Stanley Bing

Of human brandage

The patient had a case of Acute Systemic Brand Amnesia, meaning that in some contemporary sense he did not exist, writes Fortune's Stanley Bing.

By Stanley Bing

(Fortune Magazine) -- Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to this formal presentation outlining a most interesting case that came to our attention recently.

Physicians attending the patient in question included myself and Drs. Forbisher and Schlemazl. We believe, after a review of the literature, that this may be the first case of Acute Systemic Brand Amnesia.

The patient appeared at midnight in the ER of our facility. He presented as a middle-aged male of average height and weight, complaining of disorientation and memory loss.

"I've lost my brand identity," he said, staring about him. "I have no idea what products and services I identify with as a consumer and have therefore no access to my perceived self."

He was dressed in a gray business suit, white shirt, and blue tie, none of which bore labels. His watch was a knockoff. His cellphone was of the disposable type. He was, in short, devoid of signage to help establish his social standing, personal preferences, or demographic group. He was human, but in a contemporary sense he did not exist.

We began treatment the next morning with the introduction of toothpaste. "They all look the same to me," the patient said, regarding the selection of dentifrices we had assembled.

"Yes," Dr. Forbisher told him. "But this one is for people who care about the health of their gums, and this one has mouthwash built right into it for those who place a greater emphasis on sociosexual transactions." After some thought, the patient selected the most ubiquitous and venerable brand.

We moved on to breakfast cereal. "This one is for people who are worried about the health of their colons," said Dr. Schlemazl. "This one is for people who want to perceive themselves as champions. And this is for those who want to lose weight and stay fit."

"I like the one with the tiger on it," said the patient, smiling slightly. "They're ... grrreat," he added, as if in a dream.

As the days progressed, we kept the subject in a controlled environment, introducing choices to him. His personality began to re-form, reassembling with the help of the brands that had defined it.

Given a choice of footwear, he passed up the $650 Italian loafers and went for the comfortable wingtips from a mail-order company in Maine. Selecting undergarments, he grew confused by the range of options, broke down in tears, and then requested an assortment of apples, grapes, and cherries. It took us a minute to get it, and then we brought him underpants.

One evening at dinnertime he ceased eating his steak and inquired whether it had been "grass-fed." No one here understood the distinction, since this facility is not located in Northern California.

The next day he asked us whether the chicken salad in his sandwich had been "humanely harvested." When he tore off a Brooks Brothers tie he had picked out himself only a day before, declaring it was "so last century," it was clear that his persona was truly reasserting itself.

We began to suspect that brand overload had led to brand rejection, which had created the condition of Systemic Brand Amnesia.

Twenty-three days into his treatment, we decided that he was ready for the quintessential branding experience. We led him blindfolded to the parking lot and presented him with a choice of five new automobiles. All were lovely and looked essentially the same, since all cars except SUVs now appear to be lozenges.

When the blindfold was removed, the effect was instantaneous and powerful. "That one!" he yelled, running over to the only hybrid in the group. "It gets ... excellent gas mileage ... with extremely low emissions ... and ... and ..."

At this point he fell to his knees and looked up at the sky with arms outstretched. "I'm Green!" he almost sang the words. We were all choked up, particularly Dr. Schlemazl, who trained at Berkeley. "That's my brand!" the subject yelled, jumping to his feet. "It drives everything I do! What I eat! What I wear! What am I doing just standing here? I have to do something about global warming!" He climbed into the hybrid and headed west.

Our conclusion is twofold. First, elimination of brand identification is dangerous to the contemporary self. Second, there appears to be taking place a new form of meta-branding, the embracing of a global stance that replaces loyalty to specific products. We believe the implications for our economy and society are vast and warrant further study.

Stanley Bing's latest book, Crazy Bosses (Collins), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at and on his website,  To top of page

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