So. Politicians, business leaders – even consumers and so forth … you (we?) all love so much to talk about brands and their value and their promise. Yet this is the history behind the concept of branding:
In English lexicon, the word “brand” originally meant anything hot or burning, such as a “firebrand“, a burning stick. By the European Middle Ages, it commonly identified the process of burning a mark into stock animals with thick hides, such as cattle, so as to identify ownership under animus revertendi. The practice became particularly widespread in nations with large cattle grazing regions, such as Spain.
In essence, then, amongst other such primal processes, branding originally meant burning ownership into cattle; literally inflicting pain on a living being to indicate their condition as property – their condition as unfree being.
So it is I wonder: is this the mindset – the psychology and assumptions, the drivers and motivations even – behind (maybe?) all modern business and politics?
We, the cattle? They, the firebrands? We, to be scorched and owned? They, to do the scorching and owning?
Branding of course has its value in the modern economy. The question is whether we can separate its history any more from its latterday practice. Or whether, indeed, its latterday practice ain’t reverted to a history we once thought left well behind.