I wanted this story to begin in Tokyo, for it to be about how I, Jakob Lusensky, the hidden persuader, high on success on the forty-eighth floor of a Tokyo skyscraper, suddenly have a revelation. The earth starts rumbling and the building shakes. My heart is racing as I am thrown from the glass window.
Dressed in a white shirt and black tie, I fall in slow motion, cool beats accompanying my descent to the ground. I wanted this dramatic narrative, told with strong emotion, to illustrate the fall of the modern-day madman. It was to be a personal confession, rich in metaphor in order to stir mystery around my person and hopefully kidnap your imagination. I wanted to be your hero. I wanted you to love me, and the technique I wanted to use is the same technique used by brands on the market- place. I was still thinking and acting like a brand myself.
Back then, in the midst of a rising Arab Spring, as Steve Jobs put away his sneakers for good and Starbucks Coffee decided to drop the company name in its logotype, my fantasies were caught up in the same narrative structures as were the brands I'd set out to criticize. I had merely shifted sides in the same story. The marketer, helping global companies brand their products successfully, had turned to his shadow side, the anti-heroic rebel at- tacking the very companies that had fed him. I was still animated by that same heroic myth, still under the spell of the brands feeding my rebellious attitude—still trying to occupy a position in the marketplace, that is, inside your mind.
Today things are somewhat different. I have settled into a more paradoxical relationship to brands. The love-hate relationship has cooled off and I can appreciate how the pseudo-symbols of the marketplace have helped me become more aware of my desires and needs. I have come to see the most popular brands in our culture today as mirrors of our zeitgeist. They embody the spirit of our time, the ideas, ideals, and values to which we collectively aspire. If we analyze the underlying fantasies in the stories brands tell us, and reflect critically on their related images, we can observe how our individual—and our culture’s—innermost yearnings unfold.
In Brandpsycho - The hidden psychology of brands I tell four different stories rooted in a process I have named “de:branding.” It is a pro- cess engaged in better understanding what we project culturally and individually onto brands— such as the world’s most admired consumer icon, Apple Inc. In the Apple brand, we notice at play contemporary culture’s search for magic and transcendence through technology. We observe Steve Jobs turned magician and tech-messiah in a culture obsessed with visual communication. We see how our deepest needs for self-realization are projected onto our latest gadgets, that our favorite tech toys keep us preoccupied in a bid to help us escape the mundane reality of our lives as mortals. We are asked to hold life to its surfaces—to keep surfing—as we continue to mirror ourselves in their enchanted screens.
The owls are not what they seem to be
No, there was never any revelation in Tokyo, and I was not dressed like Don Draper in the TV series Mad Men. In reality there were fewer contrasts; there was more mystery. It was more an episode of Twin Peaks than Mad Men: a slow, dreamlike, sur- real unfolding of the person behind the mask that I had taken for being myself. It was a curious dance that shifted my attention from waking life realities to my own dreams, where “the owls are not what they seem to be.” A sense of selfhood was awakened in my separation from marketplace fantasies and return to my own imagination.
No, I never fell through the window, but rather followed the green fire-exit sign and started walking the long way down the spiral stairway, forty-eight floors. Round and round and round, slowly I began to spin out of the web I had woven around myself, to emerge from my “branded self,” and with it, a life lived transiently, always on the move, too high up, transcending country lines. I was inflated by lofty ideas and aspirations while feeling sickened by the possibilities offered me. I did not wake up until I met the gods out on the street.
Gods have become diseases, have become brands
One of the founding fathers of depth psychology, Carl Gustav Jung, once wrote that “[t]he gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room.” By this he meant that our individual anxieties, panic attacks, mood swings, compulsions, and somatic symptoms are not simply psychological problems in need of diagnosis. They can and should be seen as a call from powers beyond our conscious control inviting us to change.
In this (for some) esoteric promise, we encounter an idea Jung held in common with Sigmund Freud, which is that we individuals are not entirely the masters of our own houses. The poet W.H. Auden wrote, “We are lived by powers we pretend to understand.” Or in other words, human motivation is always unconscious. Seen in this way, it is not by escaping, trying to rid our- selves of, or fixing psychological symptoms that we develop and change. The possibility of transformation presents itself when we go where it hurts, by facing our depression and anxiety, our mortality. By penetrating more deeply into our symptoms and carefully listening to their messages, we can open ourselves to the evolution of a new life path.
Today these gods, as well as their diseases, are alive and kicking not only inside of us but also on the marketplace. Our most beloved brands are psychic forces sometimes as powerful and real as the gods we once believed in. Our relationship to their ideals and images shapes our individual psy- ches as well as some of the cultural pathologies of our time. Brands today go well beyond their logo- types and have, in our postmodern era, transformed into psychic entities and powerful pseudo-symbols. Teeming with contradictions, they seem to carry the potential to make us as sick as they promise to make us happy.
Apple. Starbucks. Nike. Understood psychologically, de:branded, brands that once represented powerful addictions can be transmuted into Trojan horses that help us break into our individual and cultural needs and desires. With a better under- standing of our relationship to these brands and the stories they tell us, we can, paradoxically, open ourselves up to a new story for our own lives. But first let us learn how to de:brand.
To continue reading the introduction of Brandpsycho for free, click here.