We like to think we’re rational and sensible people, capable of seeing right from wrong, the real from the fake, not allowing ourself to be tricked or conned. Yet when your partner asks your opinion on some new item they have purchased, are you able to answer a straight yay or nay? Or do you find yourself needing more parameters than the ones your eyes are giving you?
Such as what is the brand, where is it made, what did it cost? You want the whole picture, as merely judging it by what it looks like might be entirely wrong. Heck, you might actually give the thumbs-up to something that is off-brand, made in a low-cost country or really just a cheap and rubbish piece. Or, you might go the other way and ridicule a really expensive and quality piece, based entirely on it looking like cheap rubbish. The former would be embarrassing and the latter could land you in a world of hurt. And that wouldn’t do, right?
Yet there is one thing that conveys all the information you need to immediately give a more informed answer to the question: The brand. If the question is rephrased as “How do you like my new H&M trousers?” or “Do you like my new Mulberry bag?” you know in a flash where the acceptable and smart reply is, at least within a small ballpark.
Which has had me pondering the question of what the value of a brand might be. This was very much brought up when I started considering the topic of bespoke clothing. Bespoke as in clothing made to measure, made to order, made to the exact specification desired. Perfect in all respects, but with a major omission: It probably doesn’t have a known brand label attached. Unless it’s made by a cheeky bootlegging tailor somewhere in Asia, but that is a different matter altogether.
So why is the branding so important? It is quite clear that today branding is a huge business. Companies invest serious money in the rebranding of their business. New logo, new slogans, new visions (is there anything more cringeworthy than this?), all costing them a huge wad of money that ultimately comes from the profits, as in the margin they extract from their customers. And does anyone (as in, their customers) care at all? For many I think it works in their disfavour, as it’s clear to most right-thinking people that this is merely the mist of manipulation at work, trying to make the company seem newer and better, without actually changing anything that matters.
Does the lack of a brand name impact on the appreciation of said garment? It’s a strange one indeed. So much of the time you find yourself chasing clothing from certain specific favourite brands, selecting the bits of the new collection that look good, trying the fit from the standard sizing available, and feeling the pride in the new acquisition, because it’s just that: a new piece from Brand X. You may even like it even if the fit is a little off, because it is what it is. And at the same time you are ignoring every brand not on the shortlist.
But what about a piece that is just what you wanted in all respects, apart from it not being by That Brand? Heck, it could even be a perfect replica of a piece by Brand X, but made in the fabric you wanted and perfectly fitted. I hesitate to use the word replica in the previous sentence, as this is really the modus operandi of the large high street brands. Within a couple of weeks of something cool being seen, they have their own version out. So yes, you can buy the original, or the cheaper copy. Or you have something like the M65 jacket that is an old design replicated by a huge number of brands, most are essentially the same, but some brands will be considered better on the basis of them being the “better” brand.
Are we so easily manipulated that we will fall for branding and the hype every time? Oh yes, no doubt about it. Some brands have fans so loyal that almost anything can be made and no one will call them on it. Some of my favourite brands do a mix of immaculate conceptualisations and total clangers. And people will still buy it. Sometimes sense prevails though and the clangers fill the hangers come sales time.
It would be very interesting to conduct a blind test. Ideally timed around the new releases for a season, where a mix of top brand items are mixed with what we’d normally regard as total tat, possibly even from a couple of seasons back. Mix up the labels, give it all equal hype and run a poll on who likes what. I’m quite sure that with the right brand attached the old tat will do as well as the new tat.
Consider caring about the branding of something as simple as a t-shirt. There are any number of measurable physical properties to consider: Cut, construction, style, sewing, weight of fabric, source of fabric, ethics of the factory, payment to labourers, environmental status of production and so on. The list is long, but the actual name on the label has no physical value, only the psychological.
And we are suckers for it.
Are you immune to the power of branding?