I did not invent the phrase in the title of this post, it comes from a piece by Shalom Auslander called 'Meet the Happy New Me, Same as the Crappy Old Me', in the March 2010 issue of GQ magazine, (only available online to subscribers).
The article alternates between funny, insightful, depressing, and funny (again) as it depicts the author's own 'personal branding' journey from, in his words, 'miserable and pissed off' to 'shiny and happy'.
After a series of assignments undertaken as part of an online 'Personal Branding' class, ('Develop a personal catchphrase' and 'Create a logo for yourself'), Auslander asks the question, 'Why didn't anyone seem to think that the commodification of the self was a problem?'
I think it is a valid question.
Has the ridiculously crappy economy and the widespread and persistent unemployment rate conspired to make us all little mini-moguls? Are we all getting overly obsessed with staying on message, carefully constructing our own tiny ad campaigns, looking for just the right post to Retweet, LinkedIn group to join, and event to attend (or vicariously attend). Are we trying too consciously to craft little marketing plans?
Think about all the things we always said we hated, incessant commercials on tv and radio, rampant product placement in mainstream entertainment (quick, what is the 'official' beverage of American Idol? I am sure you know), internet pop-up ads, and maybe most importantly people that simply have to be the center of attention all the damn time. At least in more traditonal entertainment and communication channels it is (mostly) easy to tell when you are being sold to.
When Simon takes a swig of his Coke, we know what is going on.
And I don't think I am confusing personal branding, which is more or less annoying, with individual entrepreneurship and initiative, which is inspiring. They are not the same thing, but I can't help but get the feeling that in this age of openness, status updates ('Starbucks Quad Shot FTW!!!!'), and thousands if not millions of people having mostly the same idea, reading the same books, blogs, and advice that the good work (or lack thereof) is getting mixed up with the message.
Some of the people reading this post are really active on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. I wonder if you thought about the list of the 50 or 100 or so people you interact with the most and relflect on how much do you know about the actual work they do, compared to what you know or perceive about their 'brand'?
I am guilty of all of this too. It seems many people are to some extent and that is what makes the whole branding/packaging/selling of the self so frustrating. When every network for communication and transmission of information becomes a sales channel for companies and individuals at the same time, I suppose it is only to be expected that everyone is selling. But selling Coke or iPods isn't the same as selling a person. Product brands usually stand for just one thing, but people, at least the most interesting ones you know, are deep, multi-layered, and complicated.
Maybe we need a TiVo equivalent for all these networks as well, so that we could fast forward though all the commercials and focus on the content.
And maybe I need some more coffee.