All brands must die (after a long and happy life)

A few days ago I ran a critical index finger down my Twitter “friends” list, unfollowing a few dozen accounts that did not belong to real people. I still wanted to hear from these unnatural persons, so I moved them into a list instead.

I’m delighted with the results: my Twitter feed suddenly feels so much more human.

Twitter timeline of humans

And it has set me wondering what it is about brands and corporations that leaves them apart from normal human discourse.

In ‘Life Inc’ Douglas Rushkoff reflects on the rise of the “corporate life form” in 17th Century Europe:

“Thanks to the distance and limited liability offered by the new corporate entity, the people enacting policies and making decisions were effectively removed from any personal connection to the repercussions of their actions. The less liable for and connected to their choices, the less responsibility they felt and culpability they incurred. Besides, corporations outlived any human individual or monarch anyway.”

Even the most successful human beings are fragile and finite. Brands, however, can just go on and on.

As if to prove the point, a large swathe of Britain’s fast-moving consumer goods sector are currently engaged in a Diamond Jubilee nostalgia-fest. They seem determined to remind us that while Elizabeth Windsor may have outlasted almost all the world’s other unelected heads of state, Marmite and Colgate are the true survivors from the era of Joseph Stalin and pea soup smog.

I have nothing against a sense of history but I find it both depressing and terrifying that the makers of Fox’s Biscuits and Fairy Liquid can go on recycling the Robert Opie Collection pretty much indefinitely.

So I offer any brand that wants to make it into my social media graph a simple bargain: I’ll let you into my conversations on human terms so long as you promise, one day, to die.

That day could be a long way off, but the more typically human the better. How about we enforce a maximum at the average life expectancy of people in the country of the brand’s birth?

Under my modest proposal, the recently updated top 10 global brands would look like this:

Brand Country (life expectancy at birth) Lifespan
Verizon USA (76 years) 2000 – 2076
Google USA (76 years) 1998 – 2074
China Mobile China (72 years) 1997 – 2069
Apple USA (72 years) 1976 – 2048
Microsoft USA (72 years) 1975 – 2047
McDonald’s USA (62 years) 1940 – 2002
IBM USA (59 years) 1924 – 1983
Marlboro USA (45 years – 14 years lost from heavy smoking) 1924 – 1969
Coca-Cola USA (48 years) 1886 – 1934
AT&T USA (48 years) 1885 – 1933

Pleasingly, half the list are in rude health with many years ahead of them. The others in my parallel universe rose to great heights then passed on with dignity, leaving room in the public realm for others to take their places.

I think we can all remember where we were when we heard that McDonald’s had died. A few days later President George Bush II made a garbled speech giving thanks for the many burgers. Ronald hung up his clown shoes. We mourned a million happy meals, and then we moved on, stopping at Burger King (1955-2024) on the way home.

If you’re one of those brands, please don’t take it personally. You were never a person anyway.

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