[All illustrations by the very wonderful Lisa Hanawalt]
This weekend I found myself thinking about branding, what branding can accomplish, and possible reasons a yoga instructor might choose to make merchandise out of his/herself. One of the functions of branding I continually returned to had to do with a yoga instructor’s presence when teaching versus their absence, and how branding makes the former obsolete.
Imagine a yoga instructor who is both well-liked and sought after by enthusiastic students. This instructor has no DVD, no website, and teaches in a studio or space without any sign. Without a brand, this teacher is more or less required to be present in order to collect payment for his services. This instructor’s income is linked directly to his being in a physical space to teach.
Compare this to an instructor with the same following, but who has branded himself. In doing so, this instructor is able to sell his images, teachings, and trademarked sequences to an audience not in his immediate vicinity. In effect, this instructor now has the ability to collect money solely on the strength of his branded identity. He merely has to ship his image, name, and presentation of material to a locale that is receptive to his teaching. From here this yoga instructor may simply collect from afar.
In scenario #1 the yoga instructor necessitates a physical presence in order to make a living. In scenario #2 the yoga instructor employs absence. Both “presence” and “absence” are typically loaded terms when it comes to spiritual discourse. And yet, of the two, “presence” holds more weight as a social meme in the yoga world despite the fact that its usage has become ubiquitous to the point of being irrelevant.
Still, in order for a branded yogilebrity to connect with students across digital borders (and they are borders) some sort of “presence” must remain.
When thinking about this deferred presence and how that presence relates to yogilebrity branding, I find it helpful to think in terms of “brand personality.” Brand personality is essentially the personification of a brand used as a way to make potential consumers resonate with the product. As the website Management Study Guide states,
“Brand personality is the way a brand speaks and behaves. It means assigning human personality traits/characteristics to a brand so as to achieve differentiation….
“Brand personality and celebrity should supplement each other. Trustworthy celebrity ensures immediate awareness, acceptability and optimism towards the brand. This will influence consumers’ purchase decision and also create brand loyalty.”
The idea of brand personality becomes very curious when thought of in regards to, say, the branding of Rodney Yee, a person. When Rodney brands his image, he essentially de-humanizes himself in order to make himself an object of consumption. The problem is that people tend to relate better to humans and not objects. In order to rectify this situation Rodney must employ brand personality to re-humanize his product. Here, the brand personality not only becomes, but is, the personality branded. No longer is a celebrity even needed to reinforce the sentiment of the brand, for the yogilebrity is the brand itself.
However, if brand personality means to ascribe human traits onto a non-human product, how might a yogilebrity make his/herself non-human? The yogilebrity must first make a product of himself—that is, commodify himself—in order to then have his personality super-imposed back onto his de-humanized image-brand so that the brand might be perceived as human and thus relate-to-able!
It gets even more interesting when you realize that all of this occurs in a state of absence. The branded yogilebrity acting out his routines via webisode isn’t in your presence. He is absent. He collects his money from a safe distance allowing his represented personality do the teaching. Like a yoga king, the yogilebrity need only sit back and accept the funds flooding his bank account.