What’s in a Brand?

Napsugár Katinka Molnár

I am currently sitting at my desk, trying to pray some life into our wifi, which stopped

working quite a while ago. I was just about to start doing my homework, I tried texting my classmate to discuss the details of our project, when I realised that all my social media platforms had given up on life. I quickly switched to my phone, turned on my mobile data, then tried plugging the devices out and in, redownloading the apps, but nothing seemed to work. I was getting so frustrated, I couldn’t really come up with a solution anymore.

This situation made me think about a contradiction in our everyday life: the concept of brand privilege. Just because an item or good has a name on the market, that doesn’t mean it is quality. Pretty obvious, right? Then why do we always step in the same faulty footstep that others have taken again and again? After surviving a year with our pathetic on-and-off wifi, I foolishly thought that this new device, which we paid a lot of money for, which has a lot of positive reviews and was recommended to us by several professionals, would live up to its name and really bring us “hyper fast” wifi. Well, as you can see, it does nothing close to what its name and brand promised us. This makes me think about all the people who spend a fortune on those high-fashion brands: they are willing to save up money by skipping meals, not going anywhere to hang out, buying cheaper everyday goods like food and cleaning supplies, just to then be able to show off with their new crocodile-skin handbag — while there is a hole in their shoe.

Humans have had a preoccupation with fashion for centuries, and our society’s priorities have been acting up in the last few decades. I remember the news from South-Korea, when around 2012 a specific high-end brand’s winter jacket got so popular in the country, literally every student had to have it. Not just for the “fun” of being the “same individual,” but also for exclusion: the ones whose parents couldn’t afford the ridiculously pricey clothing would face the consequences of being considered a cheap outsider. Youngsters got picked on in their community for not having the jacket, and the issue got so serious that there were several reports of students stealing money or the jacket itself from stores to avoid bullying the next school day. So unreasonable, right? That would never happen where you live, right? Think again. Tell me in all conscience, would you not peek at least once at the only classmate who was not wearing the clothes everyone else had on, or would you not feel pressured to get it, when you were the only one left who still couldn’t buy one? Never mind that parents work hard to make ends meet for their family, and your asking for something so expensive, just because it’s a trend, and refusing to get the cheaper one, even though it would work just fine for you, is straight up greedy and ungrateful, isn’t it? Picture living in a society where brands and names are valued more than quality, and people feel the pressure to reduce expenses on basic everyday needs just to be able to keep up with the always changing trends’ demands and stay in the game in others’ eyes. It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination. This generation can relate.

So what is the real problem here? Is it the capitalist viewpoint, the materialistic thinking, the “keep the realtionships on the surface” mentality? I would say all and neither. Is it society shaping the people or the people shaping society? This is like asking if the chicken had the egg or from the egg came the chicken. As we exist next to each other, we all have our individual feelings and relations to topics, behaviours towards certains happenings; we are all responsible for what happens in the world. It would be unreasonable to say that a few “up there” are making the trends, leading the society by setting up values, while we are just all victims of this malicious act. Nothing can survive for too long if it does not resonate with the people’s unique vibes to a certain extent. It has to be relatable to some point, then people who form society will follow it and make it a trend eventually. I think this is what happens with brands as well. Companies advertise them as high-end, quality goods that will make a person look rich with a high-maintenance lifestyle, rich enough to afford rare materials. And it is, again, human nature to present yourself as competitive with others. But it is not destiny.

These brands will eventually earn a name for themselves, thus privilege becomes present, and brings its oppressed little brother, prejudice. Let’s see the simplest example of the phenomenon. Three words, which we probably will all have the same thoughts about: Made in China. Cheap, short lived, low quality, fast fashion, and so on. If you buy your clothes from a Chinese boutique, you probably don’t have fashion sense and especially not the money to afford fashion. Or at least this is what society makes us think. But remember, we individuals make up society. It is our fault if we keep believing the stereotypes, thus it is also our fault if we value something based more on the name than the experiences, if we trust blindly in an item’s fame instead of doing our own research on its quality. Because, let’s admit it, this is what we do to our fellow individuals as a society. We judge each other based on everything, including the name of the brands they own: that is, the goods they own, the status of the brand they’re using. They, we feel the urge to skip those meals, buy cheaper basics and let another hole form in our shoe just to be able to go out with that crocodile-skin brand handbag and feel valued — by valuing trends and status over our own unbiased judgment.

My parents and I probably should have given a chance to the less pricey wifi devices, chosen a different brand, switched to another company, or hired better technicians. Or maybe I should give a chance to this wifi to prove that the name is not everything, and that it has more to show and offer than its privilege of brand. I am not even that annoyed anymore.