Do you find brand names reassuring, or oppressive?
I have been thinking about the cultural difference between the two ends of the educated middle class, which I call for short-hand the corporate class and the knowledge class.
Like other members of the knowledge class, I favor independent over corporate in most things. I write this from an independent coffee house, which I would always pick over, say, Starbucks. As I travel and see the same national and international brands everywhere, I often think of the quip "Man is born free, but is everywhere in chain stores."
And yet most people like corporate brands - otherwise they wouldn't be the dominant form.
I was thinking of this as I toured the U.S. Naval Academy. The military needs to be uniform and highly organized for good functional reasons. Yet the U.S. Navy is also a brand. It is a brand that is reassuring - as the very best militarily, of course, but also as reliable and orderly.
As I came out of the Naval Academy I saw a bumper sticker for a large state university. I realized the appeal is similar - Large State U is a well-known, reliable brand. If you go there, you get a decent education. Beyond that, though, you get to belong to the alumni association. You are part of a reliable brand.
I have a hypothesis, which I have not yet tested empirically. I think the core of the corporate class style appeals to the average white collar employees of large corporations, who are also alumni of large name universities, and patrons of large consumer brands. What they have in common is that they are likely to be new to the middle class. The brand name everything is reassuring of your middle-class status.
The knowledge class style, by contrast, appeals to groups who are more senior in the middle class, who have an unshakable, unreflective security in their own middle-class status.
I do not offer either as superior. I do notice that the two styles seem to appeal to different kinds of people. I am trying to figure out what makes the two groups different.