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The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture

Sarah Banet-Weiser

Publication Year: 2012

Brands are everywhere. Branding is central to political campaigns and political protest movements; the alchemy of social media and self-branding creates overnight celebrities; the self-proclaimed “greening” of institutions and merchant goods is nearly universal. But while the practice of branding is typically understood as a tool of marketing, a method of attaching social meaning to a commodity as a way to make it more personally resonant with consumers, Sarah Banet-Weiser argues that in the contemporary era, brands are about culture as much as they are about economics. That, in fact, we live in a brand culture.
Authentic™ maintains that branding has extended beyond a business model to become both reliant on, and reflective of, our most basic social and cultural relations. Further, these types of brand relationships have become cultural contexts for everyday living, individual identity, and personal relationships—what Banet-Weiser refers to as “brand cultures.” Distinct brand cultures, that at times overlap and compete with each other, are taken up in each chapter: the normalization of a feminized “self-brand” in social media, the brand culture of street art in urban spaces, religious brand cultures such as “New Age Spirituality” and “Prosperity Christianity,”and the culture of green branding and “shopping for change.”
In a culture where graffiti artists loan their visions to both subway walls and department stores, buying a cup of “fair-trade” coffee is a political statement, and religion is mass-marketed on t-shirts, Banet-Weiser questions the distinction between what we understand as the “authentic” and branding practices. But brand cultures are also contradictory and potentially rife with unexpected possibilities, leading Authentic™ to articulate a politics of ambivalence, creating a lens through which we can see potential political possibilities within the new consumerism.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. ix-xiii

When you decide to write a book about contemporary branding, it inevitably ends up being a collaborative effort. As I argue throughout this book, everyone has some relationship with branding, and almost everyone has something to say about this relationship. I am grateful for the opportunity here to offer my thanks and appreciation to the many...

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Introduction: Branding the Authentic

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pp. 1-14

Welcome to the future of Los Angeles. It is a city made up entirely of brands, logos, and trademarked characters. Every visual landmark in the city has been stamped with a brand. Every resident is a branded or licensed character: Ronald MacDonald wreaks havoc on the city, the cops are the rounded, treaded lumps of the Michelin tire logo, crowds of...

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1. Branding Consumer Citizens: Gender and the Emergence of Brand Culture

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pp. 15-49

In October 2006, the promotion company Ogilvy & Mather created “Evolution,” the first in a series of viral videos for Dove soap. The ninety-five-second video advertisement depicts an ordinary woman going through elaborate technological processes to become a beautiful model: through time-lapse photography, we watch the woman...

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2. Branding the Postfeminist Self: The Labor of Femininity

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pp. 51-89

More than a decade ago, on April 14, 1996, a young college student named Jennifer Ringley began uploading a constant stream of pictures of herself on the Web. Filmed from her dorm room, a new photograph was taken every three minutes and automatically posted to a website. The result was a catalog of a young woman’s life, detailing her...

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3. Branding Creativity: Creative Cities, Street Art, and “Making Your Name Sing”

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pp. 91-124

In the spring of 2010, a film about street art debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was eagerly anticipated, as it starred and was directed by perhaps the most infamous street artist of the decade, Banksy. Exit through the Gift Shop, purportedly a documentary, tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman living in Los Angeles in 1999, who...

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4. Branding Politics: Shopping for Change?

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pp. 125-164

In the fall of 2010, the nonprofit company Free2Work.org launched a new iPhone application. The phone app, Free2Work, grades companies based on their commitment to offering a living wage for workers and a democratic work environment. The press release for the new app reads...

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5. Branding Religion: “I’m Like Totally Saved”

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pp. 165-210

The Church of Latter-Day Saints launched a new ad campaign in August 2010. The ads, which were aired in nine cities around the US, featured young, energetic people surfing, skateboarding, and engaging in everyday—yet hip and cool—activities. In one ad, a young white woman spends almost the entire minute and a half of the video...

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Conclusion: The Politics of Ambivalence

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pp. 211-221

One of the reasons I became so interested in brand culture is because of a personal investment. A few years ago, my then eight-year-old daughter and her friend posted a silly video of themselves on YouTube. My initial shock and dismay at having an image of my daughter displayed on a global video site soon transmuted into another sort of...


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pp. 223-258


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pp. 259-265

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About the Author

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pp. 266

Sarah Banet-Weiser is Professor in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She is the author of The Most Beautiful Girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity (1999) and...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814739372
E-ISBN-10: 0814787134
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814787137

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2012