The brand crumb trail lengthens

When I volunteered with the journalism club at an elementary school, a group of parent volunteers laughed about a in instance where one of the third graders had asked a teacher, in a profile interview, what kind of credit card the teacher used.

For these parents, questions about credit cards rang of privacy and identity theft. For the kids? A credit card represents a different kind of identity.

Commercials from Pepsi, Microsoft and American Express blare visuals to youth and sell product based on personality. Think of yourself as someone who “Eats fresh”? Purchase at Subway. So, in effect, if the teacher used a Mastercard, that reveals something about who she is.

This is branding. Companies know this. When I saw the commercial for the Lincoln MKZ, I wanted one, because they used a song by a band I like, Shiny Toy Guns (“Major Tom”). Someone who identifies herself with the music, will identify herself with the car.

So what’s new?

Social media. I use a brand to build my identity, by standing in the train with my Blackberry to show that I’m a successful businessperson, or bringing my Starbucks paper cup into class with me, to show that I’m classy and caffeinated. I might tweet that I’m enjoying my frozen yogurt … at Golden Spoon.

Now, if a brand can build an identity desirable enough that people use it to define themselves, brand awareness will spread on it’s own – through individual Twitter and Facebook updates, to exponential Friend Lists.

This isn’t necessarily less work for advertisers, it just means that they should move their resources. Creating a persona for a brand, once seen as icing on the cake, could be the crux of sales.