Brands, Halos, and Life

It takes a while, maybe even a few years, but eventually—after the destruction of the second death star, after the death of the Emperor and after Nien Nunb and Lando are cackling—you start wondering about who you were rooting for. These insurgents not only bucked under the authority of Government but they joined hands with criminals as they slaughter thousands of innocent lives.  It didn’t matter though since we knew these were The Good Guys. They were the Rebel Alliance, and with their brand firmly in place (and the standard production that goes into setting up the protagonist of any given movie) the audience happily stands and applauds. But I remember also applauding at the end of the Phantom Menace…

What about when the applause happens with beliefs, choice of presidential candidates, camp of theology, and even matters of Biblical exegesis? You are a Bathinian and you read a book by a pro-Bathinian party who proceeds to bash the Bathinian enemy (The Dhanists). You finish the book and put it down claiming “This is an excellent book!”  Conversely, you read a Dhanist book and it is horrid. The Dhanist just doesn’t get it. Totally misrepresents the Bathinian position. Worst. Reading. Ever.

But on what grounds did you decide that one book was “excellent” and the other was “awful”? It’s almost as if the position has transcended the realm of proper argumentation or systemization by entering into my neck of the woods: branding, advertising and presentation.

A brand designer, when working, will be employing their craft on three different types of products: (1) A product that sucks and the brand designer knows it; (2) a product that might not suck but the brand designer won’t use it; (3) A product that’s actually pretty good and the brand designer would use it. In each case the designer transcends his or her perception of the product and tries to portray the product in a better-than-best light. It’s not so much that the designer is avoiding putting the product’s best foot forward; it’s that they know that there is more into buying stuff than its function—the designer tries to generate The Halo Effect.

The Halo Effect comes from psychology but it finds application in marketing by the brand designer. It’s basically when a person identifies a certain trait in another as an attractive trait which undergirds their decision of liking (or disliking) someone, or something, else. In brand design we try to turn the eyes of the potential buyer to a specific trait in the product which transcends the product and may even speak about the end user. The Halo Effect of any given brand does not live by design principles alone; but also by every word that proceeds from the writer’s pen.  So the team of brand creators want the buyer to not only want to use a product (it’s function) they want the end user to fall in love with the product.

Let’s switch to positions for a second. If you have the right “brand”, what the position actually says, or how it is presented, matters less than what the position actually is: since you agree with the conclusion any counterargument is ridiculous and all pro-arguments are genius. After buying into brand we don’t come at the price points (or the positional points) with much objectivity at all; it becomes a matter of pro-brand versus no-brand..

Depending on which side of the fence you’re on, you might see this on MSNBC, Fox News, or Rush Limbaugh’s emails. You might even notice it on your Facebook status feeds when someone mentions Palin or Obama. In each case, you’ll notice it more when it’s a brand you thing is no-brand: you turn to the station and say “Ugh! They’re so biased!”

Now hop on over to and look (try hard now) for any product that doesn’t have a cult following (like anything not dependant on the brand name) and you might get some honest reviews talking about the pros and cons of the product. Maybe even a couple of personal stories about how the product saved them. But the second you click on an item (say by Apple or Microsoft) you get a lot of Brand-Indcuced-comments that don’t really tell you if the product is actually good. Worse when you look at a book under any theological “brand” and you’ll find that the reviews that really hate the book are ones who (unsurprisingly) don’t agree with the doctrinal position and the ones who love it do agree with it. Some people have even (sneakily) hid behind pointing out brand devotion when another party doesn’t agree with them saying things like “Well, I expect X-person not to believe it since they’re X-Brand and not Y-Brand.” Ignoring for a second the inherent genetic fallacy, they have identified the opponents brand and not their own!

Now, yeah, I know it stinks for a designer (me) to be giving up the tricks of his trade but people should really know better than to buy solely into brand. Everyone does it but they don’t stop and examine if what they bought into is really “excellent” or if they just agree with it because they’re already under the swoon of the Halo Effect. Heck, I’ve noticed visual brand designers fall into the cool light of the Halo Effect when they sit back in their seats and proudly show off their sub-par equipment that was targeted toward a design community demographic!

So back off from brands a bit; treat things more like math where you have to check if the numbers really plug into place and give you the right answer. Try it. Go ahead, peek under the hood of that car. Check if those sneakers really work. Look up the specs of that computer. Examine the politician’s finely crafted words. Read what that piece of legislature actually says. Tear into your broadcaster. Look up those verses that such-and-such is quoting from your side of the theological fence.  Applaud at the end of that movie; but maybe not at the end of that other one just ’cause there’s lightsabers.

Brands are out there and they’re affecting all of us more than we think.


One response to “Brands, Halos, and Life”

  1. I never noticed that about Amazon reviews, but you’re absolutely right. I’ve maintained that reviews don’t really tell us as much about the thing being reviewed as they do about the reviewer himself/herself. But brand loyalty reviews don’t even tell us that.

    Merry Christmas, by the way, to you and the wife and the little ‘uns.