© 2022 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

I Buy, Therefore I Am: How Brands Become Part Of Who We Are

People line up outside the new Apple store on its opening day in Paris in 2017.
AFP/Getty Images

Americus Reed knows what it feels like be an outsider. To be surrounded by strangers, and to have to figure out how to fit in.

Today he's a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania. But when he was 17, he was the new kid — one of a handful of black students bused to a predominantly white school. He wanted to be accepted. So he came up with a plan: He would become a social chameleon.

"I sort of settled on this idea that I would try to be...a boundary-spanner," he says. "So I hung out with the nerds, I hung out with the jocks, I hung out with the musicians."

As he spent time with these different cliques, he noticed that each had its own set of badges, its own language. And he realized that if he could speak that language, adopt those badges, he would start to blend in. So he started wearing the things the other kids wore. With the athletes it was Nikes. With the musicians, Chuck Taylors. With the hip hop kids, Adidas – but without the shoelaces. It was like a costume, but deeper.

"A brand is so much more than a tagline or a logo," he says. "It is more of a meaning system."

This week on Hidden Brain, the psychology of brands. How companies create a worldview around the products they sell, and then get us to make those products a part of who we are.

Additional resources:
"Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger: How Moral Decoupling Enables Consumers to Admire and Admonish," by Amit Bhattacharjee, Jonathan Z. Berman, and Americus Reed, II in Journal of Consumer Research,2013.

"Identity-based consumer behavior," by Americus Reed, II, Mark R. Forehand, Stefano Puntoni, and Luk Warlop in International Journal of Research in Marketing, 2012.

"Performance Brand Placebos: How Brands Improve Performance and Consumers Take the Credit," by Aaron Garvey, Frank Germann, and Lisa Bolton in Advances in Consumer Research,2015.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.
Angus Chen
Laura Kwerel
Rhaina Cohen is a producer and editor for NPR's Enterprise Storytelling unit, working across Embedded, Invisibilia, and Rough Translation.