brands: meaning in, meaning out

Following the inspiration of Noah Brier, a woman called Jane had a very good idea a couple of days ago.

She decided to map her day in terms of the brands she uses. She says that she is “surprised at how much this reveals about” her.

Some of the revelation is quite deliberate. Jane mischievously gives us quite a lot of information. Perhaps too much information. See the 10:18 PM entry below. Funny.

But, really, Jane works in advertising. Which is to say she works with brands. Which is to say she builds brands. Which is to say she has access to the research that tells us what people do with brands. Can she really be surprised? Can she really be in advertising?

Still, this iswitty and interesting, and, most of all, anthropologically revealing.

Noah’s brand tag exercise defines brands in terms of our adjectives. Jane’s project gives us a chance to see how we define ourselves in terms of brands.

This is both halves of advertising’s meaning making arc. Meaning goes into brands. Meaning comes out of brands into us.

It is all very fashionable to pretend this doesn’t happen. The likes of Naomi Klein, Benjamin Barber, and Juliet Schor have cowed us into repudiating this aspect of our culture. But there it is. Thanks to Jane, there it is plain as day.

I am adding Jane to my blog roll. We must hope that she surrenders her anonymity, and let us know who she is. This order of talent deserves build her own brand.


Anonymous. 2008. Fun with Brands : Jane’s Brand-timeline Portrait. Dear Jane Sample (what it’s really like in advertising). May 19, 2008. here.

Brier, Noah. The Brand Tags project. Try it here.

McCracken, Grant. 2005. Meaning Management: an anthropological approach to the creation of value. pp. 175-191, in Culture and Consumption II: marketings, meaning and brand management. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. here.


I have editing Jane’s timeline, removing the middle part of the day. Go to her website to see the whole thing.

9 thoughts on “brands: meaning in, meaning out

  1. Jane Sample

    I am not ready yet to let go of my “Jane Sample” identity. Rest assured I do work in advertising, and was not surprised that my whole day could be mapped out in brands. What surprised me is how much meaning each brand took on in the context of a day full of brands. it really told a story.

    and thank you for the insightful article.

  2. Mark Magnusson

    My first reaction I had was HEY COOL visual mashup, what an interesting visual excercise but for what purpose.

    My second thought is, how valuable is this really? The counter-point: is it really important or relevant? This is more like SUPER wishful thinking from Marketers. Isn’t this a perception from a by gone era. I don’t wake up in the morning and think CASIO, now I’m going to Crest my teeth, etc. Doesn’t this just play into company’s preconceived notion that they define People with their pristine brands. I don’t know “Jane” but is it saying that we are all Brand Slaves 😉

    It’s a totally funny brand-time mashup /gimmick and there may be value somewhere but it’s not quite evolved yet. What if it was a brand-geo-mashup or Brand-timeline/tag-cloud. What other layers of information does this “Brand Timeline-Portrait” need to be useful? It seems a bit inconclusive evidence of anything substanstial. Jane’s on to something but not sure what? Totally fascinating how people want to say: “Hi I’m Jane and this my Brand and these are my sub-bands that make-up my experience.

  3. smack

    With no blog of my own to post, and likely not much to offer by way of insight, I beseech you to comment on CNN’s beta t-shirt service (look for the t-shirt icon next to witty or confusing quotes on their website). At risk of bring attention to this idea and upsetting the experiment, please bring to bear some sane commentary on what this means.

    Yes, I realize my comment it NOT directly related to Jane’s idea, but wearing a quotation from CNN is a somewhat novel application of branding.

  4. Fabrizio

    The “branded day in life” is a very effective representation of the impact of brands in our daily activities (all of them). As an European (and Italian) reading this map I am impressed by the fact that there are almost no local brands in it..If my colleagues or myself do this map it will vary dramatically depending on the geography. On the other hand, the brands reported in the map are all market leaders, i.e. large market share, this means that they might be more present in our life than other minor brands but less relevant to us as symbols or icons.

  5. John

    Good point Fabrizo. It makes me think how brands in our daily life always carry a sense of symbolic capital to them. i.e. a local brand probably has less than say Apple (depending on the habitus of the individual or group). So when we start to map our daily brand use we unconciously attach outselves to the ones that carry capital.

    However, we can learn from more local brands.In London one finds with shopping, for example, that local independant food deli’s become strongly branded due to shopping habits driven by media etc, for example – If you want to eat organic food then shopping locally will provide you with a organic, rustic experience.

    Finally, not sure why Jane put a dope leaf as a brand – is it a brand? –

  6. Mark Nelson

    What strikes me about the timeline is how incomplete it feels. Certainly many of the branded products and services we consume in a typical day are not as self-referential as these are. Hey, where’s the Sam’s club toilet tissue? On the other hand, this may be the value of the exercise. She has constructed a list of brands from which she derives self-referential meaning, which is where brands need to be.

  7. Laurie

    I’m more than curious about Jane’s work day: does she ever stop for coffee, buy gas for her car, pick up groceries on the way home (and if so, where and what?).

    The other thing I found quite revealing is Jane does not seem particularly loyal. Look at her hodgepodge beauty routine.

    These questions have me wondering more about Jane: her age, her profession etc. Indeed, as revealing as Jane’s day is, it poses more questions than it answers.

  8. Fabrizio

    I admit it may seem a little bit paranoid but I asked 10 of my students that work for a large fashion company in Italy to do the same thing as Jane. I really like the results as they show a compex picture of local, national and global brands. In particular I found interesting how the number of brands quoted differ depending on the kind of activity involved and the relvance of the activity for the individual cultural project. I am still working on their agendas but I would like to share a couple of results with you, just to know your feedbacks and suggestions:

    a) The number of brands quoted is higher when it comes to very personal and self expressive activities such as getting dressed and personal care (in total my students quoted almost 40 different brands in clothing and accesories and 28 in personal care).

    b) When it comes to food and drink the presence of national and local brands grows. Total brands quoted: 19, total national brands: 10; local brands: 3

    c) In technological products the number of brands is very poor: 11 with Nokia as the most quoted brand in cell phones and Samsung in TV sets.

    I think this offers a far more complicated picture of the use and relevance of brands in everyday life than one might derive form Jane’s day in life…

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