Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Aristotelian Job.

The branding frenzy continues unabated and, with it, unremitting busyness and the constant need to be zipping about. So it’s a very happy coincidence that I have recently acquired a Mini Cooper, and I’ve been enjoying it immensely. And not just because of its obvious charms, either. Aside from being a dandy car and zippy by nature, it comes with a feature that you won’t find mentioned in the owner’s manual or even in Mini’s advertising:

Benefit of the doubt.

For some reason, I can drive this car like a maniac and never get so much as a dirty look from my fellow motorists. If I tried a tenth of the stuff in my BMW that I get away with in that rorty little Mini, I’d have been shot by the roadside years ago and my corpse paraded through the village by torch-bearing citizens as a lesson to all. For some reason, when you round a corner ‘con brio’ in a Bimmer, you are some kind of unfeeling capitalist running dog whose apparent wealth evidences some heinous crime. But take that corner on two wheels in a Cooper, and everybody just grins right along with you, anti-establishment rebel that you are. How can it be so? Especially given that both vehicles are produced by the same dour, German, most-profitable-in-the-world car company?

The answer, of course, is the… anybody? Bueller?

Do I have to say it?

Okay, brand. The answer is the brand.

There’s just no way that someone driving that car could be malevolent. I mean, look at its cute little face. And the adorable name, which, as an adjective, improves almost everything from skirts to heart attacks. And its fun lovin’ advertising. With all that, you certainly couldn’t be taking yourself too seriously if you chose a Mini as your primary conveyance. Especially if you’re not a twenty-something girl. Which I emphatically am not.

No, somehow that carefully engineered brand experience, with all of its relentless cuteness and absence of menace and ego, has given me permission to roam the earth at excessive speeds, changing lanes like a bumble bee and stopping and turning like some kind of ‘toon, with absolute impunity. I feel all but cheered on.

I think this is a convincing argument that, at least as far as conspicuous consumption is concerned, brands are all about imputed motive. It’s not what a company makes, it’s why they make it. And, for us consumers, the statement we make lies not what we buy but in why we seem to have bought it.

Being zippy isn’t all laughs, mind you. By the same token people don’t fear me in my Mini, they don’t make a lot of room for me, either. And it’s just not as satisfying to flip someone the bird from behind the wheel. It leaves you feeling vaguely like a rude clown in a Shriner’s parade.

A rude maniac clown.

Wait, maybe that is scary…