When Brands Learn to Laugh at Themselves

Nora Herting, "Carnation" (all photos courtesy Nora Herting)

There are some brands that have such mass appeal and global awareness that their faults are turned into universal truths. A brand can put all their effort into appearing transparent and showing “their good side,” but above all else, what people remember are their setbacks. Without a brand realizing, those setbacks  become universally adopted beliefs. At times this can encourage a cultural response created at the expense of the brand. However, there are brands who are self-aware of these universal truths and try to squash them, and those who celebrate it.

Today Hyperallergic wrote a story about a female artist who got a job at a JcPenney photo studio in order to create her photo series Free Sitting.  Norta Herting wanted to investigate the decisions behind why people choose to document themselves and their families the way they do.  “The portrait serves a testament to the subjects’ prosperity and personal relations, and yet, despite the time and care people take when having their pictures taken at commercial studios, the resulting photographs are rarely considered aesthetic objects. They are documentation. Herting’s work questions what, exactly, we are documenting in this benign, constructed way.”

Nora Herting, "Fall Log"

Essentially, Herting is recognizing a cultural truism that people such as the creators of Awkward Family Photos  have realized –  the source of awkward staged photos are from family trips to department stores like JcPenney. We’ve all had the experience and  is a universal cultural truth. While it is indeed an interesting project, I could see how JCP could be mortified.

Then there is IKEA – the source of conflict and confusion for young trendy folks everywhere as they try to assemble cheap but hip furniture following what could only be described as cave drawings. It’s a universal fact that IKEA instructions leave even the most intelligent human beings useless and vulnerable, crying on the floor because they can’t figure out how to use a hook as a screw. With this universal truth in mind, creative folks have parodied IKEA instructions again and again. One of my favorites is this IKEA Stonehenge infographic from Justin Pollard, Stevyn Colgan and John Lloyd (originally published from DesignBoom.)

ikea, ikea stonehenge, infographic, ikea instructions

IKEA could cringe and hide this obvious truth – or they could embrace it. Take a look at these ads for IKEA Germany’s assembly department:

ikea germany, ikea ads

ikea germany, ikea ads

ikea, ikea germany, ikea ads

By remaining self-aware, IKEA further strengthens the love between frugal urbanites and the Swedish furniture retailer, instead of spiraling into a sea of lost chaos, like the leftover screws from my IKEA Expedit bookshelf.

For more examples of IKEA culture, check out Web Urbanist’s “IKEA Culture: 20 Fanatical Fan Ads, Art & Design.”

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