Early brand positioning hints at tapping into a desire that is more fundamental than the impetus to control. Brands have continually appealed to that human yearning—some might describe it as a basic need—to contact, whether in a tactile way, as in physically touching a screen or pressing buttons, or in a more abstract way, to "keep in touch" with a community of like-minded people. When RCA introduced its 630-TS television, it promoted the device as a way for families to be together, whether it was a father and son watching baseball or a husband and wife bonding over a shared love of mystery movies.
And more recently, the element of contact has become more literal, where touch has become the operative word. From the first touchtone telephone, in 1941, to the iPod Touch, brands have promoted their electronic experiences as something, if not equal to "living breathing, physical presence," then at least the next best substitute for it. As our lives have become more indoors and virtual—as we spend less time outdoors—games like Nintendo's Guitar Hero and Xbox's Dance Central allow us to interact and get active without even leaving the house, —an interesting turnabout from the remote control that allowed viewers to only lift one finger to change channels.
This distinct human-ness of our electronic devices continues to mark the branded experience: Four years before The Social Network, Cisco was claiming to be "the human network," and IBM promises to "build a smarter planet." This ability to "reach out and touch someone" from afar, as AT&T once pitched, remains forever an opportunity to connect. But with the advent of touch screens, the branded experience, though still mediated by the screen, is no longer a boundary as much as it is an accomplice, allowing us to push and pull and expand these points of contact as if on command. The other tools needed to direct our experience—whether a remote control, channel knobs, cassette tapes, or even pressing phone buttons—are less and less necessary. The screen is contact, community, and control, rolled into a device that can fit in your pocket. It's a product that's as magical as ever: Touch it, and the entire world appears.
Contemporary culture is now almost entirely composed of brands. Everything we consume—even the most basic commodities like water and salt—are brands. Experiences are brands. People are brands. Our role models are people, and thus our role models have become brands. Brands are so persuasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, and unaltered. Any knowledge of culture is impossible now without an understanding of the implications of "brand." We have entered a day and age where brand is an extension of human facility, whether it is psychic or psychological. Brands create intimate worlds inhabitants can understand, and where they can be somebody and feel as if they belong. We can now join any number of tribes in any number of ways and feel part of something bigger than who we are alone. And nothing makes us feel more connected than the use of the little gadget in our hands and hearts that we are never, ever without: our telephone.
Our book, Brand Bible, The Complete Guide to Building, Designing and Sustaining Brands contains the history of the telephone, as well as many other electronic and technological devices, and it is out now.