Brands: A Cultural Perspective
Lecturer: Jacob Östberg
School of Business
Individual take-home exam
3 June 2009
The current paper discusses how and why a particular brand functions as a cultural resource and how companies benefit from this brand functioning as a cultural resource. The brand selected for the discussion is the Japanese fashion line Comme des Garçons. The paper is divided into two parts. The first part defines the concept of ‘cultural resource’ from the branding perspective and prepares ground for the argumentation by referring specifically to the readings from the course literature. The second part gives a short introduction of the brand Comme des Garçons and argues how and why it is a ‘cultural resource’ based on the course literature and the cultural landscape of the brand. A discussion on the benefits of the cultural branding of Comme des Garcons is included at the end of each subsection. Theoretical framework
Brand researchers have argued for some time that there is a close link between brands and culture. Schroeder and Salzer-Mörling (2006) maintain that brand has become increasingly important in the cultural setting and that contemporary brands are influenced by basic cultural processes such as ‘historical context, ethical concerns, and consumer response’ (p. 1). Schultz and Hatch (2006) state that corporate branding is the interconnection of image, vision as well as culture and identity. Balmer (2006) also claims that the fields of culture and branding ‘are inextricably linked’ because culture helps us to understand brands while through a powerful lens of brands we can comprehend cultures. Furthermore, Bengtsson and Östberg (2006) contend that a brand is a culturally constructed symbol, created by multiple ‘authors’ who fill it with symbolic content. Similarly, Uggla (2006) and Bergvall (2006) point out that brand creation is not an internal process, but rather an interaction with a network of multiple cultural levels. In his cultural branding model, Holt (2004) suggests that iconic brands functions like cultural activists, leading cultural changes and have ‘a cultural halo effect’, or a powerful myth that enhance the brand’s values (p. 10). The above brand researchers seem to suggest that brands and branding constantly appear in culture. As such, in looking at a brand as a cultural resource, it is required to look at the cultural landscape of that brand or how the brand engages culture and how culture envelops the brand. As suggested by Schroeder and Salzer-Mörling (2006) in Brand Culture, this cultural resource/landscape of a brand includes brand identity, brand communities, contradictions and paradoxes of brands, branding ethics, multilevel brand interaction, brand meaning, marketing communications, etc. The following paragraphs will look at some of these aspects of brand landscape which deem suitable for the discussion of the chosen brand – Comme des Garçons.
Kapferer characterizes brand identity as the brand’s ‘innermost substance’. There are several approaches to brand identity. A functionalistic perspective on identity suggests that the brand strategist should define brand identity and communicate this to consumers in order to evoke a brand image that is consistent with the brand’s identity. A number of scholars, however, criticize this conventional view on brand identity arguing that it fails to take into account consumers’ active negotiation of brand meaning. These researchers assert that the process of defining brand identity is not the task of the brand strategist, rather is co-produced with consumers and other stakeholders. Csaba and Bengtsson (2006) believe that brand identity must be understood in the broader context of social and cultural identity. Similarly, Castells characterizes identity as the process of construction of meaning based on a set of cultural attributes,...