9. The power of brands and fashion faux pas.

I had a bit of an “ad major learning about brands” moment while shopping with a friend over the weekend. We were perusing the sales rack in forever 21 when my friend spotted this jacket.

Pulling it off the rack, she said, “It has an A for Alissa! You have to get it!” I was in desperate search of a coat (I still am!), but the style and cut definitely wasn’t for me, despite the cute “A” patch. Just as she was about to place it back on the rack, she noticed the price tag was written in Japanese, yen symbol and all. My friend and I are both Japanese majors, so this probably excited us more than your average forever 21 shoppers. After noticing the tag, it was as if a switch had been flipped in my mind. Suddenly the jacket was much more adorable and something I could totally see myself in. Pulling it off the hanger, I tried it on. It fit okay. Just okay. The cut was wrong for me, but the fact that it came from Japan made me want to like it.

Before taking Creative Strategist, I may not have realized exactly why I wanted the jacket. I would have thought, “I like Japan! That’s why!” But is it that simple? If I look at Japan as a brand for a moment, it makes more sense. People want to associate themselves with the ideas and emotions of brands they like. They want to be associated with other people who consume the brand. As Debbie Millman puts it in her book, “Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits”, when she was younger she “believed that by the sheer virtue of acquiring these objects, they would magically convert [her] into a dramatically different person – the person [she] longed to be.” In no way am I implying that I long to be Japanese, but my interest in the country, language and culture makes me want to purchase things from there or things that Japanese people purchase, even if it may be something I might not normally purchase. I know I’ve done it in the past. At times I stop myself and think, “Wait a minute. Why am I buying this?!” In Dan Levy’s article about personifying brands, his interview with Jeff Pulver leads him to the realization that “people often extend their love of the brand directly to the person who represents them without any indication of who that person really is.” While I’m not comparing the Japan brand to a person here, his idea also represents how people who are loyal to a brand have a higher tendency to buy whatever the brand produces, no matter what it is. For me, simply the fact that it came from Japan was enough to grab my interest and make me take a second look.

Scott Bedbury may refer to this phenomenon as my desire to feel a deeper connection and sense of belonging with a country I’ve invested the majority of my college career in. In his book “A New Brand World”, he discusses the importance of belonging and how it affects our decisions to invest our time and money in a particular brand.  He explains how “the mere possession of a product can make consumers feel as if they are somehow deeply connected to everyone else who owns the product.” Owning a jacket that was most likely sold in Japan and purchased by Japanese customers would definitely give me some sort of feeling of having a closer connection with Japan.

Thankfully I resisted all these urges and put the jacket back, knowing all too well that if something doesn’t fit me perfectly in the store, I’ll never wear it at home. Besides, it’s not the clothes I wear that let people know of my love for Japanese, right?

With all this new knowledge about the strength of brands, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to ignorantly shop again! Turns out I can’t escape my ad-major mind, even on the weekends.