Book: Brands. Meaning and Value in Media Culture. Adam Arvidsson. Taylor and Francis, 2006
Key thesis: "In brand management the communicative construction of an ethical surplus in the form of a common social world is put to work so that it generates surplus value."
Adam Arvidsson is an expert on the Ethical Economy. The first entry of his recommended Actics blog contained the following presentation of his previous work on brands:
"In a way this book deals with ‘the other side’ of the ethical economy. Using the brand as a paradigmatic example it shows how the logic of informational capitalism is about appropriating and extracting value from social communication. Value is no longer primarily based on command over material production, but on the ability to control immaterial production: the production of a common social world through communication and interaction. The Italian economist Maurizio Lazzarato calls this the production of an ‘ethical surplus’- a term I like. He also says that the characteristic thing about informational capital is that ‘surplus value becomes premised on the ability to extract an ethical surplus’. The brand is the perfect mechanism to achieve just that.
If you think of it, a brand is a strange kind of object. It is not simply a symbol of a product (that was true up until the 1950s, more or less), nor is it simply an extension of a product, an immaterial extra as in the life-style of Camel cigarettes or the ethical engagement of Body Shop cosmetics. Rather, contemporary brands tend to be more independent of products. A brand like Nike or Mercedes now encompasses a wide range of different products (cars, but also bikes, sunglasses and sportswear). The brand stands for a particular affective relation to a product or an activity. They key to the value of the Nike brand is that jogging or simply wearing a shoe feels different if the logo is there. The more this particular affective pattern is repeated across different activities and social situations, the more valuable the Nike brand (presently at $ 9.26 billion). So the brand is something as weird as a ‘propertied affective pattern’. It is a sort of medium that mediates our relations to things, activities and (often) each other in a particular way. The key to successful brand management is thus to make the brand enter into a different forms of communication and interaction and mediated these so that they tend to reproduce the particular affective pattern (the feel, mood or experience) that stands at the heart of the brand, in such ways that it adds to brand value. In brand management the communicative construction of an ethical surplus in the form of a common social world is put to work so that it generates surplus value.
But at the same time this ethical productivity has been greatly empowered by new information and communications technologies and by the breakdown of old traditions and rigid social roles. It is the potential of this empowered and socialized productivity that I would like to work on in the future." (http://blog.actics.com/?p=30)