotion”.
Back in the 70s (the good old days) during hours of physical work with my old man, he was fond of dropping phrases like “say nothing and saw wood”. It upset him greatly that I chose to go off to university instead of remaining a carpet layer. Dad believed in productivity, not talk, and he feared that I would turn into some flabby weirdo who did nothing in life but smoke dope and quote Proust at dinner parties.
Many of those people are now running the nation, a nation that is losing the ability to “do” things because we are too busy talking about things.
Creating a “brand” has become such a fundamental part of our lives it is not just about how corporations approach business but how governments approach policy and how we approach each other.
It’s reached a critical mass Joseph Heller’s Captain Yossarian would have understood all too well: the more we sell what we do, the longer we have to stop doing it, which leaves us with less to sell.
Self-promotion in the workplace has been around for decades but was usually confined to irritating wankers who were laughed at by everyone, including the boss. Now it’s become institutionalised. What damages us is not just the vomit-inducing self-indulgence. It’s young people being encouraged to spend less time on productivity and skill and more time on fostering “relationships” with those who can help their careers. “It’s not what you know but who you know” used to be a cautionary one-liner. Now it’s the over-riding rule.
Maybe it’s because our big businesses have for so long been encouraging American corporate tom-foolery like walking on hot coals, abseiling and other self-awareness mumbo jumbo at the expense of something called “work”. It’s all about “positive affirmation” these days, “building your brand”, reciting dozens of well-worn mantras stating the bleeding obvious. Remember, before you get a life coach you should first check to see if you have a life.
Bosses are saying things like “I gave that guy the position because he really wanted it. He was in my office every day telling me he was the best candidate. I admire that tenacity…”
I don’t. For a start, who was doing that idiot’s job while he was in your office every day? Why weren’t you doing what a manager is supposed to do – know your employees and what they’re capable of?
What happened to humility? It’s the Australian way. We tend to cringe when our sporting heroes don’t show humility and yet we are destroying it everywhere else.
Then there’s the more subtle “Claytons worker” – the person of limited ability who always looks busy and focussed, creating a whirlwind of hyperactivity to fool us into thinking they’re actually doing something.
Where is the reward for those who are unfortunate enough to be so efficient that they make it look easy, or are so genuinely busy that they haven’t the time to self-promote? There is none. Our society runs on high-octane hype. Everywhere you look there is something or someone on display saying “buy me”, “believe me”, “watch me” or “like me”.
Corporations spend billions marketing “brands” of distinction and superiority when those brands represent the same old low-cost products made in third-world sweat shops by people on a salary of one dollar a month. At least there has always been a healthy scepticism about products.
What we can’t cop is institutions, political parties and people becoming products, vying for our attention with the same cunning tricks used by marketers. We all have a right to explain and justify ourselves at times but the problem comes when the environment is competitive and the squawking becomes more assertive, less credible and less productive.
Politicians are spending hundreds of millions of our dollars, not on infrastructure, but promoting their “brand” - policies and proclamations designed only to fill their sails until after the next election.
Sporting bodies are more concerned with promoting the elite, terrified of losing their market share to rival codes but neglecting the support base: community development and encouraging young people to take up a healthy pastime.
Even charities are increasingly forced to promote themselves - all manner of gimmickry to raise awareness using money and time they’d prefer to spend on helping others. They are helplessly caught up in yet another “marketplace”.
Have we consumers become so lazy and ill-informed that we can’t make our own value judgements?
Apparently yes, because marketing has also become an obligatory process in our personal life. “Networking” used to be a mutually declared business objective. These days it has morphed into something more subversive: fake relationships cultivated by fake people in the warmth of that vast greenhouse called social media. We crowd our Facebook pages with desperate attempts to show a perception of ourselves. Twitter is cluttered with pretentious pap designed only to create an “impression” that people will like, in order to buy what we’re flogging.
Our words have become as credible as Gerard Depardieu’s Russian citizenship but then it hardly matters as long as everyone is playing the same game. We have been consumed by the pretence.
So, if you want to really “cut through”, maybe it’s time to say nothing and saw wood.
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