I think corporate branding has made us all a little lazy in how we get to know and evaluate the world and the people in it. Rather than creating our own aesthetic style in how we dress and decorate our homes, we simply shop at the Gap or Pottery Barn. And rather than taking the time to explore the character and history of our neighbors, we identify them as the man with the blue Suburban, or the family with the matching Trek bicycles.As a fellow NPR listener, I resonate with Charity's comment. Branding in some ways is inescapable. But we can certainly do our best to minimize the power branding has over us, especially in terms of how it shapes our identity and sense of self-worth and status. In many ways, our consumption shapes our identity. (One of the easiest ways to decode someone's self-perception and identity is to look at the magazines on their coffee table. They usually point to identities that we desire or communities that we aspire to be part of.) The challenge is for our Christian identity to shape our consumer identities, not the other way around.
I consider myself fairly unbranded; I buy a lot of products in bulk from a locally owned grocery store, or from farmers whose agri-businesses don't even have names. But I still identify myself with brand names when I tell people I listen to National Public Radio and shop at Trader Joe's. I don't tell them this so they can know my listening or shopping habits. I tell them this so they'll know what "type" of person I am.
To be honest, this is the one chapter of the book I wasn't sure about including. I had plenty of stuff to say about consumer culture and it didn't seem to all fit in chapter 4, so some of it morphed into chapter 5. And my company happened to be in the midst of a rebranding process, so I had been reading up on the topic of brand identities and was thinking about a lot of these things. (Even as I resist branding in some areas of my life, I've been a diehard InterVarsity Press brand loyalist for years, buying books simply because they said IVP on the spine.) At any rate, the content is there for whatever it's worth, and I hope folks find it helpful. I'll leave you with a few questions for self-reflection or discussion:
- What sense of self-identity or community is shaping how you consume?
- How are your consumer choices shaping your identity?
- What magazines are on your coffee table, and what purchases have you made because of them?
- What brand stories or images have you bought into?
- Has a particular Christian conviction led you to change any of your patterns of consumption?
- Has your church or Christian community helped you be more accountable in your consumer choices?
- How might your church wield its collective consuming power more Christianly?
P.S. Charity also posted a follow-up to her comments on chapter 3 about commuter culture, with great observations about her experiences using the bus.