Brand X

Dear Editor:The moment I heard the word "branding" fly out from a city councilman's lips, I hoped that the council wouldn't jump down that particular rabbit hole. ("Downey Looks to Re-Brand Itself," 7/1/10) You'd think that after campaigning for office, regularly hearing constituents, traveling all over Downey and beyond, taking meetings and listening to formal and informal comment, they would know better than anyone what Downey is. They don't. Nobody does, really. That's the problem. So now they've hired a company named Northstar Inc. to suss around for a year or so and then tell us who we are, by ceremonially unfurling a brand for all the world to see. Let's put aside for a moment that the city hasn't so far proven itself adept at the makeover game. To try and read one of those wan, pathetic little streetlight banners lining Firestone Blvd. is to invite a traffic pileup, and to see the painted-over lanes on Downey Ave. is to witness a smudged-out planning error etched in asphalt. On the face of it, you'd have to wonder what Northstar will do to put us out there in the brand-recognition universe of flags, corporate logos, bumper stickers, cereal boxes, eau de colognes, beer bottles and pickup trucks. After all, what visually denotes Downey? We're not the City By the Bay, we don't offer a Rocky Mountain High, we don't have a Chrysler Building or a Space Needle. We don't even have a native tree. What are our architectural distinctions? Stonewood? The Downey Theater? If so, you'd have to say, "Welcome to Downey, Where It's 1975 All Over Again." The deeper danger is in trying to slap a paint job on the immaterial process of history, place, culture, ethnicity, tradition, society, practice and belief that altogether are recombining into the formation of something new. Downey isn't what it was 50 years ago, when it was unofficially billed The Beverly Hills of the Southeast Region. No one can say for sure what it is now. Let's let the downtown planners go with the Build It and They Will Come idea and see who comes-even as we figure out who's here now.. Let's not push it, and thereby falsify Downey's nascent identity. There's more than a trend going on here. On Facebook and Plaxo, on our employment application, on our first date, on what we wear, what we drive, where we eat and where we live, we've all become our own brand. In the 24/7 media and tech storm that dazzles and drowns us, we substitute category for distinction, celebrity for achievement, a look for a reality. We're all in the marketing business. We know that $9.99 is really $10+, that that advertised $350 flight to Nashville will wind up costing over $600, and that the label on the box or medicine vial isn't going to make us fit, beautiful, famous and immortal. But we pretend to believe until we do believe. We've grown acculturated to the fake. It's in our gene pool now. So maybe we can't blame our city leaders after all, even while hoping they had more sense. Nice work for Northstar, though. Nice $90,000 payday too. Estimated, of course. - Lawrence Christon, Downey

********** Published: July 8, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 12