Can anything be a brand?

Me and a friend recently had a debate over whether anything can be branded. His thought was that they can’t, because some stuff is just too complicated, like people and inanimate things like emotions, to simply sum up neatly and consistently in the long-term in a brand map or the equivalent – with values and personality. There is also not much point in it for some stuff where there is no marketing objective.

My thought was that anything can be branded. It doesn’t matter how simple or complex. It is all about understanding. The key is understanding the ins and outs of whatever it is and then distilling it into one ownable idea based on an actual or potential marketing objective.

The fact that some things are not constant is true of any brand anyway – markets change, consumer needs and desires change – and its all about adapting to stay relevant. This is just what brands do. Emotions are brands in their own right and are qualified with testimonials, ideas and other emotional values. Just because we can’t see or touch something, doesn’t mean it can’t be fleshed out and visualised.

It was a really interesting debate – any ideas would be welcome.

  • Matt Sadler

    Hey Louise,

    I’d tend to agree with you that anything can be branded.

    You could argue that most notable people become “brands” of one sort or another, in as far as that they stand for something. Che Guevara is an enduring icon of revolution and freedom. John McEnroe of sporting passion/hissy fits. And if you go to a Tim Burton movie you’ve always got a pretty good idea of what to expect before you get there.

    Whether it’s by accident or design, these people have probably acted by some of the same principles that good marketers apply to their brands – having a distinctive identity, being bold in your actions, not diversifying too much etc. etc. So, whilst the best brands are almost always authentic, I think lots of celebs have marketing teams these days. Kylie’s had a creative director, William Baker, for years. And there are certainly several books out there for people who want to “manage brand me” (

    So, yep, I reckon people can be brands.

    And as for emotions, let’s not forget that happiness is a cigar called Hamlet…

  • Lida Walsh

    Hi Louise,

    I also agree with you. One can brand almost anything, regardless complexity as long as people can understand it and it is of any importance to them. I am just trying to actually think what cannot be branded. Any idea? Can’t think about any

  • Mike Exon

    While anything can be branded, I’d argue not anything can be a brand. Take two good examples, places and people.

    Poland was branded by Wally Olins’s company Saffron, but that doesn’t make Poland itself a brand (it’s a European country in case you didn’t know).

    I reckon it’s best to distinguish between the brand and the thing itself, otherwise we have the idea of the David Beckham brand being the same thing as the poor man himself. And surely he’s so much more than that?

  • Mike Exon

    Louise, I’m a lemon, I’ve mistyped the Digit URL, so sorry! Keep up the great work!

  • Louise Kennedy

    Hi Mike,

    Not sure about the whole branded / being a brand thing. Surely Persil is a brand but it is also a washing powder. Poland is a brand but it is also a country. David Beckham is a brand, but he is also a person.

  • Kevin Gordon

    H Louise,

    Here are three emotions:


    I believe one of them is already a perfume brand, the other two could be.
    It’s all about how much the word / feeling is socially acceptable or not.
    What engages a brand today may not engage it tomorrow. That is why Alisdair Crompton identified about 7 key drivers that motivate people in his great book ‘The Craft of Copywriting’.


    I love this word. I don’t like the sound of it.
    I love it for the ground it broke.
    A brand that became so popular it became a verb.
    I’ve used a Dyson for years but I still “Hoover-up”.

    Some great brands even today can’t get this closeness.
    Imagine David Bowie’s song ‘Let’s dance”, to “Let’s Coke”
    It just does not work with the family brand values of Coke
    and the society we live in. It would be the antithesis of
    everything Coke stands for.

    It works if it works. If it doesn’t it’s better to let go of it than
    to try to shoehorn an idea to fit.

  • John Gallen

    Hi All, nice thread.

    I’m still struggling with the idea of an emotion being a brand or branded. If a product uses the word that describes an emotion as its brand name, it doesn’t, to my mind, make the emotion a brand.

    This is what stumps me, “Emotions are brands in their own right and are qualified with testimonials, ideas and other emotional values”. But weren’t emotions around a few millennia before any brands. I guess I just don’t like to box everything into tidy spaces. I view brands as something (among many other things) as having a monetary value and I’m just not going to put a price on love :)

    Yes, Love or Empathy maybe perfume brand names but is that how the consumer really sees it? Do they think of the perfume when they think of Love. Doubtful that would ever happen. It’s too personal for a brand to own it. I got this chicken and egg conundrum thing in my head about emotions as brand names and any product associated with it.

    Also, say, the perfume is called Love. But Love is likely to be an intended emotive response to any perfume rather than being an almost singular goal of this brand. If the goal of the brand is to be unique, create a usp, distinguish itself from the crowd, I don’t see how taking one element evident in all its competitors can achieve this.

    Nice question Louise, but I’d have to say the answer is ‘no’.

  • Louise Kennedy

    Cheers John,

    That’s an interesting point whether if something is named ‘Love’ whether they also automatically own that in the mind of the consumer. I am inclined to think that if it’s a perfume brand, love wouldn’t bear the same resonance than it would do for say, The National Blood Service – a brand that is genuinely close to people’s hearts. But then again, love is a very complex, multifaceted idea, so it needs direction to work well.

    Thinking about my first post, I think that’s the point I was trying to make about emotions being brands in their own right. They have the complexities that brands do, but can also drive those facets into very single-minded avenues.

    If you say ‘love’ to someone in the territory of family their initial responses would likely be similar, much like if you asked a bunch of people what their responses would be about ‘Nike’ in a performance context.

  • Mathew Jacob

    God is a brand. The devil is a brand. We are all brands. The Earth will become a brand as soon as we know for sure extraterrestrials are really out there. Everything and everybody is a brand as long as there are consumers. Just package and market.