Publisher’s view: My favorite brand

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Ashley Sexton Gordon

“Mom, why don’t you just chillax,” said my oldest son. This was in response to me correcting grammar of another child in the room. When I said that chillax is not a word, his response was, “Of course, it is. It’s a combo of chill and relax, and you need to do both.”

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m slow to change when it comes to slang and the King’s English. I never liked the word frenemy. Still don’t. I bucked against saying “They gifted me this swag bag,” because how and why should ‘gift’ be used as a verb? And I’m frustrated that my children may never learn to spell thanks to spellcheck on the computer and text-approved shortcuts like tho. As in: I mite not go tho. This makes me crazy, but I need to chillax.

However, I will fully embrace all the combined words and alternative spellings of the last 15 years if we can agree upon one vital truth: We, as individuals, are not a brand.

Kleenex is a brand. American Airlines is a brand. Calvin Klein is a brand.

But most of us are not a brand.

Period.

I know, I know. That is not what they are teaching in college right now. I’ve heard. I understand that there are entire courses dedicated to students “branding” themselves. And as soon as I heard the word ‘brand’ used as a verb to talk about self-packaging, I pretty much surmised that we were all going to hell in a handbasket.

But I had not seen this branding in action until recently, when one of my staff decided to return to school to get her MFA and a job became open. Many applications that came in—meant to catch my eye—were downright bizzaro. Instead of promoting their education and their experience, students were trying to sell their personality.

I learned their favorite flavor of ice cream, their proclivity for buying the same shoe in every color, and the TV shows that they binge watch.

These were on job applications.

There is not enough space on this planet for everyone to be a brand.

Oprah is a brand, of course. Trump is a brand, like it or not. And Ralph Lauren is a brand with staying power.

Soaffee Smyth graduating from college and applying for a job is not a brand. And I’m so glad you like pistachio ice cream. I like chocolate chip cookie dough, but I would never assume that anyone really wants to know that because I’m not a brand.

Celebrities want to be known. That’s why they’ve created a public version of themselves and why they spell their children’s names phonetically after inanimate objects. They want to stand out.

But most of us are not celebrities. I know that it feels like we are because we have so many friends on Facebook, and we get so many likes on Instagram. But the reality—the real reality—is that we are not Beyonce, and most of those social media friends would pass us by in the grocery store without making eye contact.

I know that I sound like I am beating a dead horse, but that horse is the only thing that should be branded. As a verb.

Authors and marketers David McNally and Karl Speak define the personal brand in this way: “Your brand is a perception or emotion, maintained by somebody other than you, that describes the total experience of having a relationship with you.”

I thought that was called
friendship.

The Internet has certainly contributed to the branding phenomenon, where people can post a version of themselves that they want the world to see. But when the social version of ourselves begins to usurp our listed ability and experience on a job application, then we’ve got problems.

When someone’s favorite brand seems to be themselves, it makes me scared to share work space with them.

What’s interesting about my interview process is that the most professional and formal resumes and cover letters actually stood out among the tide. The common became the uncommon. The simple became the sensational. I didn’t want to hire a brand. I wanted to hire a person with writing skills and a solid work ethic.

I know I’m throwing shade on what everyone accepts as our new reality, but it makes me afeared for the future. I’ve got considerable convincidence that personal branding will be the undoing of all mankind. See? I’ve embraced alternative words and spellings. Can we all agree that personal branding is a bad idea? If not, I’ll just try to chillax.

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