A book about an illness infecting us all

It’s hard to choose the most disturbing bit of takeaway knowledge from Lucas Conley’s new book OBD: Obsessive Branding Disorder — The Illusion of Business and the Business of Illusion. It might be that a Connecticut woman named her child GoldenPalace.com. Or the fact that seven out of every 100 mothers in the U.S. work for a company called Vocalpoint as clandestine word-of-mouth (WOM) marketers, casually “praising” various products to friends and neighbors. Or simply that some grown-ups make a living working on strategies to “develop and support the atmosphere of Froot Loops.” It’s all funny, but it’s also scary.

Conley, a contributing writer at Fast Company, believes branding is an insidious pathology contaminating American life. His well-executed argument is convincing: The more money and effort companies pour into branding, the fewer resources are left for research, development and substantive innovation. Our products and services don’t improve, or even give us what we actually need; they just get slicker. And we are diminished.

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