A brand is a differentiator, a promise, a license to charge a premium. A brand is a mental shortcut that discourages rational thought, an infusing with the spirit of the maker, a naming that invites this essence to inhabit this body. A brand is a performance, a gathering, an inspiration. A brand is a semiotic enterprise of the firm, the companion spirit of the firm, a hologram of the firm. A brand is a contract, a relationship, a guarantee; an elastic covenant with loose rules of engagement; a non-zero-sum game; improvisational theater at best, guerrilla theater at worst. As perceived vessels of exploitation, brands provide the impetus for generics and voluntary simplicity, as well as targets for demonstrations of cultural nationalism. McDonaldization, Coco-Colonization, and Disneyfication are simultaneously courted and countered, imported and deported. The swooshstika becomes a badge of infamy, Ronald McDonald is toppled and graffitoed, and iPod adverts are morphed with images from the infamous Abu Ghraib prison to protest the war in i-Raq. The brand demands an antiphonal, overlapping call-and-response patterned singing among communicants. It requires collusion, collaboration, and the willing suspension of disbelief.
Imagine the brand as a Thai spirit house. A ubiquitous structure in residential and commercial neighborhoods, often mistaken by tourists as a bird house, this tiny building resembles a temple, and acts as a dwelling for spirits of the land and household, who are plied with offertory gifts by petitioners in search of favors or assuring pledges. The spirit house is often piled high with gifts of flowers, food and currency, left by suppliants in hope of intercession by the residents. As will be evident in the following pages, I view branding as the creation of household gods, the mythic charter of our consumer culture. The brand is also a habitat in which consumers can be induced to dwell. In that dwelling, consumers domesticate the space, transforming it, and themselves, to essence. The resulting glow emanating from the dwelling is the brand's aura.
-- John F. Sherry, Jr., in Kellogg on Branding
I think this is great stuff, whatever it means. But if you're a product person and you find yourself in a marketing meeting, and some marketing dude starts throwing around the B-word, and it seems like a pretty wicked tool for them to wield since it basically can mean anything they want it to -- well, you'll know why.