Thursday, November 29, 2018

Brand and Social Identity

It is suggested that the desire for a brand is a desire for identity – that a person (usually) chooses to consume a product to satisfy a functional need, but selects a brand based on a need to achieve or maintain a given social identity.   Internally, they wish to be the kind of person who uses that brand; externally, they wish to associate with the kind of people who use that brand – to maintain social affiliation with a group.

This is arguable, and it’s certainly not the sole reason for brand selection – but the point of the present meditation is not to argue that point, but to consider the importance of social acceptance.   Man is a creature that is capable of autonomy, but who often chooses a social existence – and this is not often explored.   It is taken for granted that a person wishes to belong to a group, but why is this so?

In all, it seems that very little attention has been given to the psychology of isolation, but it has been observed that prisoners who are kept in solitary become psychologically dysfunctional.   It is speculated that social interaction is “interesting” and a necessary part of our mental health – that people alone undergo completely different processes, and tend to focus on negative emotions and anxieties.

For a time, there was a fascination with sensory deprivation that lead to experiments in which subjects are deprived not only of social interaction, but all sensory stimuli – and it’s suggested that that they enter a kind of hallucinatory hypnotic state.  While prisoners in isolation are not completely deprived of sensory stimulation, their isolation causes their thoughts to turn inward and for their perspective to be dominated by “the hell hounds of the mind” and there is ample observational accounts of the severe mental changes that prisoners undergo.

In terms of manipulation, an isolated prisoner finds that the only social contact he has is with his captors, and he becomes dependent on them and willing to accept them as authority figures to whom the prisoner is inferior and upon whom he is dependent, and whom he must please in order to avoid further hardship or gain comfort.   Relegated to this position for an extended period of time, an individual is easily controlled and manipulated.

It’s suggested that the same effects can be seen to a lesser degree even for prisoners who live in the company of others, where discord is sown.  If the guards can cause prisoners to distrust one another prisoners will cut themselves off from one another out of suspicion and distrust, even without physically isolating them.  They then avoid forming social bonds with other prisoners and become connected to and dependent on the guards.  The same can be seen in civilians in society, which is the reason politicians are fond of divisive issues that fracture their people and prevent a sense of a united community – when everyone is an enemy, the politician is their only friend.

It’s also significant that this is a common tactic in interrogation – to break down a prisoner’s sense of belonging to his own army (or country) by suggesting that they are alone.   They do not have any friends among their fellow inmates, their commanders and even their country does not care about them, and the only people who will help them are the guards.   A person who feels deserted and alone, betrayed by his old friends, will embrace the offer of friendship from his captors and do what they ask of him.

In modern society is it observed that religious cults and extremist political groups often seek to recruit “misfits” because they are easily manipulated - being alone and feeling hated by others, their desperation to find a society that accepts and supports them makes them highly susceptible to recruitment and highly loyal once recruited.

While the studies focus on authority and domination in a controlled environment, the same can be observed in the wild.   When an advertiser seeks to establish an affiliation to the brand, his tactics are not much different to that of a prison guard or charismatic leader: to cause the individual to feel a sense of isolation and dissatisfaction with their social affiliation, to propose that allegiance to the brand is a means to re-establish social identity and connectedness, and to depend on their mindless acceptance of this proposition.

Perhaps this is a bit melodramatic or extreme, but I have the sense there is some truth to it.

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