Branding may have finally reached its Mannerist phase. Where the old-fashioned brand earnestly embraced a core message that verged on religious doctrine (Apple’s “Think Different,” Nike’s “Just Do It”), the new brand is aggressively self-aware, exaggerated and self-referential to the point of collapsing in on itself; rather than imbuing the product with magical qualities, it embraces and undercuts those qualities in one swift gesture. The effect is to subvert consumer prejudices and preconceptions and make us forget that we’re caught in a commerce-focused undertow.
It’s a counterintuitive sleight of hand: By acknowledging that their central message is unbelievable or at least exaggerated, the branding masterminds gain our trust and bolster our faith in the brand. Will Ferrell, for example, promoted “Anchorman II” and Dodge at the same time by appearing on talk shows as Ron Burgundy and declaring that Dodge’s cars were “terrible.” Dodge sales spiked. (Ferrell also voices President Business.) In New Zealand, Burger King ran YouTube ads of two guys eating Burger King while complaining about YouTube ads. Nearly every Super Bowl ad this year referred to the fact that it was a Super Bowl ad. The brand — and the TV ad, the movie and the fictional spokesman — is hyperaware of its own fictionality and thus earns the right to simultaneously denigrate and elevate itself as divine.
Heather Havrilesky, “All Hail Lord Business!”, The New York Times Magazine (2 March 2014), 46.