the purpose of brands in civilization

the purpose of brands in civilization

August 7, 2023

One of our favorite questions to be asked these days is: what does grio mean? Well, glad you asked.

grio is short for griot– an African storyteller. Griots and Bards– the European equivalent– were artists, mostly traveling poets and musicians, who served as guardians of traditions and bridges between generations. They had the important role of capturing the ethos of each civilization in that specific moment in time and passing on the history, beliefs, ideas and values that made up their culture. Without bards and griots, ancient cultures and traditions wouldn’t have survived over centuries.

We chose grio(t) because much like those songs, poems and stories, brands too are time capsules that capture the essence of cultures around the world and the zeitgeist of a specific moment in time. If you look at advertising campaigns in America in the 60’s for example, you get a sense for life in America in the 60s: the historical context, the socio-economic reality, as well as how people defined ideas like beauty, success, purpose, love or freedom. These ideas change from culture to culture and evolve over time.

with great powers come great responsibilities

Beauty may be in the eyes of the beholder, but it’s undeniable that fashion brands have always had the tremendous power to define and set beauty standards. And for years, Victoria Secret was one of the biggest beauty power brokers in the world. Their angels represented the epitome of beauty and perfection. They set the standard many women in the world aspired to. But it came at a great cost for many women’s self-image and self-esteem– especially the young girls– who looked up those models with envy and adulation but didn’t see themselves represented in that picture of “perfection”.

If beauty is defined by physical features beyond anyone’s control, then it becomes something only those who won the cortical lottery possess. And that’s a dangerous proposition. Over time, it became clear that the messages those images sent were damaging. People shouldn’t have to change to meet some standards of beauty. Instead, beauty standards have to change to meet people as they are. And for that, representation matters.

When we celebrate everyBODY it redefines what beauty means and looks like. And that’s exactly what Rihanna– the artist turned mogul– set out to do when she launched her own lingerie brand Savage X Fenty. The brand is on a mission to redefine beauty standards by celebrating fearlessness, confidence and inclusivity, instead of the usual arbitrary and superficial beauty criteria.

Like other lingerie brands, Savage X Fenty obsesses over fabrics, colors and patterns but unlike them, Savage X does it in the context of its values: self-love, self-expression, sensuality, inclusion and community. Everything is done in an effort to push the brand ethos forward and tell a story that fundamentally redefines beauty standards. They use their brand values as filters for everything they do, from the wide variety of sizes, their accessible price point, the models they cast, all the way to the music selection at their fashion shows.

the brand-culture interplay

Brands and culture have a symbiotic relationship. As we’ve discussed so far, culture informs and influences how brands show up in the world. But sometimes, brands challenge society and invite us to revisit ideals and ideas that need updating but that the majority still resists.

In those instances, great brands like Savage X Fenty, use their power of influence to give traction to important issues, ideas and ideals, thus applying pressure on society– and the culture– to evolve. As culture shifts, brands also have to evolve or die. And not even Victoria Secret can defy this law—as evident on the picture below from their last campaign.

Ultimately, no brand is an island. Brands exist in time, space and within the context of people’s lives. It’s the interplay of these forces that ultimately brings a brand to life and without it, a brand doesn’t exist. Brands reflect the nuances that exist between cultures around the world, as well as how the values and ideas that make up those cultures evolve over time. As such, we— brand strategists and architects— are the new griots.

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