7 Things Happen to You When You Are Completely Honest

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I got a death threat last week from a guy who is a senior at Brown
University who didn’t think I could track him down. More on that
in a second. The first thing I want to deal with is the question
asked me the other day, “how do you make a personal brand”. When
I hear the words “personal brand” I think “someone is going to lie
to me and then try to take all of my money.” Personal branding,
I guess, is descended from the mockery called “corporate branding”.

The Coca-Cola company, for instance, loves the drug, Ecstasy. My
favorite TV commercial is not the 1984 Apple commercial (although
that’s a close number two) but a commercial for Coke Zero (“Coke
Zero Roller Girl”
). It takes a song that was originally writtten
by Paul Oakenfold. The original topic of the song was about how
great it was to take the drug Ecstasy and go to a rave. Anything
could happen.

There would be pretty girls, great music, and at the end of the
night, total communion with nature. In the commercial, though, there’s
a girl roller-blading. She looks like she’s on the boardwalk in
Santa Monica. The song is playing in the background. She’s not taking
Ecstasy but drinking Coke Zero. She dances/roller-blades around
her studly friends, her beautiful girlfriends, and it ends with
everyone taking Coke Zero, the fizz going up like a group ejaculation
into the sky. Coke Zero — the brand where you can find your own
personal ecstasy.

I WANT THAT

Whenever I watch that commercial I feel like I want a life like
that: free from worry, stress, free from thinking about money or
petty jealousies. Surrounded by friends and beautiful people. Moving
without effort, the ocean in the background. As they say in the
song: “once again, I find myself with my friends.” Coke Zero tells
me the dream is possible even though intellectually I know its a
myth. Freedom isn’t found that way. But we’re willing, as a culture,
to accept the lies that Coke tells us. And they are willing to use
songs about drugs to help us accept those lies.

Perhaps Coke figured out that maybe this time they had gone too
far. They pulled the commercial. Sometimes I can find it on YouTube.
Sometimes I can’t. They try hard to make it disappear.

What they never explain is that coke zero is essentially brown-dyed
water with about 16 teaspoons of fake sugar in it and add a little
bit of CO2 and you make it fizz. That’s the secret formula that’s
locked in a safe in some bank in Atlanta. I can make SuperJamesCola
with that formula. But then I can’t license that music, get those
sexy girls, and run that ad on the Super Bowl and a thousand other
places. I can’t do corporate branding by myself.

But no matter — let’s move past the artificially safe confines
of corporate America. That’s dead and if you haven’t planned your
exit strategy yet you
will have to soon
enough.

SO WHAT IS PERSONAL BRANDING?

So now I keep hearing about “personal branding” – the idea that
your career, your mind, your body, everything that makes up the
superficial “you” can be packaged up into a brand just like Coke
or Mcdonalds can. With the spectrum of pornography allowed by Facebook,
twitter, linkedin, google+, etc etc etc a personal brand can evolve
and grow like any superbowl ad. Kim Kardashian’s didn’t have an
answer when Barbara Walters asked her, finally, “but aren’t you
really just known for a sex tape?” when Kim initially tried to “re-brand”
herself as a “businesswoman” in a very intimate interview.

So we start to arrive at the truth of the matter: Branding is lying.

But personal branding is even worse because the joke is over. Now
we’re talking about me and you. We’re talking about who YOU are.
And let’s face it. It’s not pretty. You need to re-brand from birth.

People confuse “honesty” with a type of “happiness”. He can be
honest because he is happy. But it’s not true. Life is a
series of failures punctuated by brief successes. That’s
honesty. Failure is not necessarily bad. It’s reality.

But branding tries to reverse that. With a “personal brand”, you
suddenly pretend to be super successful, a “businesswoman” in Kardashian’s
case — failure is non-existent, and out of your mind comes the exact
mathematical formulas that if someone drinks your Cola and snorts
your Ecstasy then they too will have the pretty girl, the success,
the money, the accoutrements.

A FRIEND OF MINE WHO DOES PERSONAL BRANDING

I know a stockbroker who sends a Christmas card every year to his
clients. He wants to present an aura of success. Each time he’s
in some other blue lagoon on some random part of the world, with
a blonde girl (different each Christmas) with huge fake breasts
and they are snorkeling or hugging in the water (blue blue aqua)
or staring off into a beautiful mediterranean ancient city. He makes
money. Lots of it.

And you can’t even look at him, the girl is so beautiful and her
eyes are staring at him and she’s kissing him and it’s all over
his facebook page. His status might even be “engaged” and she has
an exotic name.

The only problem is, “and you can’t tell anyone because this is
the beautiful part” he is telling me in his tell-all because he’s
a good friend and knows I will never reveal his name: is that he’s
gay. He picks up his boyfriends in dungeons. He’s been smothered
in concrete until he was unable to move and holes would be poked
through so he could breathe, and only then with a boy whipping him
and arranging this unusual punishment, would his copulation come
to completion.

Honesty is about the scars. it’s about the blemishes.
But it’s more than just bragging about failure, which could be a
form of ego. It’s about truly helping people.

There’s 1 trillion websites competing against each other. The most
honest website of all? Google. Google can’t help you with your problems.
If you suspect you might have herpes after a particularly courageous
night out on the town, going to Google will not help you (although
you may feel a vague feeling of remorse when you see the “I’m Feeling
Lucky” button).

Google has no content on it at all. But Google is honest about
that. You just walked into their store and said, “Please, help me
— do you have anything to prevent a potential outbreak of herpes”
and Google will say, quite honestly, “i’m sorry, I can’t help you,
but here are ten of my competitors who can potentially help you.
And, by the way, here are three more of my competitors who MIGHT
be able to help you but, in full disclosure, they are paying me
to tell you this.” And then Google shrugs its shoulders. That’s
all they can do for you.

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the rest of the article

October
20, 2011

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