We are surrounded by so many brand names and logos each day, but to what extent do the slogans’ messages grab our attention? What are they saying? How are they saying it? Why are they saying it that way?

Are we submissive when it comes to our favorite brands because they are telling us to buy or because they are selling a lifestyle? What do people want?

I would like to compare our relationship with brands to the Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures. You may remember having studied about this experiment back in psychology class, but let me give you a quick reminder. Yale Psychologist, Stanley Milgram, measured the willingness of a group of participants when it came to obeying orders of an authority figure. The participants, given the role of teachers, were instructed to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience in order to measure how far they would go. Given a set of word pairs to teach, the teacher then had to test/punish learners with electric shocks when they gave incorrect answers; the strength of the shocks growing after each error. It is important to note that we are not talking about an authority figure as a policeman, but in this case an experimenter with knowledge in his field who stood by and kept telling the teacher to keep on going, there will be no problem. Of course, all learners were actors, who were not actually getting any electric shocks, only faking the pain. In Milgram’s first set of experiments, 65 percent (26 of 40) of experiment participants performed the experiment’s final massive 450-volt shock. This rate was much higher than they had predicted hypothetically.

One of the main theories behind the analysis was conformity. How far are we willing to go to please and obey what we are told to do in order to fit in? Why did these people react in such manner when they supposedly knew that their actions were going against their moral values? Yale Finance Professor Robert Shiller argued another theme that arose during the experiments: the fact that we have learned that when experts tell us something is all right, it probably is, even if it doesn’t seem to be. This could suggest that we buy things because others are buying it as well, us wanting to be like them and that companies are telling us they are the best at what they do therefore we must put our trust in their hands. This is only hypothetical as well, as most companies will obviously claim they are the best in their field. Then come the slogans to differentiate them with a few words:

Let us rewind to the 60s. What were some of slogan trends?

Buy nothing until you buy Vogue. (Vogue)

Come to where the flavour is. Come to Marlboro Country. (Marlboro)

Did you Maclean your teeth today? (Macleans)

Give her a Hoover and you give her the best. (Hoover)

Help him to get out and about again with Lucozade. (Lucozade)

Some cars fake it. These make it. (Chevrolet)

The slogans back in the 60s were more targeted towards the product and a specific action: buying. They are very straightforward and we are given specific orders. If the fashion expert, Vogue, is telling me I must not buy anything until I buy Vogue, what will I do? With a different set of values, back then I may have been attracted to such a slogan however now we act differently. If I would see a slogan as such I would question why the slogan is so forceful, I am a free person and with all the other magazines out there the choice is mine. Do I want to be a hipster or a prepster? I can choose my own lifestyle and no one can tell me what to do or what to buy. However, we must admit that these types of slogans worked back then. They have become global brands and they got their ‘message’ across, people bought and buy their products. But, was it out of people’s free will or were they ‘kindly’ led to doing so?

What about the brands of today?

There have been many replications of the Milgram experiment after the 60s. Some suggest that people are less inclined to act as they are told, yet some still have shocking results. It’s very hard to identify which ones of these are valid, as the ethical regulations in informing participants have changed so much since back then and more people are aware of the existence of this study, thus difficult to rule out the unwanted participants. The slogans of today speak for themselves though and show a clear shift in trends:

I am what I am. (Reebok)

Between love and madness lies obsession. (Calvin Klein)

Pleasure is the path to joy. (Haagen-Dazs)

Eat fresh. (Subway)

Power, beauty and soul. (Aston Martin)

What are you made of? (Tag Heuer)

See the change in trends when it comes to slogans? You could take one and apply it to any other brand in the same sector. How can they differentiate themselves? The slogans have become much shorter: we have less time to read and need more information quickly. A short phrase that must attract our attention; a short phrase that embodies us as a person.

In our era, amongst the vast choice of products and brands it’s really difficult to choose something solely because we are told to do so. People are switching brands at a higher rate; can merely telling them to buy your product work? We are looking to express ourselves and don’t want to be restricted to one specific brand name that defines our personality. You will obviously have your favorite brands, however you are buying a specific lifestyle rather than just a product. If you buy an Aston Martin you believe in power, beauty and soul. This not only reflects the car, but you as an individual. You have the power to make your own choices, the capability to acknowledge real beauty and the soul of the things and people that surround you. What if we invented a 60s style slogan for Aston Martin: “Beauty lies within an Aston Martin”. What are we focusing on here? The car itself and its sleekness; you must buy it in order to experience this beauty. You are still buying the ‘best’, however you are not expressing yourself with the same opportunities.

Are they really selling a lifestyle though? There are so many elements of conformity that we must analyse. With such a vast offer of goods, it’s even harder to conform and find the right products and services that will reflect your idealistic lifestyle.

Have a think about it… how much are you really obeying your brands? Why do you buy a certain brand? There may be moral and ethical issues that these brands may be inhibiting, yet we still purchase them. Are they trying to disguise something with these newer types of slogans? Are they disguising their power that was becoming way too dominant?

It may be harsh to compare a brand to an authority figure, however their actions form a clear link in their orders given to us and us being the followers; learners.

In each answer, there still lies the theme conformity and giving in to doing what we are told to do. In a more subtle manner. Yet slogans are shorter and shorter, will they disappear completely or is there a chance of reviving the 60s slogan trends? Perhaps it’s easier for some to be told what to do; perhaps some of us want to be told what to do.

Of course, one can argue this, and please do so…

Is the brand us or are we the brand?