They Brand Cattle, Don’t They?
“Branding! We have to make you a brand!”
“I’m not cattle,” I told my sometimes faux foil assistant Marshbaum, who had just burst into my office. “And if you think I’m getting a tattoo,” I replied, “my body isn’t a canvas.”
“It’s sure wide enough,” Marshbaum flippantly replied. Before I could throw sheets of wadded up paper at him, he explained what he meant. “It’s not a fire-iron brand,” he explained. “It’s strategic marketing.”
“I’m a journalist,” I reminded Marshbaum, “I don’t do that kind of thing.”
“You will if you want to stay in business.”
“I’ve been in this business four decades, and I’ve never been branded.”
“That’s why we need you to do TV commercials,” he said.
“I’m a print journalist,” I reminded him.
“Yeah, well, not all of us are pretty enough for TV, but you still have to do a commercial! Just like Jennifer Anniston.”
“As if she needs more money,” I sneered. “She’s got a net worth of something between $100 million and $150 million, depending upon which magazine you believe.”
“You can never have enough,” said Marshbaum.
“Yeah, that and her eight-figure salary for commercials that tell 45-year-old women they can dab junk on their faces and look like ingénues. She’s hawking hair products, beer, and some fragrance Besides, she’s taking money from low-income hard-working actors who do need the bucks.”
“You said that before. And before. And before.”
“It’s the truth,” I said. “A-list actors have branched into TV commercials. Selling everything from eyelash liners to prescription drugs to—”
“Yeah, yeah, like that sorrowful Blythe Danner who’s got some kind of problem that keeps her on stage to break a leg.”
“Exactly!” I replied. “It’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. The rich actors don’t need more money.”
“But they do need exposure. TV and film aren’t enough. The red carpet isn’t enough. Being mentioned in the National Enquirer isn’t enough. They want it all, and to get it all, they need to be a brand. Corporate America loves it!”
“There’s a lot that corporate America loves that just doesn’t matter to the rest of us.”
“But it does matter. When you see Larry the Cable Guy, you think of bad heartburn. When Brooke Shields appears on the screen, you still think of her wearing Calvin Klein jeans with no underwear. And then you run out to your nearest box store and buy whatever they’re selling. Think you’ll do that if you see a commercial with some no-name talent?”
“Some people,” I said, “already think I may be a no-name talent.”
“And that’s why we need to brand you. Tie you to some product. It’d raise your profile, make you a brand, and make money for all of us.”
“All of us?”
“You don’t think I’d be doing all this for free, do you?! I have expenses. Besides, we’d have to pay for makeup, better clothes, a publicist, marketing manager, and a business manager. Then there’s your entourage. TV commercial talent has to have an entourage. That doesn’t come cheap.”
“It comes a lot cheaper if I don’t do it at all.”
“What?! And be responsible for even more unemployment? A whole industry needs you to brand yourself. You get exposure and money. And that will lead to more commercials. And more commercials lead to better recognition. And the advertisers will be ecstatic!”
“Will it get me more readers?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. If you get branded, you won’t need readers. You’ll live off your residuals from commercials.”
“But I’m a journalist,” I again reminded him. “I write stories that give people information they need. Stories that affect people’s lives.”
“TV commercials affect people’s lives. Where would America be if Ellen DeGeneres didn’t promote JCPenney’s or Michael Jordan wasn’t shilling Jockey underwear? Think you’d buy a Lincoln if millionaire Matthew McConaughey wasn’t telling you to do it?”
“If I do this—and I probably won’t—what would I be selling? Cars? Watches?”
“Toilet paper. It goes with your brand. A whole gaggle of conservative readers already say your column is full of—”
“—great insight and sparkling language.”
“Yeah. Sure. Something like that.”
“Look, Marshbaum,” I said a bit testy, “I don’t need to be a brand. I do need to write my column for this week.”
“I think you just did,” he said smugly.
[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth look at the economic, political, health, and environmental effects of high-volume horizontal fracturing. Rosemary R. Brasch, who never once did a TV commercial when she was an actress, assisted on this column.]