. synthetic soul
Our faith in a higher power has been replaced be every day low prices

by Ryan Bigge

We are post-modern. Post-punk. Post-Christian. Post historical. Our collective psyche is a panache of multiple personalities, and trying to find common rituals, common customs or common ground is no longer undertaken by those with common sense.

In this constant fluxing and waning, brands exhibit unwavering consistency. As traditional institutions erode, individuals search for a glue that can hold society together and find themselves choosing the most familiar and durable icons of Western civilization -- Coke, Levis and McDonald's.

When we abandon traditional forms of spirituality and their corresponding institutions, someone or something has to provide us with meaning. To wit: self-help books, The Celestine Prophesy, angels and brands. This search for spiritual meaning is in part, a search for something or someone to trust in. A belief system that comforts and explains. But what does it mean when our new philosophical anchors are brands? When commercial icons have social significance and the ability to generate powerful emotions in people? What happens when we find ourselves searching for authenticity and truth on the supermarket shelves?

Many companies invigorated or rejuvenated by the branding vogue let increased profits do the talking. Brands appear to be the only way of distinguishing oneself in the sardine-packed world of products. Injecting culture, emotion and personality into their product's aura through brands is a small price to pay

The battle of ideas is the future of branding. Myra Stark, writing in the March 8 issue of Advertising Age notes, "We ask wher brands fit rationally and emotionally into comsumer's life. Should we be asking about the soul of the brand as well?"

This prompts some fundamentally crucial questions. Can a brand have a soul? Should it

Such suggestions are unsettling, because if such an evolution recasts brands as comsumer televangelists, their success will be guaranteed. The appeals for donations known as advertising have always been more subtle, more entertaining and far more personally rewarding than the sort that Jerry Falwell peddles.

The Church of Consumption is doing brisk business. The average Starbucks customer visits 18 times a month. The Double Arches eargerly awaits its 100 billionth customer. Smiles free. No uncomfortable confessionals required.

Companies on the cutting edge of these brand belief systems continue with innovations to keep their flock satisfied. Starbucks recently created a new catagory of corporate priest: vice-president of brand development. And a March 2 Advertising Age article discusses Reebok slating $50 million of its advertising budget solely for brand development.

Will this halo around brands continue to burn brightly or fade quickly?

History would suggest that consumer ecclesiastics should brace themselves for the end of the world as they envision it. Brands as indulgences are a slippery slope towards comsumer reformation, as people come to realize that coins in the coffers or corporations will not spring their souls from purgatory, but instead lead to a plastic heaven.