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Jennifer Marks

Perfectly Happy With Brand-itis

A year ago, in the depth of the industry's despair, I had a conversation with the head of a longtime brand marketing company. With consumers unwilling to buy anything but food and antacids, I wondered, what was the state of the branding business?

Quite busy, he said. The idea was to put as many branding deals in place as possible during the year so everybody would be ready to fire in 2010, when the economy would presumably start looking better.

Boy, howdy, was he on the mark. At this week's New York Home Fashions Market the industry is offering up brand introductions by the busload.

Brand-itis has exploded across American businesses of all stripes over the past several years. The company name is the brand. The retailer is the brand. The experience is the brand. Even HTT's parent company refers to its publications not as newspapers or magazines but as brands.

There's some validity to the approach. Brands have reputations, evoke prior experience, represent a known quality, offer continuity and reliability.

We don't tend to create brands any more; we just swap them around. What was the last high-impact brand introduction in America? I'm coming up with iPhone, Twitter and Facebook but not much else.

Look, I don't want to wring my hands in lament here. We have to deal with the world as it is. Few people create new brands because the process is expensive and risky. People buy and sell brands because it's profitable to do so. If there are no longer enough consumers in the market willing to buy a marquee brand at its marquee construction and price, it's perfectly understandable that the brand would rescale itself to suit a broader group of customers.

After all, we, the American consumers, voted for this. We voted to skip the local hardware store in favor of the new Home Depot on the edge of town. We drove past the independent book shop on our way to Barnes & Noble. We were heartbroken when the third-generation pizza parlor closed its doors, then we picked up the phone and called Dominos — again.

We live in the world we made. And many, many consumers are perfectly happy with it.

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