Hearn’s text ‘Variations on the branded self’ argues people’s ‘identity’ is actually the creation of a public persona through the process of self-branding, when people create an image of themselves through pre-created social images. This ‘identity’ determines their social circle. Hearn also explains that self-branding is inextricably linked to today’s capitalist society blurring lines between the corporate world and our private lives, people’s ‘identities’ are linked to various brands and are also used to present them as suitable candidates for the employment they seek.
Several key concepts are used to further explain this argument.
Themes – The idea of self-branding linking yourself to different brands. Brands create images which embody a lifestyle and certain personality traits. This is clearly demonstrated by the American snowboard company ‘Burton’ which advertises not only their merchandise but the lifestyles of their athletes travelling and participating in extreme sports. They also link the brand to personality traits such as spontaneity and being adventurous. People who believe that this brand personifies a part of them may choose to publicly link themselves with it through wearing their merchandise. Hearn notes that branding is also encouraged in the work place where people are encouraged to create an image to express their ‘individuality’ although this image is simultaneously linked to the functioning of the workplace.
Improvisation – This concept acknowledges how people mould an image of themselves without any previous planning. Hearn uses the website 2night.com to demonstrate this concept. It displays images of people partying at clubs, giving them an instant public image.
Invention – This explores how people use reality television as an opportunity to brand themselves and for self-promotion. They allow people to create a public persona which enables them to link themselves to brands as well as provide further employment opportunities. Clearly demonstrated in American Idol where contestants develop a fan base; who appreciate their talent and personality which the contestant and the TV network have created, this scenario possibly leading to a record deal and music career. Hearn notes that these shows don’t just provide opportunities to their contestants but also provide a large profit for the TV network with lower production costs.
Inventory –This focuses on self-branding through social networking websites such as MySpace and Facebook. People are able to link themselves to brands, post pictures and thereby create a public ‘identity’, whilst companies are able to advertise and blend into the social lives of the users.
The idea of ‘identity’ as a public persona based on social expectations and profit generation although, seemingly cynical is sadly true. Walking down the street people, particularly younger people are constantly dressing in particular brands, not even taking off the tags on their clothing, to illustrate their public persona. This is clear in my local shopping centre where many people wear the latest fashions in order to be socially accepted. My friends and family’s Facebook and MySpace pages announce their favourite brands, books and music inadvertently promoting these items and generating an image for themselves.
Hearn, A, ‘Variations on the branded self: Theme, invention, improvisation and inventory’