Affective Currency in the New Brand Economyby Noelle Griffis

Cultural Studies


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Cultural Studies

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Affective Currency in the New

Brand Economy

Noelle Griffis

Published online: 03 Dec 2013.

To cite this article: Noelle Griffis (2015) Affective Currency in the New Brand Economy,

Cultural Studies, 29:2, 275-277, DOI: 10.1080/09502386.2013.860998

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Noelle Griffis

Authentic™: the politics of ambivalence in a brand culture, by Sarah

Banet-Weiser, New York and London, New York University Press, 2012, 279 pp., US$24 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-8147-8714-4/$75 (cloth), ISBN 978-08147-8713-7

In May 2013, Coca-Cola unveiled its ‘small world machines’ – two interactive vending machines inviting participants in India and Pakistan to connect with one another via interface technology and the ‘magic’ of the soft drink. The Leo Burnett agency devised the machines as an innovative brand strategy to foster an engaging, interpersonal experience between citizens of two otherwise antagonistic nations.

The latest phase of the company’s global ‘share campaign’ provides an extreme, but increasingly common, example of what Sarah Banet-Weiser describes as ‘branding authenticity’. In the author’s latest book, Authentic™: The Politics and

Ambivalence in a Brand Culture, Banet-Weiser examines the ways in which consumer goods and services are attached to social, political and even spiritual concerns through brand strategies that seek to commodify these affective relationships.

Although the ‘share campaign’ launched a few months after the publication of

Authentic, it underscores the timeliness of the book’s call to investigate the deepening connections between sociopolitical values and business enterprises.

Authentic™ advances theories of consumerism as a dominating cultural force, focusing on brand strategies that integrate commodity activism and online participation as the primary means of forging bonds between consumers and producers. Although the author considers these tactics as major corporations employ them, the most compelling chapters examine the ‘brandability’ of intangible social practices and behaviors. Rather than locating everyday life in opposition to consumer culture – the lifeworld as opposed to the system, as it were – Banet-Weiser contends that a more productive project would be to ask ourselves what is at stake in a culture that repackages core social values and individual identities as commodities through the logic of branding.

In the book’s five chapters, the author explores branding in relation to citizenship, personal identity, creativity, politics and religion. Despite a loose thread that places each of these topics in relation to the language and logics of branding, the chapters do not directly engage with one another. They read more like essays, employing a range of methods to interrogate the cultural


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Ju ne 20 15 significance of ‘authenticity’. Although the word itself conjures suspicion (and indeed scare quotes), the chapters convincingly show that the more we question notions of the real, the more we seem to crave the authentic experience. In turn, ‘authenticity’ becomes our most valuable commodity.

The opening chapters most directly expand upon arguments formulated in the author’s first two books – The Most Beautiful Girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and

National Identity (1999) and Kids Rule! Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship (2007).

Banet-Weiser reconsiders the former’s concern with the construction of national feminine identities alongside the latter’s focus on youth and the enactment of citizenship through brand communities; she does so by placing these issues within the context of online participatory culture. ‘Branding Consumer Citizens’ (Chapter 1) provides an analysis of the Dove ‘Evolution’ campaign, which features the transformation of a young woman from her ‘real’ self into a billboardready supermodel. Although Banet-Weiser offers a familiar account of the ways in which Dove sells purported self-esteem to consumers rather than actual beauty products, she shows that it is worthwhile to revisit the brand in response to their more recent interactive campaigns. Rather than simply being the targets of clever advertisements, Banet-Weiser explains that women are now encouraged to contribute to the production of the brand through voluntary ‘immaterial labor’ – sharing stories on Dove’s website and using social media platforms to support the company’s self-esteem initiatives through viral ‘word-of-mouth’ advocacy. ‘Branding the Postfeminist Self’ (Chapter 2) further complicates the consumer/producer binary by exploring the ambivalent relationship between empowered self-expression and obsessive self-promotion in a social media landscape that rewards popularity through ‘likes’ and shares. While acknowledging the potential for resistance that Henry Jenkins finds in participatory culture, Banet-Weiser finds that user-generated content more often tends to reinforce dominant values. When returning to these questions in her conclusion, she invokes Lauren Berlant’s notion of ‘utopic normativity’. Banet-Weiser asks, ‘Individuals may indeed be “empowered” through their participation within brand cultures, but if this empowerment is directed toward normativity because they desire the “utopic” feeling of belonging, what is its value?’ (p. 221).