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The Image That Caused A Storm

October 22, 2023  •  2 Comments

The Image That Caused A Storm

A while ago we created an image to illustrate what we mean by "Branding".

The term originates with farmers branding cattle to be uniquely identifiable and have an ownership.  To help illustrate this we had the help of a local farmer in Cornwall make us a prop Branding Iron we could use for fun in a shoot.  We had it made in the shape of a letter "B”.

These days branding is seen as the process of giving a meaning to specific organisation, company, products or services by creating and shaping an emotional connection in consumer's minds.   

In the studio we saw that a spotlight shining through the branding iron would cast a perfect shadow of the "B", and Bergit volunteered to offer her back for the shot.  That was as completely innocent as it was.  It could as well have been a man.  The image was created during a Covid lockdown and we were not allowed to mix with others or to use models.  So, we had to make do with what we had available.  And Bergit was available!  It never crossed our minds that it made any difference if Bergit posed with her back towards the camera and I  held the branding iron or the other way around.  One of our core values is to be gender-neutral.  We believe that we all are different and work best together in a diverse environment with people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds coming together to share their different experiences and skills.

We edited the "branding" image with some heat in the iron, a bit of texture on the skin, and a few wisps of smoke.  A powerful image.  An eye-catching image.  Simple, but effective.

We shared the image in some social media posts, with text about branding and what it means in the context and business and advertising.  So far so good.  Then, suddenly we experienced a backlash from people who said it was sexist and demeaning.  It is because it was interpreted, by a few people, as being a man branding a woman.  Putting his mark on her.  Making her his property.

Obviously that wasn't our intention at all.  In fact, thinking back, we believe it was Bergit's idea to sit as the model.  It could just as easily have been me sitting there.  Except it wasn't - and that seems to have made all the difference.  As I said earlier in this blog we don’t believe in stereo-typing people.  In our opinion there are no men or women specific jobs or trademarks.  We are all different and that is a cause for celebration, because it drives creativity and innovation.

We were told it is obviously a male hand who is holding the branding iron.  That's maybe, but what does it matter?

We showed the image to a group of people we are working with who are all digital marketeers, and of the fourteen people in the group, only three are men.  They agreed it was a powerful and thought-provoking image, but none of the females in the group were shocked or upset by it.  But my problem is that some people, somewhere, were moved to comment negatively.

We would rather not upset anyone!  And it got us thinking.  We don't want to say it's someone else's problem and not ours, but we can't go round thinking of everything in case someone, somewhere, anywhere, might take exception.

A lot of our work is designed to be edgy and eye-catching, stopping people from scrolling endlessly on Social Media and to grab their attention.  This one image, in one area, caused a reaction that surprised us.  Did we get it wrong?

Mock-up photo of a person's back pretending to be branded by a branding iron, as part of an article in Professional Image MakerHow to Brand YourselfThe image as it appeared in the international magazine "Professional Image Maker"

 

Since then the image has been used as the headline in an article about Branding in Business (more specifically "How to Brand Ourselves"), and this was published in an international magazine that is printed and sold across Europe, the US, Canada and Australia.  We didn't receive any negative comments to the image when used in conjunction with the article.

Perhaps the image was viewed out of context and an instinctive reaction made without reading further.  That is not to say I am blaming anyone for not looking deeper.

So, I'm putting this out there.  What are your views?  Edgy or provocative?  Creative or controversial?  All this is subjective, of course, and we can never predict the reactions of everyone as everyone is different.

We would love to read your comments.

 


Comments

Ania(non-registered)
Subject facing front and branding themself. With their countenance evident, their demeanor and reaction could be gauged by the causal scrollers-by. An arrangement such as this would likely evoke in viewers a sense of self-agency instead of - as the original seems to have done - a visual representation of the will of another being imposed on the self of a (visually) vulnerable person.
It would extrapolate out to the discussion of principles/cautions/best practices involved with well-support developing a brand/product/service that one would care to have inextricably linked to their character, quality, skills and name.
Another option would be the same pose, but with her head turned as she concentrates on branding her own back. This would pair well with discussion of the concerns, fears, and degree of exposure and vulnerability that are _inherent *with*_ linking one's brand/product/service to their character, quality, skills and name.
One who works so intimately with images should be accustomed to considering what happens when each thing created or captured is consumed by the eye and processed by the mind - without supporting context, or in complete isolation. This has always been true, but is exponentially more relevant because - as you've learned - our current climate of social media, images are often divorced from context - either physically, and/or because the viewer chooses to skim/bypass reading any accompanying text.

Kind regards!
Lynn(non-registered)
I understand why there were negative comments in this, when I first saw the picture I raised my eyebrows thinking where are we going with this?

My first thought is when in Covid did you post it? Because timing would have made an impact. For instance during lockdown domestic abuse increased tenfold as did abuse of children. Understandable on negative comments

Was it after a young woman was picked up in London and then killed? Again understandable on the negative comments.

Even if it was neither of those things, domestic abuse is talked about so much more now (and rightly so) and in a time when many were at home not working and spending more time scrolling on social media or the internet then it may be why you had so many more negative comments.

As you say in marketing timing is everything and maybe the timing of this was wrong.

my initial thought when I saw it as a male dominating a woman and leaving his mark - domestic abuse. I’ve read your comments so can now understand what you were trying to achieve because I now know the back story.

Did you get it right or wrong? I think you have to look at the negative comments in detail to understand that. There will always be people that want to give you their opinion that’s the world we live in now but when a picture is as impactive as the one used and used in a whole different context, many wouldn’t have read the whole article just the first couple of lines and made their opinion on that. If the picture showed a male and female branding themselves it may not have been as negative but you may then have been accused of promoting self harm! And it goes on and on. My opinion? I think it’s controversial based on my comments above.
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