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Design Democracy: What does liberal democracy have to do with brands?

Just a quick thought this morning.

Liberal democracy is designed to create the good we call freedom. It attempts to balance two things to achieve this end: respect for and tolerance of diversity AND a common and ultimate source of authority. One of the especially neat and elegant design tricks of liberal democracy is the concentration of power in a single authority, while still making the authority of that power the product of a collective and conditional will (consent of the governed).

OK, cool, so good for democracy. What’s this got to do with brands? Well, I’d argue that brands need to work out a similar problem. I’ll call this, “the problem of having to be singular and plural at the same time”: the need for an identity that can accommodate and satisfy many different tastes, preferences and needs. Why do brands have to work this out? The answer is that some don’t, and many don’t want to or try. These brands win in their marketplace by dominating. Domination doesn’t require respect for, tolerance of or accommodation, just superior firepower.

Too many brands and branding efforts are a hedge against inferior products and services, which substitute an experience of quality, luxury, competence for the thing itself. And when those tactics are paired with the domination (superior firepower) market strategy, then brands behave badly.
If the good that democracy is designed to create is called freedom, what is the good that brands should be designed to create?

One Comment

  1. Jake Jakob wrote:

    Brands are inherently selfish. They seek no higher purpose than to dominate. Their’s is a will to power but the true power of the brand lies in how it is employed and how it is interpreted by the consumer/citizen/client. Liberal Democracy is a much wider bracket within which brands exist and freedom is achieved. The value of a brand is judged by the effectiveness of their domination not their service to the wider bracket.

    Large powers, be they brands, people, or governments sadly will continue to offer the least they can if they can get away with it (see Harold Ballard’s Maple Leafs). It’s as much about the citizenry as it is about the brand and brand-makers. Which kinds of success are we collectively rewarding? Efficient domination or the advancement and maintenance of the framework of Liberal Democracy?

    If our highest priority is to maintain such a framework so that we can arrive at freedom then Brands should also be designed ultimately to create freedom.

    Friday, March 30, 2007 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

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