Branding: Perception Management and Control

A large number — close to 56 percent — of all Fortune 500 companies have formed alliances in their communications. — (Brand Sense, p. 41)

The average consumer is bombarded with an astonishing 3,000 ad messages a day. (Brand Sense, p. 40).

These two statements should be deeply disturbing. But the implications of these seem to pass under most people’s radar (which is, after all, the point of it). You can certainly learn a great deal about the human condition and social trends by learning about propaganda (or “branding”) and reading the research of the marketers (which is where all the real social research is being carried out with practically unlimited budgets, and where all the research results of psychology of perception and the neurosciences are being absorbed, exploited and applied).

These two statements go a long way in accounting for the significance of “the Modern Corporate State” or “corporatocracy”.

For some reason, I was moved the other day to grab an as yet unread book from my shelves and dive into it. The book is called Brand Sense: Build Powerful Brands through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight, and Sound, and is by the Danish marketing expert Martin Lindstrom. While beginning to read the book, it didn’t take long before I realised that the black art of perception management and control has really upped its game lately, and, ironically, in response to the same trend that Gebser saw many years ago — the emergence of integral consciousness (and how to divert, control and exploit it for fun and profit).

Yes, Virginia, there is a deficient or “dark side” to the emergent integral, which confuses the holistic with the totalitarian.

As I mentioned in a previous posting, propaganda is continuously updating its techniques and methods in response to new social and human behaviour research and the possibilities the arise from new technologies of communications. Mr. Lindstrom’s book describes the new branding strategy he calls “Holistic Selling Proposition” (HSP) — how corporate communications can take command of all the five senses rather than the usual visual and auditory. This he describes as “integral” branding.

Conventional marketing has reached a dead end, according to Mr. Lindstrom — fragmentation of human attention and fragmentation of the media market. This fragmentation of attention and the media is stimulating a new “integral” approach to branding, one which will, in effect, provide a surrogate “religion” of meaningfulness. Mr. Lindstrom is not coy about saying so — the contemporary task of corporate propaganda is to usurp tradition and to claim ownership of religion, faith, and meaning.

“In order to have a viable future, brands will have to incorporate a brand platform that fully integrates the five senses. This sensory platform will reveal the very belief — or significant following — necessary to create a brand philosophy. Without taking comparisons to religion too far, we can see its relevance for some points of sensory branding.” (p. 3 my italics).

“There’s every indication that branding will move beyond the MSP [Me Selling Proposition] into an even more sophisticated realm — reflecting a brave new world where the consumer desperately needs something to believe in — and where brands very well might provide the answer. I call this realm the HSP — the Holistic Selling Proposition. HSP brands are those that not only anchor themselves in tradition but also adopt religious characteristics at the same time they leverage the concept of sensory branding as a holistic way of spreading the news. Each holistic brand has its own identity, one that is expressed in its every message, shape, symbol, ritual, and tradition — just as sports teams and religion do today.” (p. 5)

Commercial propaganda and branding has gone through various fashions and emphases since the 1950s, becoming less and less about the product’s features and more and more about the human mind and its perception, and about faith and meaning. The next great frontier for capitalist exploitation, in Mr. Lindstrom’s view, is the spiritual — the mass cult of the brand as fetish. But to achieve this total enclosure of the mind within a branded world requires that brand marketing take complete ownership of all five of the human senses. “Brave new world” indeed. Brands are to become the major and minor gods and goddesses of the new commercial pantheon. In a meaningless world — in a world desperate for meaning — capitalism will sell meaning.

And, of course, all this is justified as providing a “service”.

“The very foundation of this book and the theory behind it are a direct result of an extensive research project which sought to determine to what extent the religious factor — faith, belief, and community — could serve as the mode for the future of branding. The project investigated the role each of our five senses would play in creating the ultimate bond between the consumer and the brand.” (p. 5)

“The future of branding will embrace the Holistic Selling Proposition (HSP). HSP brands are those which not only anchor themselves in tradition but also adopt characteristics of religious sensory experience [ie mysticism] to leverage the concept of sensory branding as a holistic way of spreading the news.” (p. 7)

So, perhaps now you’ll appreciate why 56% of Fortune 500 corporations, according to Mr. Lindstrom, are cooperating and collaborating in their corporate communications strategies — to sell a system and a way of life and communities of meaning, centred on the brand as icon and fetish, moreso than about products. And, of course, it’s the children who will be the principal targets of this re-shaping of the human and the captive mind.

This usurpation is the madness of Iain McGilchrist’s “Emissary” in full flight — the world reconstructed in its image. Mr. Lindstrom, perhaps carrying his comparison of the brand with religion a little too far, even has his “twelve components of the brand” resembling the twelve disciples of Jesus — colour, language, icon, behaviour, service, ritual, sound, shape, name, picture, navigation, tradition — each of which the brand manager must seek to “own”.

No need, I think, to highlight this as an example of Gebser’s “mental-rational consciousness now functioning in deficient mode” in which instrumentalising and cynical rationality becomes indistinguishable from madness and unalloyed will to power.

Be very careful.



8 responses to “Branding: Perception Management and Control”

  1. abdulmonem says :

    It is ironic to see buyology going integral, those branders do not see any healthy concepts without trying to manipulate it for the service of their mission in branding, that is dehumanizing the human, leaving him without independent will vision or choice thus killing the critical faculty of the human, the most valuable tool that enables the human to navigate in this muddy world. My solace is that, nothing can stop the diaphanous consciousness Gebser talked about, that is to see the roots of things brimming up through the surface of things as he intuitively visualized. Carefulness is the state of the wise.

    • Steve Lavendusky says :

      “The child who dwells inside us trusts that there are wise men somewhere who know the truth.” Czeslaw Milosz

      • Steve Lavendusky says :

        NATURAL SUPERNATURALISM: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature by M.H. Abrams. Now this is a book you would love Scott.

        • Scott Preston says :

          Thanks Steve. I’ll make note of it and look into it. (I did read the other one you recommended — Cassirer’s Renaissance Philosophy. It made me realise just how rusty my Latin has become, and he uses a lot of Latin. I’ll have to remedy that.

  2. dadaharm says :


    It is fascinating to see how much time and money is wasted by the authorities to manipulate ordinary people. Sometimes it seems that more money is spend on keeping people in the dark about reality, than on dealing with reality itself.

    The authorities must feel that it is necessary in order to keep the system running. Paradoxically this means that current society can only remain functioning as long as ordinary people keep living in a delusion.

    This implies that the system is extremely fragile. Without all the propaganda and advertising society would collapse.

    • Scott Preston says :

      This implies that the system is extremely fragile. Without all the propaganda and advertising society would collapse.

      Quite likely true.

      Market and consumer research, despite the many perversities to which it is applied, does reveal some very interesting results. First, as noted, they fret about the “fragmentation” of consumer attention and of the media environment, which makes advertising and branding much more challenging. So, in that sense, yes… “fragile”. On the other hand, possibly connected with this very “fragmentation” is an accompanying shift in the sensorium, quite possibly indicative of Gebser’s emergent new consciousness structure. Here’s how Lindstrom even puts it in his book:

      , “The fashion industry is not alone in experiencing this swing in preference from look to feel. The food industry is seeing a similar, although less dramatic pattern emerge. More than 20 percent of consumers say that the smell of food is more important than the taste. Rather than assuming this to be a rejection of design or longstanding taste preferences, it is an indication of the emergence of the other senses taking their place in the holistic scheme of a sensual universe. ” (p. 83)

      The “shift” Lindstrom is talking about is the shift in preference from appearance to texture or sight to feel, from taste to smell — a reorientation of the sensorium. Rather than “seeing is believing” it’s more “looks can be deceiving” — a reversal of the emphasis on the eye as the organ of perception, and things must now “pass the smell test” and so on. This indicates a reorientation of human perception, but the brand engineers and perception managers are now scrambling to exploit it. And that’s pretty much the gist of Lindstrom’s book and his theory of “Holistic Selling Proposition” — exploit and manage the entire sensorium.

      • Steve Lavendusky says :

        I found out today that Edmund Husserl was a contemporary of Rudolf Steiner. And that they both studied philosophy in Vienna under Franz Brentano. They almost met in Brentano’s classes. I wonder if Husserl ever read Steiner’s PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM?

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