Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Just Wondering: "Brands" vs. "kinds"

The other night on Fresh Air Terry Gross engaged her guest, Dan Belz in a discussion about the Republican "brand." This got me wondering about "brands" vs. "kinds."

Here's one way of defining a kind:
  • it is something a set of things (objects, events, beings) has in common which distinguishes it from other things as a real set rather than as a group of things arbitrarily lumped together by a person or group of people. (wikipedia)

Some philosophers reserve the word "kind" to refer to "natural kinds," and make a distinction between natural kinds and brands:

  • a natural kind is a grouping of things which is a natural grouping, not an artificial one.

  • or, a natural kind is what we mean by "species"

  • a brand is a name or trademark connected with a product or producer (via Wikipedia)

  • a brand is a "name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers" (via (Laura Lake, American Marketing Association )

  • a "brand resides within the hearts and minds of customers, clients, and prospects. It is the sum total of their experiences and perceptions, some of which you can influence, and some that you cannot." (Laura Lake,

According to this view, humans, aluminum and tomatoes may be thought of as kinds, but they aren't brands. Republicans, Pantene shampoo and Nike are brands, but they aren't properly kinds. In other words, one is created by the Creator, the other is a name for something man-made.

In Genesis 2:19-20, God charged Adam with the task of naming all the different kinds of animals, but he was not asked to "brand" them! But we live in a world where God has been eclipsed, and the notion of a natural kind is regarded as quaint, or more frequently with suspicion, so the trend in our culture is to conflate them, or better, to move toward branding things. Branding enables us to own, control and most importantly, sell things. Hence we unconciously begin to conflate "kinds" with 'brands," and speak about "Kleenex," Xeroxing," "Jello," "I-pods," and "Chacos."

It is one thing for the Republican party to be worried about its brand, but what happens when we allow things which are not meant to be bought and sold to be branded? When we are already in the habit of conflating kinds and brands, it makes it difficult to resist this tendency. What Brave New World lies ahead of us, with the "Genentech Mozart Gene," the "Sinovac Energy Embryo," "United Rent-a-Husband," and the "BioCon Delhi Liver?"

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