“Possessive” Branding


You may not have noticed this, but the retailers of the world desperately want to be your friend.

No longer is it enough to merely wander into British supermarket Waitrose and idly choose between one type of falafel or another (Spicy spinach or sweet potato? Such are the decisions of modern life). Because it’s not just anyone’s Waitrose any more. It’s MY Waitrose.

This sense of ownership is heightened when I reach for the ‘My Waitrose’ card in my wallet. But possession carries with it a few linguistic tussles, especially when you get anywhere near a till. Here you’re asked, with no apparent sense of irony, if you have your My Waitrose card with you. Yes, there you have it. Your My Waitrose. Not ‘you’re My Waitrose’, but ‘your My Waitrose’.

Imagine the conversation before a trip:
‘I’m just popping to my Waitrose to use my My Waitrose card’

Or the potential conversations mid-checkout queue with your partner:
‘could you check if you’ve got Your My Waitrose card with you?’

Or, better still,
‘that’s not your My Waitrose card, that’s my My Waitrose card’

Whatever we call this, whether it’s ‘possessive branding’, loyalty card lottery or just copywriting gone bonkers, there’s a lot of it about.

Whilst I fondle my My Waitrose card in my pocket, I could pop into Argos and buy myself a My Tablet. (That’s different to the Nokia Phablet, of course, and nothing to do with huddling round a Hudl). Is that your My Tablet or my My Tablet (or his My Tablet?) we wonder. Then that evening, would I ask ‘could you pass me my My Tablet?’

Perhaps we can blame the fact that for some time now we have been podding, padding, phoning and maccing (as in iPod, iPad, iPhone and iMac). You have been tubing as well (YouTube) or once had your own personal space (MySpace). But not so much lately.

Were you to cross the road and trade down, just a little, we could buy supper from the ‘By Sainsbury’s’ range (as if it could be by anyone else, really), or pop into Your M&S. (That’s your M&S, not mine, just to be clear). And, as of quite recently, you can now apply for a MY John Lewis card as well.

It seems that other writers have also noticed the prevalence of You/Me/I/We branding. ‘To me, the ‘my’ thing has also always felt vaguely infantilising’ thinks Mike Reed. ‘It’s a language we remember from childhood: ‘My First Reading Book’, ‘My Little Pony’…

‘Until Hightail came along, I always enjoyed the contrast between WeTransfer and YouSendIt – it felt like someone was running an extended experiment to find out which pronoun was more commercially effective’, points out Nick Asbury. ‘What I dislike about it is the false familiarity it assumes – as though we’re all happily enjoying an intimate, one-to-one relationship with these brands, when the reality of the brand experience is usually much different’.

Where this all leads us is hard to say. Maybe somebody is working on a completely personalised brand as we speak, called ‘mine’ (as in not yours). Perhaps the last word here should go to Roger Horberry, who thinks that it’s ‘unlikely that this will lead to gendered personal pronouns used in the same way. He-Phone could only be grunted by a caveman and SheMail sounds a bit Thai’.

I’m not sure. I quite like the fact that I’m now doing some He-Blogging. (Rather than She-Blogging). This could be a whole new thing, now I think about it.

This article was written by Michael Johnson, for Johnson Banks. See original post here.


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